US Church walking into the eye of a storm

From, (Church of England Newspaper)

Number: 5681 Date: Aug 28

"You cannot imagine my grief" began the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, rising to his feet to address the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America on August 5th following the affirmation of the election of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. With 22 other bishops gathered at his side Bishop Duncan read a statement denouncing the election of a non-celibate homosexual as a bishop of the Church. "Thousands are elated just now, but millions at home and abroad share my, our, vast sorrow."

"The action taken today" Bishop Duncan stated, "is unconstitutional as to the three foundational principles of the first sentence of our Church's Constitution. ? I have joined with many other bishops in an appeal to the primates of the Anglican Communion to intervene in the pastoral emergency that has now befallen us."

One hour after Bishop Duncan made the request for overseas intervention the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, released a statement announcing a special meeting of Primates to be held in London on October 15-16 to deal with the crisis in the US Church.

Sceptics have argued that though the Church "does meetings well" it has little appetite for reform or discipline. Statements of broken communion or impaired communion, it is said, are meaningless for they have no tangible consequences.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's remarks after the Robinson vote reinforces this view. Bishop Griswold explained that though he valued his relationship with the other Primates, he was in communion with them only through Canterbury. He was not in direct communion with any other Primate or Province nor was he responsible to them.

What then are the Primates hoping to achieve when they meet with Dr. Williams in October? Fifteen of the primates have stated publicly that they are not in Communion with any diocese or Province that seeks to undermine Church teachings. The Church of England Newspaper has learned that up to a dozen more Primates share the views of the coalition of Archbishops led by Gregory Venables of South America, Drexel Gomez of the West Indies and Peter Akinola of Nigeria that seeks to discipline ECUSA. The question sceptics have is "what do they propose to do about ECUSA"?

In the weeks before the London Primates' Meeting, eight regional meetings of the Archbishops will be held. One Archbishop told us that the meetings are not simply strategy sessions, but will be centred on prayer as they seek to discern God's will for the Church.

Two plans of action have been floated among the Primates as to how to deal with ECUSA. They both come from "To Mend the Net", a document prepared by Archbishops Drexel Gomez and Maurice Sinclair in 2000. One plan seeks to establish a third Province for North America gathering American and Canadian conservatives. The second plan seeks to reform the American Church and bring its teachings and actions into line with the rest of the Communion. "To Mend the Net" aims to bring order and discipline to the Anglican Communion by giving enhanced responsibility to the Primates. "We have no brief for placing legislative structures above our Provinces" the document states, "but we do affirm the exercise of a form of political authority at the international level." Authority would be exercised through a consultation process of "self-examination", "education", and "sharing". A Province could not, however, enact doctrinal change on its own.

"When in the judgement of at least a significant minority of the Primates these contemplated changes exceed the limits of Anglican diversity, then the Meeting should ask the Province to refrain from implementing them." Dialogue would continue, but "should not be pre-empted by unauthorised innovation." Should a Province continue, "the disputed teaching or practice" the Primates would pursue remedies ranging from a warning to expulsion from the Communion.

The remedies offered by "To Mend the Net" include a "Godly Admonition" which would seek to recall the wayward Province from its error. If "the guidelines are refused or if they evoke an unsatisfactory response" the second stage would be reducing the Province to "observer status in international meetings (Primates or Lambeth Conference)."

In conjunction with "observer status", the Primates would "authorise and support appropriate means of evangelisation, pastoral care and Episcopal oversight in the affected dioceses or Province".

Should there be a "prolonged and evidently permanent rejection of the guidelines" the Primates would seek to create a new jurisdiction "whose practice lies within the limits of Anglican diversity." The offending Province would be removed and the new jurisdiction recognised as a representative part of the Anglican Communion.

Critics of "To Mend the Net" countered that it is unprecedented and un-Anglican to have parallel Anglican jurisdictions. It is also claimed that there is no precedence for outside intervention in the affairs of Provinces.

The conservative Primates dispute both these claims as being historically inaccurate. In the late 1980's the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened in the Church of the Province of the Sudan and reordered the episcopate of that Church. And more recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, acting with the Primates, deposed Bishops of the Church of the Province of Rwanda following the 1994 genocide.

There have also been overlapping territorial jurisdictions within Anglicanism from 1745 to the present day. The first overlapping jurisdictions were created by Parliament following the rebellion of 1745 in Scotland. From 1745 until 1923 the Scottish Episcopal Church and parishes of the Church of England in Scotland were both in Communion with Canterbury and were both legally recognized Anglican jurisdictions.

There has never been a period since 1745 when there have not been legally and canonically valid instances of more than "one (Anglican) bishop in one city". Today there are a number of de facto and de jure overlapping dioceses in the Pacific, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.

Though successive Lambeth Conferences since the 19th century have deplored the existence of an American bishop and English bishop with overlapping territories, no action has yet been taken to correct this anomaly. The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe and the American Convocation of Churches in Europe exercise jurisdiction of person but not of territory across Western Europe. In New Zealand the Church created 5 Maori regional dioceses (Hui Amorang) that overlap the 7 historic Pakeha, or European dioceses. Both the Maori and European dioceses are part of the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia and meet together in Synod, but Episcopal authority is divided by race and culture, and not by geography.

In Kuwait and in the Arabian Gulf, three Anglican jurisdictions serve three separate populations. The diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf of the Province serves mostly American and European expatriates, the Diocese of the Arabian Gulf of the Church of Pakistan serves Christian Pakistanis and northern Indians, and the Church of South India serves southern Indians. Three bishops, Cyprus and the Gulf, the Bishop of the Arabian Gulf, and the CSI Bishop in Kerala exercise jurisdiction in the same territory.

In the United States and Canada the Church of South India has 21 parishes independent of the Anglican Church of Canada and ECUSA. In the major American cities there exists a congerie ethnic Anglican parishes, Indian, African and Asian, independent of the American Episcopal Church.

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