I've read the letter from Archbishop Peter Akinola to Archbishop Rowan Williams several times.
So what are we to make of this strange letter? The Archbishop of Nigeria does not even acknowledge that the general content of the ABC's letter was clearly reported to be the request that the service not go forward. Archbishop Akinola makes it clear that he is set on a course and that CANA is here to stay, barring an unforeseen overturning of decisions by the Episcopal Church.
I think the Archbishop of Nigeria could have been clearer and shorter in his response. Here is a much shortened rewrite of the full version of his letter which can be found HERE:
I read your letter. It came too late, the deed was done before I read it. No matter, it was always too late. Those TEC people have dishonoured the Lord's name and they will not retract. CANA is here to stay. There are people to save, bishops to elect and a plan already in place for province to replace The Episcopal Church. Bishop Minns, and CANA established, are just the first steps in this process. But you knew that.
Lest the reader think this is an exaggeration or a parody, take a look at some of the wording in the actual letter (quotes from the letter are in italics and a different font, with highlights in red. My comments are in normal font style.)
"I have received your note expressing your reservations regarding my plans to install Bishop Martyn Minns as the first Missionary Bishop of CANA."
I suppose then it was not a long letter, but a "note", but wait….
"Even though your spokesmen have publicized the letter and its general content I did not actually receive it until after the ceremony".
Ok, it's a letter. The actual letter was not made public, only the fact that it had been sent, and according to the report on Anglican Mainstream, where it was first publicized, its general content was as follows: "Lambeth Palace today confirmed the Archbishop of Canterbury has written to the African Primate asking him to cancel his trip to Virginia to carry out the service." This is not about "expressing reservations," this is about "asking him to cancel his trip …to carry out the service." So Archbishop Akinola knew about the letter and its content. He ignored it.
"We are a deeply divided Communion. As leaders of the Communion we have all spent enormous amounts of time, travelled huge distances - sometimes at great risk, and expended much needed financial resources in endless meetings, communiqués and reports – Lambeth Palace 2003, Dromantine 2005, Nottingham 2006 and Dar es Salaam 2007. …"
Only Lambeth Palace 2003 (the special meeting of the Primates) was specifically about the divided Communion. The other meetings were the regularly scheduled meetings of Primates and the ACC. The only added expense and time at them grew from additional strategy meetings with persons not part of either the Primates or the ACC in and around those meetings. This is a red herring.
"…As I stated to you, and all of the primates in Dar es Salaam, although CANA is an initiative of the Church of Nigeria – and therefore a bonafide branch of the Communion - we have no desire to cling to it. CANA is for the Communion and we are more than happy to surrender it to the Communion once the conditions that prompted our division have been overturned."
The first highlighted words – a bonafide branch – is part of an argument tried before. The argument is that because the Church of Nigeria is a branch of the Anglican Communion, and CANA is part of the CoN, therefore CANA is a branch of the Communion. But this is hokum.
Provinces are constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Dioceses are not. There are the rare exceptions of extra-provincial dioceses directly under Canterbury, but these are understood precisely in relation to Canterbury. Claiming that a diocese, part of a province, is also a branch of the Communion is a "nose under the tent" way to get to the desired end: CANA as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a province in the making in the wings.
The second highlighted words – we are more than happy to surrender it to the Communion – are an echo of what the Archbishop said on Saturday in Virginia. Here the offer is to turn CANA, this gift for the Communion, over to the Communion. What this means, who knows, but we might do well to consider the relational terms here: surrender is contingent on the conditions that prompted the divisions being overturned. There is no mention of any conversation between The Episcopal Church and others; CANA is not to be surrendered to The Episcopal Church in any case, but to "the Communion." The wording may not be completely clear, but the intention is: no negotiations with The Episcopal Church at all, they must either overturn their prior decisions or have them overturned. At that point CANA will be surrendered to the Communion. But of course the Archbishop does not think this will happen.
"We have sought to respond in a measured way. We delayed the election of our first CANA bishop until after General Convention 2006 to give The Episcopal Church every opportunity to embrace the recommendations of the Windsor report – to no avail. At the last meeting of the Church of Nigeria House of Bishops we deferred a decision regarding the election of additional suffragans for CANA out of respect for the Dar es Salaam process."
The measure, of course, is a measure of escalating actions: you (TEC) didn't do as we believed you must, given Windsor, so we set up CANA and then we elected Bishop Minns. If you don't now do as we believe you must given Dar es Salaam, we will elect more bishops. (P.S. when we have enough we'll have enough to start a province.)
"Sadly we have seen no such respect from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church."
The Archbishop considers the measured response of establishing CANA, electing a bishop, installing him as bishop of CANA, planned additional suffragans, as somehow respectful, and he sees no such respect from the House of Bishops of TEC. Perhaps he has confused respect with submission.
"In the middle of all of this the Lord's name has been dishonoured."
In my better moments I presume the Archbishop means dishonored by our "unhappy divisions." That is no doubt true. But I don't think that is what he means; rather I believe he means the Lord's name has been dishonored by The Episcopal Church. He goes on to say "…many will be lost to the church and thousands of souls will be imperilled…. It is imperative that we continue to protect those at most risk." No mention of any dishonour by folks in the realignment crowd.
So what are we to make of this strange letter? It seems arrogant, and it surely seems the declaration of the first step to the Global South vision of an alternative province.