10/04/2007

A Pile-Up, yes, but Almighty?

It's hard to get updated information on the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. The official website at anglicancommunion.org is at times bereft of real information. Two of the smallest Provinces, The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and The Province of the Southern Cone are beginning to figure in what Jonathan Petre is now calling "an almighty pile-up." The Bishop of Egypt and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer, has roundly criticized the work of the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates (on which he sits) for that Committee's response to the House of Bishop's statement at the close of their meeting in New Orleans.

His personal assistant issued this statement accompanying his observations about the meeting with the bishops in New Orleans. "“Please find attached the response of Bishop Mouneer to the House of Bishops of TEC. It is worth mentioning that the JSC sent out their draft report while Bishop Mouneer was in Syria and Lebanon with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Upon his arrival he asked for two days in order to study this draft before responding. By the time he responded, they had already published their official report (which you can find on the Anglican Communion website). Bishop Mouneer is incredibly disappointed and grieved by these actions of the ACO.”

I am sure he is. His prepared statement at the bishops meeting had already concluded what he later expressed as disappointment. The difficulty here is that Presiding Bishop Mouneer's remarks may have a ripple effect in that he is proposing that the time is at hand for a true separation of the ways between Anglicans like those in TEC and The Anglican Church of
Canada and even perhaps the Church of England, and the rest of the Communion. This flag has been waved before and now, with Bishop Mouneer's comments, is being taken up by English evangelicals. So the actions of the Presiding Bishop of a very small and fragle Province can have great effect.

But what is this Province? The Province of The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East is a small group of people spread out over a large part of North Africa, all of the countries of the Middle East and the Gulf States. In all of these countries put together there are about 35,000 baptized members. Many of these dioceses have been enhanced by the presence of Sudanese refugees and overseas workers. The province is divided into four dioceses.There are about 55 congregations and 90 clergy.

The "official" maps of the Anglican Communion color all the countries of North Africa, the Middle East, and the Gulf States, as part of this Province, but in some countries only a chaplaincy or two in the major cities exist as an Anglican presence. It is a province at risk of being overwhelmed by the flight of its constituencies because of religious and political strife
in the area.

One of the important characteristics of the Anglican Communion is that Provinces on some level get an equal voice. It is useful and important that the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East be heard. At the same time it is important to remember that he speaks from within a very small community of Christians. It is a community that needs our constant prayers and assistance and it has every right to voice its opinions. It has no more right than any other Province to declare its opinions as central to Anglicanism.

In several recent notices there have been references to "a conservative Primate" who would be willing to take in bishops and communicants of dioceses of The Episcopal Church, considering them to be the Diocese. I reported on these references HERE. Jonathan Petre, Neela Banerjee, and Stephen Bates all contributed to these references. Stephen Bates believes it will be The Province of the Southern Cone that will offer to take these dioceses in. Jonathan Petrie reports on Anglican Mainstream that, "Sometime in November, a conservative archbishop is planning to announce radical plans to adopt a breakaway group of conservative American dioceses,and the resulting collision could prove very messy indeed.
Under the plans, between three and five dioceses will - over a period of time - opt out of The Episcopal Church and affiliate with the conservative province thousands of miles away. The proposals, which I have seen, have been drawn up over a number of months and follow
extensive consultations between the bishops of the American dioceses and their counterparts in the province concerned."

On the assumption that Mr. Petre has the goods, I think Stephen Bates may be right about the who. The Province of the Southern Cone (PSC) has already done this in taking in the deposed bishop of Recife. I have heard of the "extensive conversations" going on in Argentina regarding these matters but cannot verify them by a second reference. I believe they have indeed gone on and unless wiser heads prevail I suspect Bates was right in naming the PSC. Mr. Petre is holding matters close to his chest. Why? If he is at all an independent reporter he ought to let the cat out of the bag. Just who is the "conservative Primate" in question?

Petre says the first of the dioceses to try this out from the US will probably be San Joaquin. That Diocese has talked about alignment with the PSC before and given that they are having a second reading of their constitutional changes in December, I think Petre is right to say "it is due to leap first."

Leaping to the PSC is leaping again into a Province that has had a rough go of it. The Province covers the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.It is reported that the province currently has 27,000 members. It has seven bishops. Its numbers are swollen by the inclusion of parishes from the US over which one or another diocese (notably Bolivia) has exercised ecclesial oversight.

