Monday, October 22, 2007

Our Rowan he sent Howe a letter

By now you've probably seen or know where to find a copy of the email letter the Archbishop of Canterbury sent to Bishop Howe who heads up the Diocese of Central Florida. But I'm going to post it here with my comments interspersed. The ABC's letter is in italics.

14 October 2007

Dear John

I've just received your message, which weighs very heavily on my heart, as it must - though far more so - on yours.

Heavy hearted because a substantial number of churches in the diocese are contemplating leaving the diocese.

At this stage, I can say only two things. The first is that I have committed myself very clearly to awaiting the views of the Primates before making any statement purporting to settle the question of The Episcopal Church's status, and I can't easily short-circuit that procedure. The second is that your Rectors need to recognize that this process is currently in train and that a separatist decision from them at this point would be irresponsible and potentially confusing.

He's referring here to the recently concluded House of Bishops statement and the process he's set in place to review whether that response is adequate. The process to my understanding is not fully articulated but the next signpost in view is for the primate responses (and other ACC member responses) due late this month. I would be surprised if he saying that a decision is imminent or that he's concluded even who exactly has the authority to make such a decision.

However, without forestalling what the Primates might say, I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such.

To paraphrase: "I'm saying nothing new. If your diocese is Windsor Compliant you are Anglican regardless of the fate of The Episcopal Church." I had not realized that this was the status quo under which we were operating. You'd certainly not get that impression from Bob Duncan, or from Martyn Minns. Why does one need to go seek another harbor if the ABC himself is giving you safe harbor (the Diocese of Virginia is Windsor Compliant, no?)?

This status quo, though, undermines the ability of a national church to cohere. What incentive do dioceses have to stay in dialog with each other, to listen to each other,to be mutually forebearing towards each other - to pay their dues - if they can opt out of the national church and still be Anglican? Is that what is implied?

Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor. Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned. Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.

A criticism of those rectors cum churches who leave their dioceses. A criticism, too, of Common Cause bishops who have one foot out the door with their dioceses. And a criticism of foreign Primates offering harbor. (Notice: They're not Windsor Compliant. Hmmm.)

Do feel free to pass on these observations to your priests.

Translation: "I'm about to wrap this up. And I should say something tender. Oh, but here's another thought as I'm getting in touch with my feeling side...."

I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'. I think that if more thought in these terms there might be more understanding of why priests in a diocese such as yours ought to maintain their loyalty to their sacramental communion with you as Bishop.

He's reiterating his core point about ecclesial identity. But then he throws in the phrase "abstract reality of the 'national church'." There's been much buzzing on the web about what that means. As in, isn't the Anglican Communion a communion of national provinces? Perhaps he means 'national church' isn't Biblical; nor of course then is the Church of England. Nor is the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the Pope. Nor the Primates! Or is he saying something specific about the organizational design of The Episcopal Church? My guess is, no. But it's only a guess.

But at the emotional level I can understand something of the frustration they doubtless experience, just as you must.

With continuing prayers and love,


Ok, I'm done. Stick a fork in it.

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