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Primates – ‘A crucial and critical point’: TLC 10.13.03 October 13, 2003

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Living Church, New Hampshire, Primates Meeting 2003, The Episcopal Church.
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First printed in The Living Church magazine.

Following two days of highly anticipated and lengthy sessions at Lambeth Palace in London, the primates of the Anglican Communion emerged from the tightly secured venue to announce that the Episcopal Church will not face immediate discipline for its controversial General Convention votes on human sexuality last summer. That possibility remains, according to a final unanimous statement released after the meeting which indicated that if the consecration of a non-celibate homosexual person as Bishop of New Hampshire proceeded as scheduled Nov. 2 “we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy.”

Cloistered behind the medieval battlements of Lambeth Palace, the primates met Oct. 15-16 in the most important pan-Anglican gathering since the first Lambeth Conference of 1867. And like that first Lambeth Conference, called by the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to a crisis of faith and order occasioned by a bishop, John Colenso of Natal, South Africa, the Primates came to London to decide what to do about a bishop whose election has unleashed theological and doctrinal divisions that may destroy the Anglican Communion.

The affirmation of the election of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire by the 74th General Convention on Aug. 5 and the formal acknowledgement that same-sex blessings are occurring, without disciplinary consequences, in some dioceses has brought the Anglican Communion to the brink of collapse. Prior to the meeting a majority of primates, comprised of most of the Southern Hemisphere, appeared to favor a firm line against the Episcopal Church, with some calling for discipline and even expulsion. Other primates, particularly among those from industrialized countries, have stressed the importance of respecting geographical boundaries and questioned whether the Communion is empowered with disciplinary authority.

The meeting reportedly did not begin well for the Global South coalition when the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, suggested opening with the Holy Eucharist. The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria and the primatial spokesperson for the Global South coalition, said he and the others were not in communion with the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, and would not participate if the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church did. Archbishop Williams suggested that if all did not take part in the Eucharist, there would be no meeting. The Eucharist proceeded. Weaknesses in the coalition became further evident when the meeting opened officially and each primate was separately given about 10 minutes to expound on the theological and practical reasons why communion had been jeopardized between the Episcopal Church and his province.

When the expositions were mostly completed, the Primate of Ireland, the Most Rev. Robert Robin Eames, was made available around 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon for a brief, unplanned press conference at which he announced that there was unanimous consensus that the Communion was worth preserving and that he had never attended or been involved in a meeting at which “such openness, frankness and honesty” had been expressed. The primates continued to meet while Archbishop Eames conducted the press conference and the meeting on Wednesday did not conclude until after 9 p.m. The meeting ran longer than anticipated the following day as well.

If the theological argument in favor of discipline was weakened by participation in the Eucharist and the individual testimonies, the legal argument that the Anglican Communion was organizationally capable of administering discipline to an errant province was terminated by the Archbishop of Canterbury before it got started when he said he lacked the canonical and ecclesiastical tools to apply discipline at present.

That issue will be addressed thoughtfully based on the primates’ final statement which unanimously called on Archbishop Williams to establish a commission “to consider his [the Archbishop of Canterbury’s] own role in maintaining communion within and between provinces when grave difficulties arise.” The statement goes on to specify that the commission include “urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers we have identified at this meeting will have to be addressed.” That part of the commission’s work is requested within 12 months.

“It is clear that recent controversies have opened debates within the life of our Communion which will not be resolved until there has been a lengthy process of prayer, reflection and substantial work in and alongside the commission which we have recommended.”

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of the meeting prior to its start and expressed gratitude for the primates’ work at the conclusion. Bishop Duncan, along with Bishops John W. Howe of Central Florida, Jack Iker of Fort Worth, and Daniel Herzog of Albany presented the case for intervention by the primates in the “pastoral emergency” in the American Church to a group of primates, led by Archbishop Akinola, at a private meeting held at St. Paul’s Church, Robert Adam Street, London, on Oct. 14. The Rev. David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and host of the AAC-sponsored conference in Dallas the previous week, delivered to the gathering of 17 primates the signed declarations from the “A Place to Stand” conference.

