Out there in Anglican Land and in fair England the buzz is on: Jonathan Petre has written an article in the London Telegraph titled, "Secret Plan to Avoid Gay Split." He says, "Dr Rowan Williams has held confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders." Later in the short story he also writes, "However, she (the Presiding Bishop) met a group of conservative bishops and theologians in New York last week after hearing that Dr Williams was sympathetic to the new proposals." Petre apparently gets it partially right - that the ABC has met with a group and that the Presiding Bishop met with another group.
George Conger's article, "Presiding Bishop backs U.S. Deal" spells it out much better. He writes that there was indeed a meeting with the ABC on January 31st. "On Jan 31 Dr Williams met with Archbishop Gomez, Bishop Stanton, Prof Seitz and Dr Ephraim Radner and gave his backing to the emerging “Anglican Bishops in Communion” project, agreeing to issue invitations to the primates of the West Indies, Burundi, Tanzania, the Indian Ocean and Jerusalem and the Middle East to offer primatial pastoral oversight to the Episcopal Visitors."
The second meeting, Thursday, February 21nd, was with the Presiding Bishop. At that meeting, Conger said, "The Presiding Bishop was briefed by Bishops Stanton of Dallas, Smith of North Dakota, Howe of Central Florida, and Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana on Feb 21, giving her “nihil obstat” to the Communion plan, one participant reported."
Petre wrote of a "secret plan" "... to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues. The scheme would allow them to remain technically within the Episcopal Church but under the care of like-minded archbishops from abroad."
For some reason Petre also decided it was important for Telegraph readers to know that, "Bishop Jefferts Schori, a feminist... backed the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson as Anglicanism's first openly gay bishop." This, one supposes is for those phobic folks in England who need to know that not only is she a woman, but a feminist (gasp) and a backer of making a gay man a bishop.
It appears Petre was wrong and Conger more or less right.
The English press is having a field day with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Petre's article is less about the proposed "Anglican Partners" idea and more about the supposed desperation of the Archbishop. Secret plans are not about avoiding church gay split and more about the Archbishop's desperation. Petre writes, "Dr Williams is desperate to minimise further damage in the run up to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference this summer which could be boycotted by more than a fifth of the world's bishops." Later Petre says, "With several hundred of the world's 880 bishops expected to boycott the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, a schism is looking inevitable unless Dr Williams can paper over the cracks."
The subtext here is that Archbishop Williams is in trouble and his tenure as Archbishop is in question. The article is more yapping at the heels of someone that the press thinks is on the run.
Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, who met with the Presiding Bishop, emailed his diocese this scathing rebuttal of Petre (thanks to Kendall Harmon's Titus One Nine for the email). In it he also outlines the actual idea presented to the Presiding Bishop:
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is not quite 11:30 PM here in Orlando. In London it is not quite 4:30 AM tomorrow. And Jonathan Petre of the London Telegraph has just released a story about yesterday's meeting between four American Bishops (Howe, Central Florida; MacPherson, Western Louisiana; Smith, North Dakota; and Stanton, Dallas) with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
Petre could not have been much more inaccurate! Here are his opening remarks:
"The Archbishop of Canterbury is backing secret plans to create a 'parallel' Church for American conservatives to avert fresh splits over homosexuality.... Dr Rowan Williams has held confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders....
"Dr Williams is desperate to minimize further damage in the run up to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference this summer which could be boycotted by more than a fifth of the world's bishops....
"According to insiders, Dr Williams has given his blessing to the plans to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues."
No, Dear Friends. Here is a summary of what we presented to the Presiding Bishop yesterday. We were not quite ready to release it, but in the light of this significant distortion, I am doing so tonight:
In the context of the Episcopal Visitors concept announced by the Presiding Bishop at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans, a number of us have reflected a need for a larger gathering which we are calling Communion Partners. We believe such a gathering will afford us the opportunity for mutual support, accountability and fellowship; and present an important sign of our connectedness in and vision for the Anglican Communion as it moves through this time of stress and renewal.
• To provide a visible link for those concerned to the Anglican Communion
Many within our dioceses and in congregations in other dioceses seek to be assured of their connection to the Anglican Communion. Traditionally, this has been understood in terms of bishop-to-bishop relationships. Communion Partners fleshes out this connection in a significant and symbolic way.
• To provide fellowship, support and a forum for mutual concerns between bishops
The Bishops who have been designated Episcopal Visitors together with others who might well consider being included in this number share many concerns about the Anglican Communion and its future, and look to work together with Primates and Bishops from the Global South. In addition, we believe we all have need of mutual encouragement, prayer, and reassurance. The Communion Partners will be a forum for these kinds of relationships.
• To provide a partnership to work toward the Anglican Covenant and according to Windsor principles..
