Prognostications for Episcopal and Anglican Land 2013

It's several days since the feast of the Epiphany. That was Sunday, a great day. Been thinking about writing about it, but have been without internet connection for three days. We went to church with a congregation that lost their building not to angry people leaving, or dread costs rising, but an earthquake.  

Epiphany, in l’Acul, near Leogane, was a mission of St. Croix in Leogane. It grew and became its own parish with its own clergy. It build a church. And then the earthquake of three years ago happened and the church was destroyed.  So many churches have been destroyed or seriously compromised structurally that my host had forgotten that such was the case here.  We were off to Epiphany for their feast day only to find no church building. Well it turned out to be just fine.

The community of Epiphany Parish met this feast day in a very temporary plywood and tin roof structure, with the altar on concrete blocks at one end and school desks (those long ones with a writing shelf and a bench for say ten kids) as pews. The place was packed. About 200 folk were in the building, outside leaning in the doors, packed in close. The music was eclectic - just a bit of good solid plainsong chant combined with creole versions of the Lords Prayer and the Gloria with a bit of a back beat. The musician group was new and needed to work on tuning, but the choir leader was formidable and set the charge on each hymn. It was a keep-the-flame-alive, service done with real joy in living. Afterwards there were little pate breads, soft drinks, conversation and music. It was the Epiphany.

So I'm thinking this evening of the year to come in Anglican land and the possibilities of new epiphanies here and there.

Will there be any new epiphanies? 

I don’t know. But here are some prognostications, and just maybe back in there somewhere there are lights to be turned on:

(i) The New Archbishop of Canterbury will indeed get seated, and he or his administration will be inviting various folk other than the regular line up of Anglican Communion regulars. It's his first chance to say something about the reconciliation work he is known to practice.  

I would not be surprised if he invites, as an ecumenical guest, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America. I say ecumenical, because the Archbishop of ACNA is head of what is clearly a breakaway body.  Even if there were the possibility of a province that had alternative primatial oversight, this would not be it. This got formed not as a parallel to, but as a replacement for, an ecclesiastical system ACNA viewed as unworthy of being called Anglican or Christian. Further, its head is a person who was deposed. This would be an invitation to an ecumenical guest.

If it was well handled it will be an opportunity to finally begin to think of ACNA as a real church, not part of the Anglican Communion, but kind of near cousin. Down the road there could be conversations about overcoming divisions, etc.   

If it is handled poorly a wide range of people will have a conniption fit. And, we will find ourselves in the same situation we have with some other Episcopal Church breakaways, wallowing in non-conversations after a hundred years.

There are all sorts of problems in extending too much invitation to ACNA. ACNA is known to take the smallest thread of connection and build from it. It still insists it is a province in the making.  The Anglican Church of Canada has been clear that he does not believe the ABC should recognize ACNA in any official way.  I suspect there are similar feelings in The Episcopal Church.  At the same time many of us are at the point of at least moving on. ACNA is a church. In my mind not an Anglican Communion church, but a church. Ecumenical relations with ACNA will need to begin somewhere.

(ii) The work of the newly formed Task Force "reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration" will begin its work running head on into the already existing procedures for working up a budget, dealing with staff changes, and so forth. Executive Council will have to set clear expectations, well founded in the requirements of existing canons, for who does what re the development of budget.  

The reform is about reform. The budget process might be used for reform purposes, but General Convention chose to go another way, using a Task Force.  The problem is that the reforms the Task Force recommends, if they take effect with the next General Convention, must become part of the budget formation as well, so that at General Convention the two match.  There is nothing, save general good will, to keep Program, Budget and Finance in the same dance with the Task Force and its reforms.  Early on (that is this year) some of this will need to get unwound.

(iii) The world of law suits. This year I think we will see the beginning of the end of the various law suits having to do with the proposition that people who leave The Episcopal Church have a right to take the property and stuff with them. The answer seems mostly to be “no” and mostly based on the notion that The Episcopal Church is hierarchical enough so that when you give something to The Episcopal Church (locally St. SaltyBottom in the Swamp) it stays with The Episcopal Church (on the most local level possible).  Of course it is all more complex than this. 

