The Widening Gyre of Contention

The signals are mixed in these hot days of August, and the widening gyre gathers Anglican Churches in what seems to be an ever widening circle of contentions.

We remember the poem, the one by W.B. Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
ere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!
Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops
again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

How pitiable the reckless and foolish warfare among Anglicans these days! Against the larger madness of a new century no where near willing or able to address the mechanics, economics and policies of violence, how oddly terrible that some of us stake out sacred turf and disown others on account of the normal, miserable and quite local efforts to love.

In the midst of the perils of this age, we ought to encourage every commitment to respect and honor and love and care between people, and those who come to the church to ask a blessing of God and the community ought to be received as if they were the last best hope for humankind… for they are.

But Yeats, depressed Irish poet, has a vision, filled with the likes of the passionate intensities of the worse, and the lack of convictions of the best.

It is time for us to change that. The mad Irish vision is not all there is. The anarchy, in its small ecclesial reflection in the Anglican Communion, is a result not of having a tight enough ecclesial system, but of not having the courage of our convictions in a world swirling with the flotsam and jetsam of the great gyre, the circling pool of violence.

So for a moment I want to look at the lasts week’s scraps of paper, news, ecclesial junk and glory, for in that mess is also a beginning place for conviction in the face of violence. Because these are tidbits, they may seem, and are, somewhat disconnected. Yet, in there somewhere is some new possibility for life again.

One bit of flotsam:

The reader may remember the blurb that accompanied the announcement that the Anglican Communion Network was set to adopt the “Common Cause Roundtable” Theological Statement It said, in part,

“Among the most significant considerations before the upcoming Annual Council of the Anglican Communion Network (July 31 – August 2 in Pittsburgh) are a ‘Theological Statement’ and a ‘Mission Covenant Declaration,’ proposed by the Common Cause Roundtable. The Common Cause Roundtable chaired by Bishop Robert Duncan in his role as Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, and composed of two leaders each from eight major Anglican entities, has proposed these documents for adoption by each of the partner bodies. ‘If accepted, these documents formalize a foundation for our shared faith and ministry as orthodox Anglicans in North America,' said Bishop Duncan."

Several people and I have commented on the theological statement. It was my understanding that the Roundtable had produced this statement and now was bringing it to the Network Annual Council for their adoption. Well, here is an excerpt from the report from the Episcopal News Service about what happened there:

“The 80 delegates to the Anglican Communion Network's (ACN) Annual Council meeting in Pittsburgh agreed to support the process of developing an outline of ‘basic and unifying theological commitments’ to which all members would be expected to adhere. The document is referred to in an August 2 ACN news release as a "Covenant Declaration of the Common Cause Partners." On July 13, the Network posted on its website a ‘theological statement’ and a ‘mission covenant statement.’ The posted theological statement was a seven-item list of ‘affirmations and commentary’ that its introduction says signers will agree "contain the chief elements of Anglican Reformed Catholicism, and to be essential for membership.’

The document will be further refined at the upcoming Common Cause Roundtable meeting, scheduled for August 16 – 18 in Pittsburgh.” (highlight mine)

It would seem that there was a slip between the cup and the lip. The expectation seemed to have been that the Network Council would adapt the Theological Statement as the ACN’s buy in to the new Common Cause Covenant. But that did not happen. The proclaimed Theological Statement submitted for adoption was now the “the current draft.” (See ACN press release on the meeting of Council.)

Well, that happens. Things considered accomplished are suddenly found to be wanting. God knows General Convention has had its share of such doings.

But what is interesting here is that it appears that something was not right, as far as the Council was concerned, with the whole theological statement as presented, and that there were refinements needed. What were they? Maybe someone didn't really like each and every one of the Thirty-Nine Articles, or perhaps thought that it might be hard to distinguish between the Historic Episcopate and the "godly Historic Episcopate." Who knows?

Another bit of flotsam:

The Washington Times wrote this about the election of Canon Martyn Minns as a bishop in the Church of Nigeria to work in the US:

“… the Nigerians' decision to consecrate an American got a cool reception from conservative U.S. bishops. Only Quincy, Ill., Bishop Keith Ackerman applauded the move. Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, president of the Anglican Communion Network, the largest conservative Episcopal group, has refused comment. "Bishop-elect Minns is a very gifted pastor, teacher and leader," his communications director, Peter Frank, said recently, while adding that he was not speaking for the bishop. "The Church of Nigeria ... has given leadership when no one else was willing to do it."

