Wednesday, June 21, 2006

And what about Fort Worth?

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A lot of ink and emails relating to the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Fort Worth have been written during the days of this General Convention. It is a lot of material to digest. In the interest of better understanding, I thought it might be helpful to put the major points together to help us sort through the confusion.

As many are familiar, the Diocese of Fort Worth has officially resisted innovations in faith and practice in the Episcopal Church (most notably, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate and the blessing of same-sex unions).

When Canon Vicky Imogene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire, Fort Worth was among many in the church who saw it as a departure from catholic faith and practice (because Robinson was divorced and living in an unrepentant sexual relationship with another man and could not thereby be a guardian of the faith and a "wholesome example to the flock" as is required of a bishop). Although the Episcopal Church was explicitly and repeatedly warned through each of the Anglican "instruments of unity" (including our own Presiding Bishop's unanimous statement along with the other primates) not to proceed, we proceeded.

After the consecration of Bishop Robinson, a Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes was formed upon the suggestion of Dr Rowan Williams, modeled after the "Confessing Church" in Germany. The Diocese of Fort Worth became a founding member of the resulting Anglican Communion Network, which "allows Episcopalians to remain in communion with the vast majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion who have declared either impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA)."

Also, in the communique from the Anglican Primates' Meeting of February 2005, they stated: "15. In order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces, we recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates' Statement of October 2003. Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions." After that Panel of Reference was formed, Fort Worth submitted its appeal based upon the attempt of the Episcopal Church to bypass the process of "open reception" in 1997 and enforce the ordination of women in every diocese.

On Sunday, 18 June, the House of Bishops elected Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the next Presiding Bishop (a nine-year term beginning this November). In Bishop Iker's official statement in response to the election, he noted, "Her election signals a continuation of the policies of the outgoing Presiding Bishop, namely support for the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, practices which have divided the Episcopal Church, impaired our relationship with a majority of other Provinces, and brought the Anglican Communion to the breaking point. The fact that her ordination as a bishop is not recognized or accepted by a large portion of the Communion introduces an additional element of division and impairment."

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth also responded with a unanimous resolution stating: "The Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth appeal in good faith to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Panel of Reference for immediate alternative Primatial oversight and Pastoral Care following the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the EpiscopChurch. Thishis action is taken as a cooperative member of the Anglican Communion Network in light of the Windsor Report and its recommendations."

It is clear that the two other dioceses that do not ordain women as priests and bishops will follow with a similar action, although they could not at the moment because their standing committees are not present at the Convention. Other Network dioceses that do ordain women as priests may or may not make a similar appeal.

The Times of London characterized it accurately in a report by Ruth Gledhill with the headline: "Episcopal church unravels as Fort Worth appeals for 'alternative primatial oversight'." However, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram mischaracterized the move with a front page story by David Cohen with the headline: "Diocese votes to leave church." Hopefully, this can be corrected as the email to clergy in the diocese stated:

To the Clergy:
Bishop Iker has sent the following message to David Cohen at the Star-Telegram. I have called Mr. Cohen's number and stressed to him that he has caused distress to thousands of people who look to Bishop Iker as their pastoral leader. We will pursue a retraction.
Suzanne Gill
Your article "Diocese Votes to Leave Church" is seriously in error.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has made no such decision. That decision could only be made by the Annual Convention of the Diocese which meets in November.
We have asked for the alternative oversight and pastoral care of an orthodox primate of the Anglican Communion, but this is a pastoral arrangement, not a legal one, and the request has been made in full accord with official church procedures.
Our Diocese is still a full member of The Episcopal Church, and I would appreciate a retraction and correction in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. You have misinformed your readers.
Thank you.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth

It is my view that this appeal by the Standing Committee should be seen and understood as an extension of the 2005 appeal to the Panel of Reference. That also explains why it was made by the Diocese of Fort Worth, and not by the Network. This new appeal became necessary in view of both the problematic selection of a female primate for the diocese (who would hold the power of episcopal office but not necessarily the sacramental power of a bishop in the FW view) and in view of several indications from the 75th General Convention's responses to the Windsor Report that it chooses to "walk away" from the Anglican Communion (to say to the rest of the Anglican world that Fort Worth doesn't want to walk away).

