Friday, January 15, 2016


Here is a message from Bishop Curry about the Primates Meeting. The best explanation of what transpired this week is in this blog post. It is straightforward, coherent, and accurate, but many readers who are unfamiliar with the workings of the Anglican Communion (and that would be most of the world) may need even a bit more context in order to makes sense of it all. I want to help with that. So here goes.

1. The Anglican Communion is a network of 38 Provinces around the world. The Episcopal Church is one of them. We consist of 15 nations. Other Provinces usually consist of only one nation. 

2. The Anglican Communion is not a law making body ruling the Provinces in the sense that the Vatican is such an authority for Roman Catholics. The Provinces are connected to each other by common mission and “bonds of affection.” The authority to make decisions resides in each Province. In The Episcopal Church, most authority resides in dioceses and dioceses regularly entrust most of the authority for daily church life to parishes. So we are connected but not by a dominating central authority. For theological reasons as well as adherence to tradition, such a central dominating authority would not be “the Anglican way.” The previous Archbishop proposed an Anglican Covenant that would have established some limited central authority, but it was soundly defeated by almost all the Provinces. 

3. Membership in the Anglican Communion is determined by connection to the four “Instruments of Communion” or unity. They are:

A. The Archbishop of Canterbury
In order to belong to the Anglican Communion, a Province must be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Episcopal Chruch is the only church in the United States in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

B. The Lambeth Conference
Roughly every decade or so all the Anglican bishops have met for fellowship, Bible study, and theological reflection.

C. The Primates Meeting
From time to time the head bishops of the Provinces gather, as at this week's Primates Meeting.

D. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)
This is a board that actually directs the activities of the Anglican Communion. It is somewhat analogous to a parish in which the Archbishop is in the role of rector and the Council is in the role of the vestry.

4. The Anglican Communion is governed principally by the ACC, which appoints some administrative committees to implement its directives. However, the main action of the Anglican Communion is in “networks.” You can learn about the networks at their web site. I was hoping you could learn about the “committees” that are the point of controversy this week. However, I cannot find anything about the committees on their web site except one committee that administratively implements the policies of the ACC between their sessions. Half of that committee is appointed by the Primates and half by the ACC. That raises the issue that the Primates do not actually have the authority to bar The Episcopal Church from committee positions that are in the jurisdiction of the ACC. However, I predict we will not contest that issue. 

What happened this week? 

The Primates Meeting is one of the instruments of communion. Six of the Primates threatened to walk out (thereby impairing but not completely breaking communion with the rest of us) unless the Epsicopal Church was sanctioned — the desired sanction being to exclude Bishop Curry from the meeting. The Primates just were not going to do that. But in order to placate the six angry Primates and get them to remain part of the Primates Meeting, a majority of the Primates voted to exclude us from working on committees for three years. So, in terms of our relationship status within the Anglican Communion:

1. We are still in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

2. We attended the last Lambeth Conference and will attend the next one. Some of the Provinces who are angry over women’s ordination and LGBTQ inclusion did not attend the last Lambeth but we did and there is no plan to disinvite us or for us to miss it.

3. We are still part of the Primates Meeting, which was unanimously affirmed by the Primates this week. Even the six angry Primates agreed to that.

4. We are still represented on the ACC. After the Eugene Robinson controversy, the Primates asked us to absent ourselves from the ACC for three years. We did. That was a much bigger deal than being excluded from committees. But we did it. We then returned and carried on as before.

5. Networks are not officially “instruments of communion” but they are where the mission of the Communion is actually carried out so they may matter as much or more than the official instruments of communion. We are still part of the networks. 

6. Partnerships are relationships between dioceses in different provinces. This knits us together even more than networks. Nevada has been and remains in partnership with the Diocese of Santiago, Philippines and the Diocese of Makuene, Kenya.

In the words of Bishop Chilton Knudson of Maryland, "the sky is not falling." This is my reaction to the Primate's action: if being excluded from committees for three years is the price we have to pay for full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, it is a price I would pay many times over. If our not serving on committees for three years preserves the bonds of Christian fellowship that constitute the Anglican Communion, I am more than willing to pay the price for that good purpose as well. Our union in Christ does not depend on committees but on our love of God and service to God’s people in common mission. 

