By the way, what the hell is going on in Anglican land when so many are wasting so much time in making sure we all know when Advent ends, Christmas begins, Christmas ends and Epiphany begins? I mean, we are going to do the same thing next year, yes? And the year after? And so forth? The Advent police have been replaced by the Epiphany eureka gang. Nothing new here. Just the tribal round going round.
The cycle of seasons, years, new moons, and the like are of no consequence, any more than the eternal round of more of the same. The reason why "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) is an important statement is that it breaks the cycles of moon and sun, of years and days. It is not about unchanging or changing, but about sustained presence.
It's not that having seasons of the church year is without value, or that eternal values are empty, it is that the value of the cycles and the eternal verities is very very minimal, compared to, say, the full whammy of God present with us, always. But I digress.
So, what's new in Anglican / Episcopal land this year that is not simply a repeat? Well, several things:
For starters we are on the slow wind up for the pitch for the election of a Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2015. The Joint Committee for the Nomination of the Presiding Bishop is on course to propose a set of names to the General Convention in 2015. Nothing new there, simply the cycle continuing.
But there is a new possibility in this election - a candidate seeking re-election. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has served a first nine year term and was elected young enough to be nominated again for a second nine year term. This is, I believe, a first.
Now it is not clear if she is willing to stand for election, wants to, or that she would be nominated by the committee, or by voices in a joint session. But the Committee will have to deal with the "elephant in the room" at some point. We might wonder if they have already (delicately) broached the matter with her. At some point they will have to.
Suppose the Presiding Bishop is willing to serve another nine years, and willing to have her name go forward - what would that do to the election process?
The process has always been political, in the sense that the bishops electing, and the deputies consenting, have pushed and pulled and cajoled and otherwise maneuvered to get a particular candidate elected, but no candidate has come with the credential of already having experienced and served in this position. This would be a new game.
It's hard to know if this is a good or bad thing... this possibility of the Presiding Bishop standing for re-election.
I believe the Presiding Bishop has done amazingly well in a very difficult time. In particular she has made it clear that there is a real difference between being in The Episcopal Church and critical of its collective decisions and leaving The Episcopal Church because of disagreement with its collective decisions. She has been clear that her responsibility is to see that the people and resources of The Episcopal Church are not lost to its mission and work by lack of due diligence. This she has done.
The long string of decisions made in consultation with bishops, General Convention and the Executive Council, that put bishops who left The Episcopal Church on notice that they were no longer Bishops in this Church, with no further benefits of office in this Church, and with no authority over anything pertaining to Dioceses of this Church, was absolutely in order. Clergy were also removed from priestly orders in this Church. There was some considerable clarity as a result: individuals could of course in conscience leave The Episcopal Church. When they did so they ceased to have any function as ordained persons, at least as far as this Church is concerned.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has been a powerful voice for the continuing Episcopal Church, the church that takes its lumps for decisions to be inclusive. There are times when it could not have been easy.
She has done good in a first term. But I don't know what that has to do with the move into the future of this church.
If she is nominated, or if she indicates willingness to be nominated from the floor, it puts a whole different cast on the decisions made about election. This is a new thing. Maybe not such a remarkable one, but new none the less.
But whatever else it means it signals a need for the Bishops to take particular care that their process of discernment be as open as possible and their electing meeting spiritually centered.
It may be time for the meeting of the House of Bishops that elects to be open to view by the public, by way of video. It seems to me we ought to be able to see our bishops work through the discernment of the Spirit in this instance.
The closed meeting idea - that that keeps there from being grandstanding politics - is potentially demeaning, assuming as it does that an openly viewed session would in fact lead to grandstanding. The bishops are our fathers and mothers in God. Perhaps we might trust them to make, in public, considered statements, prayerful comments, pray, vote and get on with it.
There is one new thing for sure: There is a possibility of an incumbent standing for re-election. Another new thing possible is an election not done in secret, but in visible session.
Well there it is in Episcopal land.
Meanwhile over in the mirror world of the Anglican Church in North America, the former Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, deposed, and more recently acclaimed the first Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, is retiring in June 2014. So the work up to an election in ACNA is under way.
The communique of the ACNA meeting of Bishops just held is quite interesting on several fronts. First, to the matter of the election:
"As Archbishop Duncan is retiring as Archbishop in June, 2014, the bishops also discussed and prayed about the process of electing a successor and the subsequent transition. Archbishop Duncan reflected with the College on his experience in the office and the bishops expressed gratitude for his courageous and persevering leadership. Archbishop Duncan then graciously absented himself so we could pursue facilitated conversation with Dr. Cynthia Waisner, who again served as our consultant. Seeking to avoid a political process, the bishops committed to a covenant of behavior and a season of prayer as we move toward the bishops’ conclave in June. The College of Bishops will have regular days of prayer and fasting in the coming months, and then gather the week before the Provincial Assembly to discern in prayer the one whom God is calling as successor to Archbishop Duncan."