Will Fort Worth be left behind? We will soon see. On the last day of the Convention (the time of this writing), a final effort will be made to salvage some resolution of compliance with the Windsor Report and fellowship with the Anglican Communion in a joint session. Presiding Bishop Griswold has urged action on this point as well as humility and restraint from those who would rather the Episcopal Church go it alone with his special address in which he noted: "Unless there is a clear perception on the part of our Anglican brothers and sisters that they have been taken seriously in their concerns, it will be impossible to have any genuine conversation. Therefore there will be no conversion and the bonds of affection which undergird communion will be further strained." Griswold later stated, "We must now act with generosity and imagination so that our actions are a clearer reflection of the willingness of the majority of us to relinquish something in order to serve a larger purpose. As your Presiding Bishop and chief pastor, I now ask both houses to consider the following resolution. I do so knowing that consideration in the House of Deputies may require special action. Resolution B033, "On the Election of Bishops." Resolved, [the House of Deputies concurring,] that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace the Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." Word is it just passed both Houses. But then a decent number of liberal bishops signed a statement saying they could not in good conscience abide by it. The President of Integrity seemed pretty dissapointed by the Convention as you can see in a video segment here.

The problem is also that the Convention consented to the consecration of Canon Barry Beisner, whose "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." Take a look at the last sentence in this report on the Beisner resolution. Bishop Vincent Warner of Olympia voiced the concerns of many when stating at one hearing on the Windsor Report resolution, "I regret the pain, but I do not regret the action…I affirm it." The Archbishop of Canterbury responded with a official statement, noting, "It is not yet clear how far the resolutions passed this week and today represent the adoption by the Episcopal Church of all the proposals set out in the Windsor Report. The wider Communion will therefore need to reflect carefully on the significance of what has been decided before we respond more fully." The Network bishops posted their own statement here. Video segments of Bishop Iker talking with the press can be seen here and here and here. Have things turned around? As they say, talk is cheap. We can only hope and pray that this it is part of the beginning of conversion for the church rather than dissolution.

Where would "alternative primatial oversight" leave Fort Worth? First of all, it would leave Fort Worth as both a member diocese in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and also a diocese in communion with the Anglican Communion for the moment. How is the appeal being viewed by ECUSA? Bishop Griswold said he will "let the Panel of Reference make a decision" on the matter in a post-Convention press conference and Bishop Schori seems at least initially inclined to be open to the idea by her statement of wanting to "bend over backwards" accommodate those who might disagree with her policies. If this appeal is fully implemented that would mean "alternative primatial oversight" for a diocese in conflict with its own province.

That alternative oversight would last for the nine years of Schori's term as Presiding Bishop. After that time, i assume the diocese (as a member of ECUSA) would automatically come back under the normal oversight of the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA. Of course, the situation could be totally different by that time, so who knows. I supposed the biggest concern would be whether ECUSA would have returned to the Anglican Communion at that time or not.

Who would be the alternative primate? It is anyone's guess. It could be the Anglican primate of Canada or Mexico, but I don't see that as being likely. It could be a primate of the global south, some of whom have already taken on oversight for some ECUSA parishes who have left hostile dioceses. African bishops did publish a response to the General Convention in which they noted: "We are . . . saddened that the reports to date of your elections and actions suggest that you are unable to embrace the essential recommendations of the Windsor Report and the 2005 Primates Communiqué necessary for the healing of our divisions. . . . At our meeting in Kampala we have committed ourselves to study very carefully all of your various actions and statements. When we meet with other Primates from the Global South in September, we shall present our concerted pastoral and structural response. We assure all those Scripturally faithful dioceses and congregations alienated and marginalised within your Provincial structure that we have heard their cries."

The "alternative primate" could be the Archbishop of York, newly seated at the primate's meeting. Of course, it could be the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, and that seems to be the preference. This is not without precedence. There are several dioceses and clusters of dioceses in the Anglican Communion which are not a part of any province, but instead have a one-on-one relationship with Canterbury (such as the Diocese of Bermuda, the Church of Ceylon, the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church of Portugal and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church).


Dustin Ridgeway said...

Thanks for explaining this in more detail.

Perhaps my priorities aren't in order, but at this point I think I would be fine with a formal schism within the Church if one side can remain in communion with Canterbury.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

Schism is a difficult thing to pin down in many situations, certainly difficult for each side to disagree upon. If it comes to having to choose between being part of the Episcopal Church or part of the Anglican Communion, which is schism? We have been lucky enough to have stayed both for the time being. We will see how long that can that last.

Of course, there are those who would point out that we are already in schism anyway, and have been in schism since the 1500s (though others would say since 1054).

Jon said...

I'm curious, what would alternate primatial oversight actually look like in practice? Currently the PB never has to go to Fort Worth, except perhaps to consecrate the next bishop of Fort Worth and that can be delegated. What further relationship does the PB have to have with a diocese?


Fr Timothy Matkin said...

Good points. I would say it is more a matter of principle than of practicality. That is reinforced by the view that Schori would likely be much kinder to dissenting conservative minorities than Parsley, the runner-up candidate for Presiding Bishop.

Jon said...

So why not use the smallest practical mechanism possible to take care of the practical protections and stick to widely published statements to support your principles? Looking for alternative oversight suggests to the uncharitable that the diocese is trying to cut itself off from the rest of TEC without admitting it.