The Bishops will work together according to the principles outlined in the Windsor Report and seek a comprehensive Anglican Covenant at the Lambeth Conference and beyond.
• The Communion Partners will be informally gathered – there will be no “charter” or formal structure
• Are committed to non-boundary-crossing: the relationships will be governed by mutual respect and proceed by invitation and cooperation
• Will work with mutual cooperation within and beyond the partnership
• The Episcopal Visitors who desire to participate (EVs named at House of Bishops New Orleans)
• Those Bishops who are willing to serve as EVs
• Initially, five Primates of the Global South: West Indies, Tanzania, Indian Ocean, Burundi, Middle East
• Communication of activities with both the Presiding Bishop and Archbishop of Canterbury
• Respect for the canonical realities, integrities and structures of the Episcopal Church and other Churches
Our purpose in meeting with Bishop Schori yesterday was to apprise her of this plan, seek her counsel, and assure her that we remain committed to working within the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and that the Primates involved in this discussion are NOT involved in "border crossing," nor would we be. We will visit no congregation without the Diocesan Bishop's invitation and permission. We do believe this is a step forward, albeit a small one.
I hope this is helpful, and I thank you for your prayers regarding this important meeting.
Warmest regards in our Lord,
The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida
1017 East Robinson Street
Orlando, Florida 32801"
As I understand it the scheme would be that the Episcopal Visitors have some group of Primates that they can engage for fellowship and in a forum for considering matters related to the Anglican Covenant and the Windsor process.
Up to a point this seems a reasonable scheme by which the Episcopal Visitors might have access to the thinking of Primates who are committed to working things out within the norms of life in the Anglican Communion. But here are some initial problems:
(i) the Participants will consist of the Episcopal Visitors and those bishops who are willing to be Episcopal Visitors, along with five primates and others who might join them. That is the forum could grow to include all bishops in the Episcopal Church who consider themselves "Windsor Bishops" (committed to an Anglican Covenant and the so called Windsor Process) and are willing to be Episcopal Visitors and all Primates willing to abide by a "no boundary crossing" rule. This opens the door to the argument by those who are in this "forum" that they are the center of The Episcopal Church and that they have the approval of the majority of the worlds Anglican Provinces.
For those who believe either that (a) the Anglican Covenant is a really bad idea at least as conceived in the St. Andrew's Draft or worse the drafts previous to it, or that (b) the Windsor Report along with its "process" is now moot, this drift is not such good news.
(ii) The "Anglican Partners" idea is not a bad one. Actually it has been tried on a number of levels - The Lambeth Conference, the variety of networks within the Anglican Communion, the Anglican Consultative Council, the wide variety of Companion Diocese relationships. Seemingly those are not enough. What makes this one different is that it is a gathering of "partners" committeed to Covenant and Windsor Process, not necessarily to the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of churches.
How that plays out is yet another strand in the continuing desire to make the Anglican Communion look more like a world-wide church. The "Anglican Partners" is a move towards defining the Anglican Communion by subscription to a covenant. It would become the international forum for that proposition. More importantly it would give the Episcopal Visitors and those who would be willing to be Episcopal Visitors a primary voice in pursuing this end.
The offer of Episcopal Visitors was a good one when first made. This overlay - that the EV's should become TEC's members in an international forum for the promotion of the Anglican Covenant and the Windsor Process - is a bad one.
Of course the Presiding Bishop's permission was not asked. No matter that as Conger reports, "The Presiding Bishop was briefed ... giving her “nihil obstat” to the Communion plan, one participant reported." Bishop Howe's email makes it clear, "Our purpose in meeting with Bishop Schori yesterday was to apprise her of this plan, seek her counsel, and assure her..." Apprising her is not like asking permission or seeking approval. These bishops are going to do it anyway. Had she objected they would have been under no obligation to cease working on this.
Two members of that interesting and often neglected entity, the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc, (as opposed to the Anglican Communion Institute), Prof Seitz and Dr Ephraim Radner were party to the planning of this deal. Their agenda is very much bound up with making the Anglican Communion a more coherent (and I think more conservative) whole. Both were present at the meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It appears from Bishop Howe's note that they were not present at the meeting with the Presiding Bishop.
Additionally, Bishop Drexel Gomez and Dr Ephriam Radner are on the Covenant Design Group and busy at the task of producing an Anglican Covenant.
So the bishop players are being guided by people with a high committment to the Anglican Covenant. They are guided within by bishops who are part of the Network or part of the wider group called the Windsor Bishops.
How this all unfolds I do not know. The early read is that this is yet another effort to organize those who do not want a woman Presiding Bishop exercising primatial oversight (whatever that is), particularly someone who supported the ordination of Bishop Robinson and a feminist, and, under the guise of the Episcopal Visitor program, to give them greater voice in the Anglican Communion. It seems a very bad idea.