Hastily moved to St. Paul’s from All Souls’, Langham Place, after The Times revealed the location of the meeting the previous day, the American delegation of four bishops, and AAC president, the Rev. Canon David Anderson, board member the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, rector of Truro parish, Fairfax, Va., and advisor Professor Christopher Seitz of St Andrew’s University, Scotland, along with representatives of the Anglican Mainstream, a group of English evangelicals formed during the Jeffrey John affair, discussed the consequences of inaction by the primates. Should the primates fail to admonish or discipline the American Church, the AAC said, traditionalist dioceses and parishes would see tremendous losses in membership and financial support as people abandoned the Episcopal Church over the “apostasy” and “heresy” espoused by General Convention.

The primates gathered at St Paul’s told the AAC that they supported the call for reform and renewal of the Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, the AAC was told, had met privately with Archbishop Williams that morning, and had shared with him the five-point plan prepared at a meeting of primates Sept. 26 in Nairobi. Archbishop Gomez reported, in the words of one of the participants, that Archbishop Williams “has given signals that he is on our side.” A second participant in the meeting told The Living Church that Archbishop Williams had agreed to at least “75 percent of what we wanted, and there may be a further 20 percent that is do-able.”

‘Godly Admonition’ Sought

Based upon two studies, “To Mend the Net” and “True Union,” the five-point plan would first call for the affirmation of the 1998 Lambeth Conference statement on human sexuality. It would also seek a formal declaration that the Episcopal Church and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster had violated Church teaching as summarized in the Lambeth declaration. The primates would issue a “godly admonition” coupled with a call to repentance given to the American Church and Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster. If they did not recant their errors and persisted in following a course of conduct and teaching contrary to the mind of the wider Church, disciplinary measures would be taken. The American Church and New Westminster would be expelled from the Anglican Communion and a new reformed ecclesial body would be reconstituted in North America in communion with Canterbury and the Anglican Communion.

Following the meeting, Bishop Herzog said the primates unequivocally supported four of their five points, with the fifth — discipline — still a possibility in the future.

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, rector of St. George’s, Glenn Dale, Md., and past president of Integrity, said the primates’ final statement was one with which gay and lesbian Episcopalians could live, particularly given some of the statements prior to its start.

Divisions Made Evident at Closed-door meeting with the Presiding Bishop: TLC 9.22.2003 September 22, 2003

Posted by geoconger in 73rd General Convention, Living Church, The Episcopal Church.
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First printed in the Living Church magazine.

The Episcopal Church is in crisis, according to 10 bishops representing the moderate elements from both the liberal and conservative wings of the Church. Beyond that assessment, accounts differ somewhat as to the substance of the conversation at a closed-door meeting with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, Sept. 10-11 at the Episcopal Church Center.

Attempts at forging a joint statement expressing reconciliation or optimism collapsed as the two sides could only agree to a four-line statement confirming that they had met, that their “dialogue was candid, honest and respectful.”

In a separate letter written on Sept. 12 to the bishops of the Episcopal Church following the private meeting, Bishop Griswold acknowledged the “polarization” within the Church, bewailing “our having to make an either/or decision with no possibility of any other mode of response.”

The meeting occurred approximately one month before Bishop Griswold meets with the primates of the Anglican Communion at a special gathering called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams.

The 10 bishops included five who voted for the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson’s affirmation as Bishop of New Hampshire: the Rt. Rev. Robert Ilhoff of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk of New York, the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls of Lexington, and the Rt. Rev. Edwin Gulick of Kentucky; and five conservatives who opposed the election: the Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman of Quincy, the Rt. Rev. Don Johnson of West Tennessee, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida and the Rt. Rev. Edward Little of Northern Indiana.

