Updated with Mary Frances Schjonberg's well-reported ENS story that includes comments from people who were in other meetings with the archbishop.
By Jim Naughton
Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, and four members of her council of advice met for half an hour today with the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The topic was the distinctive governance system of the Episcopal Church, and the friction that system sometimes creates for Williams and others in the Anglican Communion.
Anderson said she and her council expressed to Williams their concern that communications and requests to the Episcopal Church are typically addressed only to the Church’s House of Bishops, which does not have authority, on its own, to respond to them.
“We are a church of more than one order of voices,” Anderson said to several reporters after the meeting.
Sally Johnson, Anderson’s chancellor and a deputy from the Diocese of Minnesota, said that the group told Williams it hoped that requests to the Episcopal Church be addressed to the Episcopal Church, rather than to the House of Bishops. “Allow The Episcopal Church to decide for it who decides,” she said.
“No one can respond and bind the Episcopal Church except the General Convention,” Johnson added. “These may seem like fine distinctions to other people, but to us they are foundational.“
The Rev. Jim Simons, chair of the Dispatch of Business Committee, and a deputy from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said Williams expressed his concern that the Episcopal Church’s governing system took too long to reach conclusions. “It is difficult to hold some decisions for three years,” said Simons, adding that the group discussed “possible alternatives,” although only in an informal way.
Williams told the group that Episcopalians had to be aware that in some parts of the Communion, “bishops only want to hear from other bishops,” Johnson said.
“We believe God guides us using all four rudders,” said the Rev. Frank Wade, chaplain to the House of Deputies and a deputy from the Diocese of Washington. “Bishops, priests, deacons and laity. Other provinces may use one.
“We are a problem for other people that we move more slowly,” he said, adding that Episcopalians believe this allows them to consult more broadly and make better decisions.
Byron Rushing, a deputy from the Diocese of Massachusetts said there was no question that Williams understands the polity of the Episcopal Church, but that he clearly has reservations about it.
"Our great deep hope” is that all orders in the Episcopal Church will be addressed in future communications with the Anglican Communion," Anderson said. “My evil twin thinks that maybe [they think] that if we are ignored enough we will just go away...or won't be legitimized."
The bishops of the Episcopal Church are under “significant pressure” from some parts of the Anglican Communion to claim authority that the Church’s constitution does not give them, she said.
During the meeting, Williams also spoke briefly with Simons of Pittsburgh and Cindy Smith, a lay woman from the Diocese of San Joaquin, about the experience of Episcopalians in diocese from which a majority of the members and clergy had left the Church to join more theologically conservative provinces in the Anglican Communion.
“We wanted him to understand what‘s going on and the toll that it has taken,” Simons said. The conversation, which touched on rebuilding efforts, was “encouraging,” according to Simons.