The long awaited ruling on the applicability of a Virginia statute regarding church property was announced last Friday, April 4th. The ruling makes it clear 11 congregations in Virginia can defend their claim to the property under that statute. Now of course there will be the contest concerning the constitutionality of that statute and probably several other motions and then perhaps trial on the particulars of occupation and ownership of property.
Baby Blue on Wednesday, April 2, called for prayer and I am sure a number of us did so. Her call was very appropriate:
"We thought it might be helpful and a good thing to spend the time between now and when the ruling is handed down in focused prayer. This is only the beginning, we are often reminded. This isn't a sprint - it's a marathon. But however the path turns now - it does take a significant turn. And in time - very soon - we will know what turn is before us. It would be truly outstanding if you join us in this time of prayer - whatever side of the opinion you may find yourselves on, it's never too late to pray. Our confidence remains in the Rock that cannot be moved, even though the storms of our life pour over it, it remains steady and steadfast and sure. What ever comes in the next day or two, may we stand with mercy and kindness on the Rock of our Lord Jesus Christ, with - as Lincoln once said - malice toward none and charity for all."
"Not a sprint but a marathon" sounds about right. These being sports filled days, another comment was made by a high level lawyer for the Episcopal Church: "There's a long way to go. The game has nine innings."
The Rock is with us all, and I sometimes wonder what our Lord makes of it all. The very real separation is there, but the Rock is there as well and we all cling to it.
If there is finally to be extended and complete division and whatever temporal shake-out that comes with it, let it come with the resounding sense that those of us separated by the divide made the separation for great cause, for which the issues of temporal ownership were a result, not the primary cause.
The court matter is adjunct to the matter of true substance. The court matter concerns whether CANA has the property by right, by physical presence, or by thief.
But that would not be much of a concern to us were it not for the substantive issue: The Church of Nigeria and CANA have already determined that The Episcopal Church need not be respected as a Church exhibiting the signs of the faith as they understand it. They therefore have entered the 'house' of this Church determined to give true expression to the faith where TEC has not. They have broken fellowship with the Episcopal Church and encouraged schism.
Are they here with the right that comes with being the messengers of the Gospel where it is not already expressed by companions in the faith, or are they physically present as a parallel Anglican agency in spite of the cautions against such doings and without permission of the existing church or the Anglican Communion bodies, or are they sheep stealing?
The courts will not decide that, nor will the current structures of the Anglican Communion, nor will some future Anglican Covenant. This will be a "finding of fact" that plays out in the real future of the struggle across the divide.
I believe The Episcopal Church, which is often in great need of shaping up and flying right, is a legitimate expression of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, a legitimate part of the Anglican Communion family of churches. No church claiming to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the Anglican Communion both can act in the invasive way that the Church of Nigeria has acted towards the Episcopal Church and not have declared thereby that they are not in communion with this church.
Therefore, whatever the failings of this church, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has declared by its actions that it is not in communion with us. Of course, contrary to the findings of the court, we have never been branches of the same church, but rather members of the same family of churches. But now we are at best estranged members of a family, at worse we have been disowned by the Church of Nigeria.
For this reason and in spite of all that the courts might offer to the contrary, we are ecumenically engaged with the Church of Nigeria and CANA its subsidiary, in the same way that we might be with any other denomination not our own domestic or foreign. When we can we ought to act in concord for the good of the Gospel, when we cannot we ought to act in Christian charity, with malice toward none and charity for all.
But at no time ought we understand or pretend the Church of Nigeria and CANA to believe we are equal (or even unequal) partners in the Gospel with them. I believe they have declared us (The Episcopal Church) unfit as carriers of the Gospel of Christ. I believe, of course, that they are wrong in this assessment.
The end of the matter then is that the Church of Nigeria's decision to intervene in the ministry of the Episcopal Church has established the fact that the CofN is no longer in communion with the Episcopal Church. Its actions within the Episcopal Church jurisdiction in the United States and other countries where it has established dioceses, replacing the Episcopal Church's ministers with its own and establish congregations within its bounds must be understood as a judgment that the Episcopal Church is no longer a fit church of the Gospel of Christ.
Those ministers of The Episcopal Church who become part of the Church of Nigeria are on the face of it part of a church not in communion with this Church (that is the Episcopal Church). Without prejudice as to the sacramental character of their ordinations, they have none the less abandoned the communion of this Church and may be declared so to be by this Church by declaration of deposition. Deposed, they loose any right to exercise the ministry to which they were ordained and it is presumed that churches in communion with this Church will honor their removal from license to minister.
The end of the matters now in civil court will not be concluded by the marathon before us, or for the remaining innings. Rather these will end, one way or another, in churches not in communion with one another, but worse, with some - the Church of Nigeria in particular - convinced that the Episcopal Church is not an adequate or legitimate carrier of the Gospel of Christ as Anglicans have come to express that Gospel, in America.
We have no alternative but to object, believing that we are legitimate as the Anglican Communion related church in the jurisdictions where we are located. And we ought to pray that the Church of Nigeria will come to re-establish a familial relationship once again.
The end of the matter may not be known in our life time, save to say that The Episcopal Church will remain and determine its future as God gives it wisdom, taking council as possible and necessary with other parts of the Anglican Communion. As to the future of the Anglican Communion, a family of churches, we can with confidence say that some members will continue in the fellowship we have already. With others it is unclear. We can only pray and work for an end of divisions that we did not initiate, for we never said, nor do we say now, that the Church of Nigeria, or the other churches who have begun missions in the jurisdiction of this Church, are other than churches of the Gospel and Anglicans. The Episcopal Church has not broken relations with any church in the Anglican Communion. The break is of their doing, for reasons of their choosing.
There it is.