Episcopal Life online announced Thursday (Sept 20) that eight diocesan bishops have agreed to serve "as official 'episcopal visitors' (the lowercase adjective referring generally to bishops and their ministries rather than the church's denomination), or to provide "Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight" (DEPO), an option provided by the House of Bishops' March 2004 statement "Caring for All the Churches" and a concept affirmed by the General Convention in 2006."
"The eight are active diocesan bishops Frank Brookhart of Montana, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (based in Columbia, S.C.), John Howe of Central Florida (based in Orlando), Gary Lillibridge of West Texas (based in San Antonio), Michael Smith of North Dakota, James Stanton of Dallas, and Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, together with retired Connecticut Bishop Clarence Coleridge."
Jim Naughton, chief cook and bottle washer at Episcopal Café, notes the presence in this list of two of the ten diocesans of the Anglican Communion Network and two of the "Windsor Bishops." The fact that the Presiding Bishop and, one gathers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, see these folk as "bridge builders" is of some interest.
Remember that Bishop Duncan, as Moderator of the Network, said this about going to this House of Bishops Meeting: "the Network Bishops have agreed to take part in the upcoming meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates Steering Committee and Anglican Consultative Council. We do so, some of us at least, without any implied recognition of or submission to the American primate…" That did not sound like bridge building at all. It would appear that in taking on the role as "episcopal visitors" at least two Network bishops have "implied recognition of … the American primate…" and are much more, let us say, pont like and less pontifical.
What, if anything, are we to make of all this? For some time there have been questions about the level of support by other Network bishops for the most recent positions taken by the Moderator. While both Bishops Stanton and Howe were at the Network annual meeting and both have long records of faithful engagement in Network actions, Bishop Stanton has been remarkably silent in the past year and Bishop Howe has taken his place in the governance of The Episcopal Church and has made his considerable influence felt. Bishop Howe was put forward the resolution that got the Archbishop of Canterbury to this House of Bishops meeting. In accepting the role of "episcopal visitor" they are making a commitment to life together in The Episcopal Church at precisely the time when the Network leadership is contending that further relation to The Episcopal Church is a waste, since TEC is broken beyond repair.
I have good reason to believe that these two are not alone and that other Network bishops have been committed to working "from the inside" for change, and continue to work for such change, but are not ready to end their relationship with TEC. Indeed there is a growing sense that as the leadership in ACN grows more distant from TEC, some of the Network bishops are increasingly unhappy. My sense (which will in one way or another be proven out) is that of the ten diocesan bishops in the ACN, only five are willing to step out with the Moderator and take part in the ordination of invader bishops and commit themselves to a pre-Provincial council of bishops which recognizes these invader bishops and bishops from the Anglican Province of America and the Reformed Episcopal Church as part of a new emerging province.
We will, of course, see. Next week, beginning on September 25th, the Common Cause Partners will meet in Pittsburgh. That meeting will test the resolve of bishops Stanton and Howe to remain part of TEC as "episcopal visitors" while at the same time continuing as members of the Network which seems more and more to be devoted to providing an alternative Provincial entity meant to replace TEC as part of the Anglican Communion. The test case will come, I suspect, when "International Partners" of the Network determine to ordain new bishops here in the US and invite sitting US Bishops to take part. Those who do will be burning bridges, not building them.
Four of the "Windsor Bishops" attending the last meeting at Camp Allen, and presumably the Windsor Bishops meeting the night before the beginning of the House of Bishops meeting, have put forward a resolution for approval by the House of Bishops that essentially submits entirely to the wishes of the Dar Es Salaam Communiqué. Two of those making the proposal, Bishops Geralyn Wolf, and C. Franklin Brookhart are part of the group of eight – the episcopal visitors. This is certainly a signal that being willing to be an episcopal visitor does not mean holding back on opinions regarding the proper actions to be taken by the House of Bishops.
Again, who among the Windsor Bishops is willing to have anything further to do with the Network if it proceeds further with its efforts to move out of TEC and into an alternative Anglican entity? Who among them is up for usurpation? Not many, I suspect.
Fr. Jake has a good take on what the episcopal visitor proposal is about and what it does. How it will be greeted by the Network leadership is unclear, but I suspect it will be rejected out of hand.