The thing is, several practices are now making it more likely that trying to take the goods and leave will not be the preferred method in the future.
(i)                  Even though liberals like Spong (who had considerable moxie at the time) and me (when I’m feeling liberal, even if having little moxie) sort of think that people in a diocese can elect who they wish and have very right to think that God is calling them to do so, it is becoming apparent that this is just asking for trouble. Given the appalling cases of Schofield in San Joaquin and Lawrence in South Carolina, where the candidate elected is barely able to stay in the room with the majority of his brother and sister (God forbid) bishops, or has to be asked again and again if they are really ready to be part of The Episcopal Church’s community of bishops, it is apparent that the limits to the right of center will have to be drawn, just as the limits to the left (remember Northern Michigan?).
(ii)               At the same time there will need to be a way to ascertain that those newly elected understand that if they don’t like the so called Dennis Canon they will have to vote it out but otherwise it holds for them, their diocese and the parishes in their dioceses. Of course this also holds for the rest of the canons, even the ones we don’t like.  I sense that the House of Bishops may set in place a protocol later to be made part of the ordination sign-on, that makes it clear “Constitution and Canons” means the CandC in place at any give time. At least then disobedience to the Canons can be a legitimate act of non-compliance for which the actor knows the possible consequences.  No more taking the two – Constitution and Canons and making them different in level of obedience. Until these changes take hold, the House of Bishops and the Standing Committees of the dioceses will have to be clear about expectations and not willing to see another South Carolina, no matter how many times they elect the candidate.
(iii)             The third is the training of new bishops. The new bishops course is an important tool for equipping the bishops for their work. I am concerned that very little of what they are taught or learn is open for discussion or critique, but you can bet that the value of the Dennis Canon and the like, and the experience of suits with parishes ready to leave for this or that reason, will be discussed.
So out there in TEC land there will be a gradual falling off of suits by lumps of people leaving with baggage in their hands. The silver stays, as does the property. 

To the extent that “no right” exists to take the silver and leave, it may well be that a parish wishing to leave might come to the Diocese with a proposal for a way in which they could leave with some of the goods and in good relationship with the Diocese and remaining members of the parish who did not wish to leave.  There may be a slow rise in such negotiations, and a growing field of consultation having to do with ending diocesan affiliation.

(iv) We will begin to see staff changes at the Church Center related to the end of the Primate’s term of office.  There will be a proposal to extend again the term of the Presiding Bishop to twelve years.  I’m for it, although that’s a hell of a thing to do to really quite fine people – make them PB and tell them to stay for twelve years.  All of this is grist for the Task Force mill. But the actual termination by retirement, moving on, giving up, giving in, etc., is already under way and will not stop.  It means that in the closing years of this PB’s term, when very clear leadership is needed to align the ways and means of program development, Church Center focus, and so forth, we will be seeing wise or at least very knowledgeable heads leave, roll, or otherwise be cast to the wind.

We can expect very few new initiatives in the next two years, partially because the Task Force is assuming (supposedly) realignment on a large scale and partially because staff will become increasingly preoccupied with their own futures.

Some things, particularly our relations to member churches of the Anglican Communion, the move for autonomy by some of our overseas dioceses, and the need for vision in mission all across the church, will continue and press in on us.  On these we can ill afford a two or three year slump. On some we have already overslept.

Well there it is:  Changing our relationship to break away churches, making them ecumenical; aligning the work of the Task Force to the work of program, budget and finance, or vice versa; winding down the law suits and keeping CandC a single whole; staff slump and the need to stay awake to mission vision.

Supposing these are tasks for the coming year, where is the light, the illumination, the possibilities for epiphanies?
If there is anything about these that draws on a similarity it is that each of these concerns involves what is called “the justification of names,” giving things their right name.

  • The right name for our relation to ACNA is “ecumenical.”
  • The right name for the Task Force’s work and PB&F’s canonical responsibilities is “mutually supportive”
  • The right name for the great legal wrestling and the outcomes re bishops, canons, negotiations, etc., is “clarity of union.”
  • The right name for the difficult staff time ahead is “resurrection.”
In finding the right names for what we are doing makes the doing easier, or at least more focused. And maybe these aren’t the right names…remember I am in Haiti where most of the day I’m lucky to understand one word out of six.
And, finding the right names can be a way to light a fire, turn on a lamp, or possibly have an epiphany. It will be an interesting year in Episcopal Church land.

As for Anglican land, it looks more and more as if the thing called The Anglican Communion is alive and will have its use and value, but that some bishops have taken that fourth part of the Lambeth Quadrilateral and decided that “the episcopate… locally adapted” means finally also locally adapted in its commitments and connections in the rest of the world of national or regional episcopal churches.

The value of the Anglican Communion will finally be where it ought to be, in the context of the meaning drawn from actual participation in it. Those who value that participation will be The Anglican Communion. Those who do not will do something else.

There it is.

And to remember that the real epiphany is more likely to happen at the gathering of church in l’Acul than in all the high and mighty meetings. But we can be sure, as Leonard Cohen sings, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  

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