BabyBlueCafe is in a snit about a recent letter sent by Bishop Lee to twenty-one clergy who had previously been inhibited informing them of the next step, which is to declare the final decision that they have indeed abandoned the ministry of this Church. Bishop Lee says, as per BB's blog: "On January 22, 2007, I inhibited you from exercising your priestly ministry on the basis that by your actions, you had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church." Now six months later he is following up, as canons require, and informing them of the close of the period of inhibition and the removal of these persons from the ordained ministry of this Church.
About that sentence, BabyBlue says:
"He also introduces a brand new phrase here - not seen before in 400 years of the Anglican Church in Virginia. There is now something called "The Communion of The Episcopal Church." So now we have not only the Anglican Communion that all we all know, we also have something new called The Communion of the Episcopal Church."
She wants this to be "breaking news." It is no news at all. These clergy are not acting as members of the clergy of the Diocese of Virginia, or The Episcopal Church. Presumably they have been admitted as clergy of other Provinces and operate under the direction of bishops of those Churches.
BabyBlue seems to think that somehow Bishop Lee has invented some new entity, "the Communion of the Episcopal Church."
Actually, BabyBlue and others need to read the Canons of The Episcopal Church (Title IV: Canon 10), in which the phrase "communion of this Church" is used repeatedly. When Bishop Lee writes about the "communion of The Episcopal Church" he is rightly spelling out the meaning of "this Church," which clearly in the canons is a reference to The Episcopal Church. Writing outside the confines of the Canons themselves it is proper to indicate what the "this" refers to.
The letter is part of a process by which these twenty-one clergy are released from their obligations and rights as members of the clergy of this Church. Our canons say nothing about what ministry they might have in other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, or indeed in other churches in Christendom. What the canons do make clear is that in abandoning the communion of this church they cease to have the license to exercise their ministry in The Episcopal Church.
To the extent that ordination is indelible these clergy continue to be priests and deacons. As far as I know no Province is requiring that clergy coming in from another part of the Anglican Communion be re-ordained.' In admitting them into the communion of that Province they may require an oath of conformity to the doctrine and discipline of that church.
As regards the letter, Bishop Lee is doing what the Canons require. BabyBlue's other concern, namely that these clergy were cut off without health benefits, is another matter. Given the rotten shape of health insurance coverage in this country I would hope that some provision has been made, one way or another, for these clergy.
Moving on: This last Sunday in Lewes, the village by the bay, we had our usual fine services at St. Peter's. The eight and ten o'clock services were both well attended. The sermon was fine. The Eucharist was as always a sustaining sacrament. We ask visitors to tell us who they are and where they were from. A couple stood up and said they were from the Washington D.C. area, and after church I met them for a moment in the entryway to the Church and after saying how glad we were that they were there, and passing remarks about Camp Arrowhead (where their kids had gone in the past) asked, "which parish?"
The man was just a little taken back and said, rather quietly, "Truro." I said, also a little taken back, "Ah.. well I'm glad you are here." Then I asked an awkward question, asked awkwardly…. "so, are you part of….the new Truro or…" He said, "Well, that's not how I'd describe it." I said, "I know… you noticed my hesitancy and stumbling. Maybe better, are you with the majority of the congregation?" He said, "yes." I said, "these are difficult times, but I have every confidence it will work out somehow." He looked quizzically. I said, "Remember we have two thousand years of experience in being broken. It will all resolve itself."
What I didn't get to say, because I didn't think to do so, is something like this: "I'm very glad you were here with us and that we shared communion together." He and his wife were welcome there, and I have no doubt I would be welcome at Truro. Communion, in some larger sense, is not about the communion of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, the Communion of the Roman Catholic church, etc. It is about communion, spiritual and physical, in particular places where our faith and practice come together and we are a community that welcomes as we are able.
This week our family is meeting in Amsterdam and then in Bucharest, Romania. I have been welcomed in the past at St. Nicholas Church, Bucharest, part of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The clergy have asked me to sit inside the iconostasis during the celebration. I have felt very welcome. Knowing that I cannot receive communion physically I none the less know, and they know too, that I have received spiritually and that we are part of the same body even when we cannot talk that way very easily.
When we open our doors and hearts to one another, the churchly necessity of distinctions – a necessity that is real and must be dealt with as real – falls away a bit. In its place arises the reality that we are mostly intent on the bread of life and the fellowship of Christ-community. We will find it where we need to and will be filled. Refreshment is at hand.