The election is by the College of Bishops. The canons of ACNA state, in Canon 3, Section 3
"The College of Bishops shall meet in the week preceding the Provincial Assembly that marks the end of an Archbishop’s term for the purpose of electing from the active members of the College with jurisdiction a new Archbishop to serve a five year term. The investiture of a newly elected Archbishop shall be set for a time and place suited to the interests of the Province, the diocese
from which he has been elected, and the practicalities of transition from one Archbishop to the next. The five year term of the new Archbishop begins with his investiture, except in the case of an election under the provisions of
Section 4 below."
The Constitution provides for an Archbishop,
"ARTICLE IX: THE ARCHBISHOP
The Archbishop will be known as the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America. The Archbishop will be elected by the College of Bishops.
The person elected as Archbishop will hold office for a term of five years concluding at the end of the meeting of the College of Bishops which elects the next Archbishop. An
Archbishop who has served one term of office may be elected for a second term of office but not a third. Initially, the Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership shall serve as Archbishop and Primate of the Province."
Note that (i) the Bishops elect, but there is no provision for lay and clerical confirmation / affirmation / or concurrence, nor is there any provision for a nominating committee at all. So much for participation by all orders of the church in the governance of the Church. (ii) There seems to be no required retirement age for bishops and a person already elected as Archbishop for a five year period can be re-elected. So Archbishop Duncan could have stood for re-election as Archbishop. Apparently he has decided not to.
ACNA is then about to do a new thing as well, elect from among its bishops an Archbishop. Duncan was the Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership and affirmed in his role as Archbishop. Now ACNA must work through the matter of election from among a larger field of those electable. The college of bishops seems quite aware of the dangers of political life - and elections are political in all the best and worse senses of that - for they said in their statement, (more extensively quoted above)
"Seeking to avoid a political process, the bishops committed to a covenant of behavior and a season of prayer as we move toward the bishops’ conclave in June. The College of Bishops will have regular days of prayer and fasting in the coming months, and then gather the week before the Provincial Assembly to discern in prayer the one whom God is calling as successor to Archbishop Duncan."
Call me old fashioned, or cynical, or even naive in my belief that political processes can in fact be ways of "discerning in prayer the one whom God is calling...," but I think the ACNA bishops need to deal with the reality that the choice is political as well as holy - both together.
Of course that is the problem. ACNA folk apparently don't believe that political and spiritual can be part of the same process.
The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, who they see as the captain of the forces of darkness in the Anglican world, was elected by a body of bishops and the election was seen as political. Oddly several of those electing bishops ordained or consecrated the bishops of ACNA, including Robert Duncan. Duncan and some others were made bishops by the very processes they now hope to avoid. Many were ordained by bishops "politically" elected, all in the "old order." Ah, but now things are different, or so they say.
"Seeking to avoid a political process," is not even a positive hope. It will be a political process. The issue is to know what the process is, how it relates to the values of the whole community of believers (not just the bishops) and what it says about the sorts of results that come.
ACNA faces a difficult moment in its life. Duncan has a clarity of vision (although I believe it to be wrongheaded) and has been dogged in pulling together a range of discontented Anglican-like folk to form a "province" (province of what?) whose purpose is to be the real, true and valid voice of Anglicanism in North America. To his great credit he has been patient and pastoral with a range of people who seems barely able to talk to one another.
Now who is going to continue that tradition? We shall see.
Duncan has been a mediator of the discontented and disenchanted. It remains to be seen if the one elected to replace him will have similar talents and abilities.
Just as we might ask if the Bishops of The Episcopal Church might have their deliberations and voting in open session, we might also ask if ACNA is able to do that.
In either case I see nothing to be gained by copying the Roman practice of election behind closed doors. Private conversations can still be private, political conversations can still take place off stage, but the formal process might well be viewed by any interested.
Admittedly I have no business saying much about ACNA processes, since I believe them to be just another splinter group, wrong headed and political to the core. But as along as they claim to be Anglicans, and I am an Anglican, why not?
There are indeed new things afoot, even though the grinding cycle of administrative change and liturgical years, proceed apace.
Among the new things to be hoped for is perhaps a bit more openness to our being able to witness the deliberations. I'm all for the secret ballot, but about the secret enclave, not so much. Such openness would indeed break something of the cycle of "more of the same."