So if the PSC is the receiver of new dioceses made up of old bishops and communicants from US dioceses, it will grow all out of proportion to any normal evangelical outreach into its own territories.

Unlike the amazing growth reported in mid Africa, these two Provinces have had difficult times. The one has become a Province of refugees, chaplaincies and small indigenous growth. The other has become a province just coming out of British evangelical leadership into slow but hopeful locally led growth.

If the Province of the Southern Cone becomes the receiver of even modestly sized groups from former dioceses in the US, the overwhelming Anglican population of the Province will be Americans living overseas. They may bring resources to the PSC, but they will also bring people not attuned to English evangelical ways or Latin American Christianity. If the PSC is the intended receiver they need to think this through carefully. It will spell the demise of a genuinely Latin American expression of Anglicanism in the Southern Cone for a long long time.

I admire Bishop Mouneer's willingness to speak out. I don't quite understand why he didn't get his remarks in on time, but then we all have scheduling problems.

If the PSC is indeed about what it appears to be about I have no admiration for its Primatial leadership at all. This will wreck all the good work being done by people like Bishop Godfrey and lift up the strange episcopacy of Bishop Lyons who is taking on parishes as fast as he can.

The bottom line is this: Two very small Provinces seem to be taking a very large part in the unfolding of matters in the Anglican Communion. There is no reason for them not to do so. There is every reason for our asking if their actions are in the interest of the future of the Anglican Communion or their own future.

5 comments:

  1. Given the acknowledged left-wing political shift across Central and South America, and the rejection of US intervention, the Southern Cone is playing a very dangerous game. While perhaps united in conservative theology, how long will it take for indigenous South American Anglicans to become very uneasy with a large number of right-wing Anglicans from the United States having a say in their Provincial Synod? How will their Church be perceived by the wider South American society? How will this perceived US influence effect their growth and evangelism? Conservative evangelical missions, inspired and backed by the US, are already perceived with great suspicion by many in Latin and South America, as being a tool of the US government to blunt the progress of left-wing movements among the people. There can be no doubt that the IRD and their backers will take a great interest in this proposed marriage. The provinces of Central America, Mexico, and Brazil need to speak out clearly in their condemnation of this move - on both ecclesiastical and political grounds, as merely the latest example of right-wing US imperialism in Latin/South America.

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  2. Mark - I think a couple of comments are in order - again you seem to be pursuing this agenda of marginalising a point of view because it comes from a position of numerical inferiority, otherwise why do you draw so much attention to the size and condition of the Bishop of Jerusalem's province? I have commented before that truth is not determined by weight of numbers.

    Also you ask why was the Bishop of Jerusalem so tardy in getting in his response to ECUSA's HoB meeting. But I could just as well ask why was the JSC so hasty in getting out their response? Were they motivated to exclude other voices in the JSC that held a contrary view that ECUSA's HoB's final statements did not conform to the Dar Es Salaam demands?

    And as for your criticism that 2 relatively small provinces are likely to have a degree of influence in the life of the AC in the medium term to the detriment of the AC, we could be equally critical of ECUSA's influence in the AC over the last few years given its relatively small size in relation to other much larger provinces. So it's ok for ECUSA to try to push its liberalizing agenda through the Lambeth conference and in the ACC, but not for other small orthodox provinces to react?

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  3. There are many small provinces on both sides seeking to influence events in the Communion.

    Scotland, for example, claims 40,000+ members (with 15,568 people actually attending on the Sunday before Advent 2005).

    Numbers don't matter in this, unless you work on the assumption that Church should be a democracy in all things.

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  4. --sheila--5/10/07 4:36 PM

    The Bush family now owns a great deal of land in Paraguay, including some significant water resources. This may be a further link between the IRD, the U.S. right-wing power structure, the Southern Cone, and TEC, and might partially explain the IRD's interest.

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  5. >The Bush family now owns a great deal of land in Paraguay, including some significant water resources. This may be a further link between the IRD, the U.S. right-wing power structure, the Southern Cone, and TEC, and might partially explain the IRD's interest.

    ROFL.

    And they show Walt Disney films there.

    Abracadabra! It is a conspiracy by by Snow White.

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