(Fr. Jake Stops the World has commented on the question of whether he can continue to be rector of a church in Virginia and a bishop in a church that has broken communion with the Episcopal Church and declared the Episcopal Church “a
cancerous lump in the body”)

So what is this about? Remember that two of the Common Cause partners have a covenant with the Church of Nigeria and that there are churches in the US under the spiritual direction of dioceses in the Church of Nigeria. The Network wants to propose a non-territorial entity related to the Network made up of all those parishes currently with Episcopal oversight from outside the Episcopal Church. And, the Network itself has made strong overtures to some of the “Global South” bishops. Why is the Moderator standing apart (dare we suggest walking apart...no that is defunct language now)?

It would appear that there is some strains in communion between the Network and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Bishop Minns, as a presence of one sort of Global South alternative to the Network, is perhaps not all good news.

The Moderator has in an indirect way threatened the Archbishop of Canterbury with the specter of a Global South realignment of the whole Communion. See my commentary on this: “Challenging the Archbishop: latest report from the stack of cards.” But what happens when CANA is with bishop? What of the Network then? Will the threat have been engaged, or will there simply be a new partner in the Common Cause Partnership?

More flotsam:

Now, thanks to Kendall Harmon I read that Telegraph reporter Jonathan Petre has written the following, in an article titled, “Bishops fly to US for summit of Anglican hard-liners,” an article mostly about the meeting of bishops with Bishop Wimberly of Texas:

“The meeting will explore ways to bolster the conservative bloc and may debate the possibility of introducing "flying" primates to oversee dissenting dioceses or appointing a retired bishop to act as a commissary for the archbishop.”

The reader will recall that the meeting which will take place in September, was called by Bishop Wimberly for “all members of the House of Bishops who are willing to stand firmly with the recommendations of the Windsor Report.” See Living Church online article.

Bishop Wimberly was among those invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury before General Convention to have “conversations” about the future of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It was the only one of those conversations at all publicized. While there were several “moderates” in the bishop list, there were no progressives and more importantly no lay people, or as far as I know no Gay or Lesbian Episcopalians. As far as I know NO Gay or Lesbian persons have been included in any advisory way the unfolding determination of what will “happen” to the Episcopal Church. My sense is no Gay or Lesbian person, at least out, will be present at the Wimberly gathering either.

But most interestingly Reporter Petre from across the pond thinks they may “debate the possibility of introducing “flying” primates to oversee dissenting dioceses or appointing a retired bishop to act as commissary for the archbishop.”

Here is a picture of a flying primate:

When I first saw The Wizard of Oz, the flying primates scared the hell out of me.

Do we really want or need this?

An additional piece of flotsam:

If you wonder where the churches under overseas jurisdiction are, as well as the churches of the other Common Cause Partners, and even the smaller breakaway Anglican Churches, here is a nifty map to help you. Again, thanks to Kendall Harmon. Notice how fragmented they are? And how few? Go to the MAP of Anglicans not in The Episcopal Church HERE.

A small hope among the fragments...

But here friends is a hopeful thing, something from the Bishops in Nigeria's critical response to the Archbishop's ruminations that raises a question we all might gather round, for in the widening gyre surely we ought to heed the following:

“That we must change is without contention, but should we not change for the better – as redeemed, reconciled and transformed people of God who have a witness to a lost and broken world?”

And so the turning continues, and every once and a while something sane, even if it were meant to be critical, gets said.

But I turn to ask again: what was the point of all this mess? Ghandi is reported to have said that God would not dare appear today except as bread. Maybe these days God would not dare appear except as loving kindness, by people for one another, for the answer to violence is actually pretty simple, but hard to come by these days. We do indeed need to celebrate it everytime it crops up.

Pass the courage.


  1. I'm hoping that someone will feel the need to employ the phrase "shotgun wedding at CANA" so I can get it out of my head.


    h p burkett
    austin, tx

  2. Hi Mark,

    Just a correction in your posting - there are no former ECUSA churches under Nigerian bishop oversight - they are under the oversight of Ugandan bishops, not Nigerian.

    Also, Canon Minns participated in the ACN gathering and remains a member of the moderator's advisor team.

    I enjoy reading your posts - they are thoughtful and very interesting and while we obviously have different points of view, I enjoy reading your writing. You're a very good writer.


  3. babyblue may be correct... that there are at the moment no former ECUSA churches under Nigerian bishop oversight. There are, however, Nigerian congregations in the US (see the map I reference.) I believe some of these were congregations of particular dioceses, now claimed to be churches of the Nigerian Church. Perhaps someone can give us more information.

    About Canon Minns... yes of course he is part of ACN, and The Moderator was congratulatory at the ACN Council of his election. What the Telegraph referenced was, I suspect, a read of later ecclesial distance. Canon Minns is a very active supporter of the realignment position, a long time participant in ACN, was part of the group that met with the Archbishop of Canterbury shortly after GC 2003, and is very much involved in the Global South effort. I hope that my question at the end of that section was understood as a real question - which was to ask if CANA and the Network were cooperative or not.

    Thanks for the note. And thanks for the kind words about my writing.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.