The liberal bishops were “shocked” by the fall-out following the Robinson election, said one conservative bishop. “Several said they could ‘not fathom’ why [Canon Robinson’s election was] the ‘deal breaking issue’.” He added, “I told them it was irrelevant whether they could understand it, or whether or not they wished it so — it is the ‘deal breaker’ and we have to cope with that.”

Bishop Griswold’s characterization of the meeting was much more upbeat. In his letter he stated that he “left the meeting extremely grateful for the candor and grace of the participants, their deep care and affection for one another, and their commitment to the well-being of their dioceses, and our church.”

US church fractures over vote: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 4, 2003 September 4, 2003

Posted by geoconger in 74th General Convention, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America fractured last week when its House of Bishops affirmed the election of a practising homosexual as Bishop of New Hampshire. Whether called “schism” or “impaired communion”, the American Church also formally altered its relationship to the wider Anglican Communion when its House of Bishops affirmed the election of a non-celibate homosexual as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Immediately following the vote of 63 to 45 in favour of the affirmation of Gene Robinson as Bishop, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and 22 other bishops rose and stood before the House announcing their disassociation with the vote.

Bishop Duncan stated: “You cannot imagine my grief, or the grief of many, many people. … Those who rejoice at this moment will, I pray, at least understand what has been stolen from us: unity with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church ecumenically; unity with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion across the globe; unity with the faith once delivered to the Saints.”

Bishop Duncan stated that he and his colleagues were appealing to the Primates of the Anglican Communion to intervene in the affairs of the American Church and rescue it from apostasy and heresy.

Following Bishop Duncan’s statement, Bishop Griswold dismissed the House. Bishop Duncan that evening told The Church of England Newspaper that the Robinson vote rendered all actions of the Minneapolis Convention were “null and void” as “the ancient rule of the Church” was that one error of doctrine made by a Synod rendered all its actions void.

When asked whether he was concerned about the reaction of the rest of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Griswold dismissed concerns of schism or ruptured communion. He conceded he valued his relationship with the other Primates, but his relationship was with Canterbury, and then only through Canterbury to the other Primates. Calls for a Primates’ Meeting to discuss this issue could not be called by anyone but the Archbishop of Canterbury, he observed.

During the Bishop Griswold’s news conference Lambeth Palace announced a special meeting of the Primates to be held on October 15-16 “in London to discuss recent developments in ECUSA.”

Archbishop Williams’s letter asked for calm in the wake of the Convention, stating: “I hope also we will take quite seriously the intervening period to reflect carefully on our life together as a Communion and to consider how we might best bring our faith, experience and wisdom to bear constructively on these discussions.”

The calm that followed the next day in the House of Bishops was not one fostered by spiritual reflection but by physical absence. At 11am as the House of Bishops was gaveled into session, 47 chairs were empty. Approximately one-third of the bishops were absent. Of the 23 bishops who stood to voice their opposition to the election the previous evening, 20 had left the House. The reaction from the wider Anglican Communion and the Church’s ecumenical partners was quick. Questioned by The Church of England Newspaper whether the election of Robinson would damage Anglican relations with the Roman Catholic Church, Griswold stated that “there would be some ramifications” but he declined to speculate what they might be.

Archbishop Stephen Blaire, Chairman of the US Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, stated on August 11 the election of Robinson would “have serious implications in the search for Christian unity and for the work of our bilateral Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States.”

“These decisions” noted Mgr Blair, “reflect a departure from the common understanding of the meaning and purpose of human sexuality, and the morality of homosexual activity as found in Sacred Scripture and the Christian tradition. As such they have serious implications in the search for Christian unity and for the work of our bilateral Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States.

The day after the election, the American Anglican Council, the coalition of evangelical and traditionalist organisations in the Episcopal Church announced a meeting to be held in Texas in early October to coordinate strategies among dioceses and parishes. A number of conservative dioceses have scheduled special conventions in September and October to discuss the actions taken at Convention and to debate what steps to take in response.