A statement by Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church at Preparing for Lambeth: A Conference for Religion Writers held at Virginia Theological Seminary on May 30, 2008.
There are two dynamics that will significantly affect our bishops at the Lambeth Conference. One is the exploration of the role of bishops and the other is the discussion of the proposed covenant.
Examination of the role of bishops:
At the opening of the Lambeth Conference in a traditional “retreat” style of brief theological reflection by the Archbishop, silence and mediation by the participants, then reflection, our bishops and all invited bishops, will reflect upon the archbishop’s words about “the bishop as a disciple of and leader in God’s mission”.
This event is a conference for bishops and it seems completely right for this topic to kick off this historic event. But I think that this topic also speaks to the Archbishop’s hope to confront what he has identified as a “major ecclesiological issue”. I think that the Archbishop has given up trying to get our bishops to take an independent stand on the future of the moratorium of same sex blessings for instance, and is now moving to “plan B” and turning his attention to encouraging our bishops to understand their “distinctive charism” as bishops, perhaps in a new way. I envision Archbishop Rowan pondering in, to use his word, “puzzlement” why these bishops of the Episcopal church don’t just stand up and exercise their authority as bishops like most of the rest of the bishops in the Communion do. Why would our bishops “bind themselves to future direction for the Convention?” Some of us in TEC in the past have thought that perhaps the Archbishop and others in the Anglican Communion do not understand the baptismal covenant that we hold foundational. Perhaps they just don’t “get” the way we choose to govern ourselves; the ministers of the church as the laity, clergy and the bishops, and that at the very core of our beliefs we believe in the God- given gifts of all God’s people, none more important than the other, just gifts differing. We believe that God speaks uniquely through laity, bishops, priests and deacons. This participatory structure in our church allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment. But I think our governance is clearly understood. I just don’t think the Archbishop has much use for it.
In his Advent, 2007 letter, Archbishop Williams states:
A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic
Episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in the Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed.
At the Lambeth Conference, I believe that the voice of the conformed bishop will be easily heard and affirmed. The prophetic voice will not be easily heard.
Our bishops will experience a dynamic that will encourage them to guard the unity and to hold the communion together, perhaps even through the vehicle of a covenant.
The Archbishop has made it clear to our bishops that when they accepted the invitation to Lambeth, they have indicated that they are willing to work with implementation of the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a covenant. Again, in the Archbishop’s Advent letter:
I have underlined in my letter of invitation (to the Lambeth Conference) that acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant.
A word here about the process and how the process for receiving comments on the second draft of the covenant underscores the understanding of the role of the bishops by the ABC. The people of the provinces, the clergy and laity have a voice regarding the second draft through their bishop. Unlike comments received on the first draft from all interested members of the communion, with a process for laity and clergy to give direct input, comments on the second draft are made solely, directly by bishops. The Secretary General wrote to all the primates and provincial secretaries with the St. Andrew’s Report and the Joint Standing Committee supporting resolution. There were three specific questions attached and the primate was asked to determine how to address the questions and which body was the most appropriate to answer. The questions are:
1) Is the province able to give “in principle” commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text)?
2) Is it possible to give some indication of any synodical process which would have to be undertaken in order to adopt the Covenant in the fullness of time?
3) In considering the St. Andrew’s Draft for an Anglican Covenant, are there any elements which would need extensive change in order to make the process of synodical adoption viable.
The input of the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church is especially important as the Anglican Communion considers the development of a covenant. The joint work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is the highest institutional expression of our belief that God speaks uniquely through laity, priests and deacons and bishops. It is thus crucially important that our bishops go to Lambeth knowing what we think about the current state of the proposed Anglican covenant.