(Note: This is one of series of comments on the Windsor Report meant to be food for thought. These notes represent my personal concerns and NOT the concerns of any committee to which I now or ever have belonged! They will be titled WINDSOR NOSH # , and then a subtitle.)
WINDSOR NOSH #2: The Bishops as Instruments of Communion
The Windsor Report suggests that the bishops of the Anglican Communion, at least at the Lambeth Conference, constitute an "instrument of communion." Fair enough, but that assumes that they are individually up to it.
The past several weeks have not been kind to the notion that our fathers and mothers in God, the constituent members of the Lambeth Conference, constitute an instrument of unity or communion or whatever. Granted, unity in the environment of the Anglican Communion is elusive. Yet we often enough have a sense of that unity to where we hope for and want more. This makes it all the more distressing to hear that:
The Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, gave a talk at the House of Bishop’s meeting on the twenty-second of March. It was widely read as at least in part a message from the Archbishop of Canterbury by way of a spokesperson. The Bishop talked about the concerns that we might elect a bishop possibly unacceptable to the wider Communion “without seeking the assent of that wider church catholic (and this is about more than consultation)…”
The talk ended with this sign-off, “And if we find ways of continuing and deepening our journey together the joy will be all the sweeter. And if, God forbid, that is not to be then the tears will be more bitter and the sorrow so much deeper too. Thank you so much and God bless you all.” The essence of the matter was that the Bishop opined that we should seek assent from the wider church catholic for our elections, and that, if we agree fine, if not goodbye. It all sounded like the last warning shot prior to the killer salvo. Not a pleasant message at all.
Several bishops have remarked that they found his remarks arrogant and condescending. Given the ways in which bishops elsewhere in the Communion find themselves elected or appointed, the Bishop of Exeter has little room to talk about election reform. One bishop remarked that Exeter’s comments were a deliberate effort to effect the content of legislation at General Convention, dissuade electors in San Francisco and interject a model of confirmation of Episcopal elections no where else in effect, all with the implied threat that the bishops must guide the process in this direction or else.
That was a month ago, and still the strange taste lingers: will there be no end to these meddlesome priests? It appears not.
Lord Carey, retired Archbishop of Canterbury, was soundly criticized earlier this week for being unsupportive of the current Archbishop and it appears that his mucking about in the Episcopal Church was equally found wanting by our own Presiding Bishop. The letter, which appeared in the Sunday Times appears without signatures. The Presiding Bishop is reported to have written Lord Carey concerning Carey’s endorsement of a survey of Episcopal Church bishops.
The Archbishop of Nigeria was interviewed this week about the extent to which his remarks on the difficulties in Nigeria between Muslim and Christian believers must be understood in context and never seemed to be able to either explain his support for legislation that criminalizes gay marriage and makes meetings in support of gay rights illegal. Some have argued that this is all internal to Nigeria and we should all mind our own business.
There are two problems with this: (i) The Archbishop of all Nigeria has become an international spokesperson against the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the full ministry and life of the church, and (ii) he is very much about minding the business of Anglicans elsewhere in the world – specifically in North America.
But of course the real issue is what sort of mischief is the Archbishop about next, this Archbishop who formed an organization “The Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in America” which strangely morphed into “The Convocation of Anglicans in North America.” The Archbishop has promised to provide new bishops for pastoral oversight of this Convocation and there is talk that that will happen soon, and in the United States. This will of course be mucking about in a big way.
Then we have the not too inspiring story of the appointment, and then stoning of the new bishop of Lake Malawi, appointed it appears to take the place of the person elected in the diocese but rejected by the Province of Central Africa, Paul Henderson from England. At least some of the electors in Lake Malawi seem to have problems with the appointment of someone not of their own choosing. Living proof of the possible dangers in intefering with angry local churchpeople.
I am sure there are more such stories, but enough for one day.
The question is not whether bishops, like the rest of us, occasionally behave badly. The question is whether they are the residents a separate mansion in the house that Jesus built, such that they can collectively be an “instrument of communion” separate from the laity and other clergy. There seems to be limited accountability among themselves and little concern for the possibility that some insight might derive from sources outside.
It gives pause to the idea that the bishops constitute enough of a community to be an instrument of unity or communion.