We are in the media limelight this week as a result of the Primates’ action. We are receiving cyber hate mail from the anti-religious and the fundamentalists alike. (We are also receiving a great deal of appreciation from unchurched people for our inclusivity.) All this is to be expected and goes with the turf of being the middle way. I do not mind that at all. One thing I am seeing in the media does disturb me. Some Episcopalians have reacted by calling on The Episcopal Church to withdraw funding from the Anglican Communion. I understand the hurt that lies behind such a response. But I am disappointed that we have so utterly failed to teach stewardship. We don’t give or withhold the money God has entrusted to us in order to exercise power or claim status. Our commitment to the Five Marks of Mission is far more important that any pique we feel about not being appointed to committees on a temporary basis. I am confident the Episcopal Church will turn the other cheek and continue to support the Anglican Communion. If any of your people talk of withholding money from Canterbury, please urge them to prayerfully reflect on Philippians 2: 1-17; Luke 23: 34; Colossians 3:13. 

Even in our congregations and dioceses, we continue to deal with the basic problem of people using money and power to enforce their moral perspective. At stake is a fundamental question of the world's ways of wealth/ power versus relationality as as opposing ways we might seek to influence each other. The Church has a duty to show "by word and example" the superiority of the Sermon on the Mount way. We will better lead in the Communion by modeling the way of Jesus extending forgiveness rather than retaliation -- particularly in the context of wealthy Americans using wealth against Provinces that are so poor. I believe the dynamics in the Communion are not really about sexuality. At Lambeth the African bishops demonstrated little interest in the subject. It is actually a protest arising out of a sense of powerlessness, a legacy of Western imperialism. Assertions of wealth/power by us would only deepen that divide and further entrench them.

Yesterday, one non-Episcopal social media commenter, observed that now the Episcopal Church will know how LGBTQ people have felt for years as they were excluded from family gatherings and social fellowship. That comment stays with me. Any sense of exclusion we straight Episcopalians may feel pales by comparison to what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have long endured. This small token of ostracism should teach us compassion for them and deepen our resolve to extend healing through full inclusion. The calling of this moment is to grow our compassion. 


John B. Chilton said...

Wondering about your thoughts on this part of the communique:

"The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, bishop Dan.

Thank you for your compassion.

Thank you for your understanding.

Thank you for your wisdom.

Thank God that you are a bishop in The Episcopal Church.

Anonymous said...

What makes me think about the whole "Anglican Communion," thing hard as not required is that when our country as Episcopalians through Scotland NOT in actual communion the English Church! We chose to rebel against England and begin a new path in our Anglican faith and in government! If need be we can do it again.

DianeNM said...

Thank you for this.

Unknown said...

Thank you Bishop Dan for your comments. I have been reading articles that have surfaced since the primates actions but yours lays everything out in order and with great understanding. We are blessed to have your wisdom to follow.

Eric Funston said...

Nicely said, Dan. The more we can teach about our tradition and polity, the better. This is a good addition to that effort. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am a member of the Church of England and I find the attitude of TEC deeply ironic. You are very good at playing the victim, but the message of grace and inclusion would have a lot more credibility if it came from a church that showed some grace towards those who hold different opinions from them. Call off the vindictive legal actions against congregations that have chosen to leave TEC and you would have more chance of appearing to be a Christian community.

Little Bear said...

TalkandChatter, you aren't altogether accurate. After the consecration of Samuel Seabury by the Scottish Non-Juring bishops the C of E changed its rules and Bishops White (PA) and Provoost (NY) were consecrated by the C of E. The three Bishops disagreed on many things, but they came together to form the required threesome for the nucleus of an American episcopate. So we are descended from both lines even though Seabury's concordat with the Scots stood, and like the Scottish Episcopal Church, we are in communion with Canterbury however much we may disagree. (Note that while Bp White played peacemaker, Provoost hated Seabury and absented himself on one crucial occasion from their deliberations as a proto House of Bishops pleading a migrane which may or may not have been a gentlemanly way of avoiding a fight.)