This resolution is the linch pin holding together the deliberations on the other resolutions concerning the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It passed overwhelmingly, drawing votes from both the realignment and progressive deputies.
There are many ways to divide the house on these matters: conservative and liberal, orthodox and revisionist, those who argue for realignment and those who argue for progressive action, and on and on. This may be the only vote on which these various parties agree, for the overwhelming sentiment of the deputies and bishops at General Convention is indeed to commit this church to interdependence in the Anglican Communion.
The problem, of course, is that some see interdependence as a matter of autonomous bodies of their own free will acting interdependently and others see interdependence as defining the range of autonomous action. Issues long forgotten will be dusted off and make their appearance, and among them will be the historical circumstances that gave rise to the first of the instruments of communion, namely the Lambeth Conference. Were these autonomous churches that came together by invitation, or already autonomous-in-communion churches?
To hear the Windsor Report writers, you would think that they forgot that at that conference several genuinely autonomous churches joined the Church of England and its several jurisdictions or that at least some of the church leaders of England refused to attend, most notably the Archbishop of York. Autonomy was expressed in several fairly serious ways. The Windsor Report is excellent in many respects, but it is deficient in its historical memory on several matters, this being one.
On Wednesday night at the open hearing on the matters of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Network, had this to say:
“I believe, with the greatest of heartbreak and sadness, that the day has arrived where those who have chosen the Episcopal Church because of its catholic and evangelical reliability, and those who have chosen the Episcopal Church for its revolutionary character, can no longer be held together. For which Episcopal Church will the Committee, and then this Convention, decide? The future in Communion rests only with the former of the two. It cannot be both ways into the future.”
Included in this observation is the less obvious implication that until recently the catholic and evangelical emphasis and the revolutionary emphasis have in fact held. That is, the Episcopal Church has been in the past a mix of elements: catholic, evangelical and revolutionary. What is it that has held the church together that is now missing?
Perhaps it is that until recently many of us could hope that being catholic and evangelical might indeed be possible while being as well progressive and revolutionary. As a church we have resisted condemnation of clergy who were snake belly low or spiky high, given to the excesses of the spirit and the dryness of academia, wildly contemporary or madly eccentric, prophetic and pastoral. We have in other words lived with the quirkiness of our fellow Episcopal and Anglican friends in the sure and certain hope that one day they would retire or die and life would go on.
What was holding the church together was the tolerant middle, willing to live with the edges biting at them. The linch pins that string together this strange entourage of ecclesial wagons was primarily reflection on scripture and the saying of prayers, both set in the context of Common Prayer. And those prayers are profoundly about the incarnational presence of Christ in the world, and thus about mission and presence.
Evangelicals, Catholics, and Progressives are all committed to mission, and the mission activities are in fact quite often of very similar sorts, for in an incarnational way all have drawn the world into Christ present in those who are members of the body. As far as I can tell, neither the Lord Jesus or the suffering world has cared two wits whether the instrument of the Lord’s presence was of one or the other group, but only that God’s love was present in them.
So A159 concerns interdependence FOR something, as well as interdependence OF something. We are interdependent for the life of the world, and are interdependent so that the Lord Jesus, til he comes again, has a body in the world. We are not interdependent because the Anglican Communion is the answer to the question, “What is the Church?” We are interdependent because as the body of Christ (as believers) we are constantly working to make incarnate the witness to the Resurrection.
The way out of the mess we are in is not to get too riled up about the split between the catholic and evangelical on the one side and the progressive or “revolutionary” on the other, but rather to keep our eyes on the prize: The way out is to draw all people to Himself by being those who draw in the world’s sufferings and joys and transfigure them.
So, on one level, the linch pin of interdependence is something most parties in the Episcopal Church have been willing to give assent. We will of course have to continue the discussion about just what it means, but looking to Mission first, perhaps the discussion will be more muted since we know it will all work out in God’s good time.
In our time, however, here at Convention, we face a problem. The resolutions coming up are likely to generate a great deal of debate, some of it quite heated. People on the conservative and progressive sides both will dislike some of the proposals, for reasons quite different from one another. But they will might find themselves standing in the same line, arguing against this or that resolution for being either too stringent or too soft, for bending the knee too much to Windsor, or not conforming sufficiently.
If these forces prevail, and we are unable to perfect the resolutions on the floor to a point where agreement can be reached we could end up not passing the legislation at all. Those who believe, as the Moderator seems to believe, that the game is over will use the failure to reach agreement as a sign, perhaps THE sign, that the Episcopal Church has failed to stay connected to the Communion.
We will need our friends in the communion to point out two things to the contrary:
- A “no” vote on some of these resolutions does not necessarily imply the lack of desire to take the Windsor Report or the Communion seriously, but only that we are unable to find a way forward given the particulars of the legislation before us.
- The assessment of the Moderator, that the game is over, that the several forces in the Church cannot be held together, is not a universally held belief, and the decision by the Network that it is finished is not the decision of the whole of the Episcopal Church.
We need our friends to know that we are working as hard as we can to honor our commitment to life in the Anglican Communion and to cut us some slack. And the sign of our commitment is our focus on mission, on the hurting world, on being the presence of Christ in that world. Everything else will work its way forward, where we will know and recognize our fellow Anglicans around the world as friends in Christ.
Off to work. It is Friday, a full day of legislative work, and its work serves in one way or another the living Lord.
On an entirely separate matter, I was overjoyed to be with a bunch of former and current Episcopal College Chaplains last night for dinner. These people have been my mentors, friends, and companions through the years, and they don’t let up. It was wonderful.