3/10/2014

A modest proposal concerning the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church

Preliminary thoughts:

The Anglican Communion is a voluntary association of national and regional churches. It is not an international church. There is no such thing as "The Anglican Church" meaning a world wide church. 

Some churches, including The Episcopal Church, made deliberate efforts to keep the "English" or "Anglican" out of the title of the church precisely so that the identification with England and / or the Church of England would not be too great. Right after the Revolution being known as "the English Church" would have been a bit difficult.

So The Episcopal Church was formed fully aware of its heritage and endowment from the Church of England, but clear that it was setting its own course. Our first prayer book was mostly CofE but the core service of Holy Communion owed much to the Scottish Episcopal Church. 

Its polity, from the beginning, was nothing like that of the established Church of England. And, we might remember, formal recognition of communion with the CofE did not come for some fifty years following independence. 

Shortly thereafter there began to be the serious sense that there was this collection of bishops throughout the world who held much in common - derived from the CofE. It is those bishops who came to the first Lambeth Conference and those bishops who began speaking of The Anglican Communion.

The notion that a Lambeth Conference would dictate anything for the whole of the community of bishops who attended, or for their churches, was very far from the intent of the first attendees of Lambeth.

As Lambeth matured as a conference, and as a Anglican Communion Office took shape, so too grew the notion that the Anglican Communion was a "thing," a reality beyond the meetings of bishops, primates, councils, etc. 

So at the end of the 20th Century there was indeed an Anglican Communion - not a church, not an institution, but a gathering in one form or another of church people from the several churches who constituted the "fellowship of churches." 

There has been much talk about how 2003 marks the moment when the "fabric" or "net" of the Anglican Communion was torn. The offending parties were, as it is told, The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. 

That is rot.

The offending "tear" in the fabric was the proposition that a Lambeth resolution could be binding on the member churches as a defining test of inclusion in the Communion.

A number of forces combined to make the 1998 Lambeth resolution on human sexuality a binding and defining mark of Anglican orthodoxy. But behind the events of Lambeth 1998 were the first show of strength of the Global South, growing from its first encounter, and the strategies of some groups in the US and England who saw an alliance of first world evangelical and conservative Anglicans and third world (global south) to counter the modernist, revisionist movements (as they saw it.)

If anything was going to kill the Anglican Communion, it was the notion that a Lambeth Resolution would determine the limits of action by member churches, or determine their exclusion from Anglican "life."

Well, its all water under the bridge. 

The Lambeth 1998 resolution on Human Sexuality moved from being a resolution to being doctrine. 

The Windsor Report, which was a report, moved from being that to being a mandated plan. 

The Anglican Covenant idea moved from being an idea appended to the Windsor Report to a full blown litmus test for inclusion in the Communion. 
The litmus test of the Covenant has failed, at least on that level. But the Lambeth Conference betrayal of its charter as a consultation among bishops has not been challenged, but rather glossed over. The failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates or the Anglican Consultative Council to address the outrageous proposition that any Lambeth Conference resolution constitutes the basis for determining inclusion or exclusion from the Anglican Communion, is at the core of the problems that now face the Communion. This resolution has been given a place in Anglican Communion discussions reserved for the creeds.

The Anglican Communion is not an entity that rises to the level of what we might call "corporate personality." It is not a thing to which belonging or not belonging is required to meet the criteria of being a church that is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. If such shows of unity on that level were required, we should all pack it in and return to Rome.

I believe it is time to revisit the Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church and to revise the terms in which it describes itself. I know such proposals have come to previous General Conventions, but I believe now, when we are looking a a re-imaging of The Episcopal Church, we might do so again.

To this end I suggest the following:

A proposed Resolution:

Resolved, the House of ______________ concurring,  that the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church be revised to read as follows.
“PREAMBLE

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship communion within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, episcopal jurisdictions and area ministries admitted into union by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer of this Church.

The Episcopal Church is committed  to maintain such unity as is possible with other Episcopal and Anglican regional or national Churches, and in particular with the Church of England, and to seek union or reunion with other Christian bodies in order that the  Gospel might be heard and the world healed and to the end that the unity of the whole church might be restored.


This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.”

This action will require action by two General Conventions.

14 comments:

  1. Great start Padre Mark.

    I have a little problem with the phrase “this Church” at the end of the first paragraph, as that same phrase has been miscontrued in the past to be referring to the Anglican Communion. Perhaps it needs to be spelled out more concisely in some way that it is the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States to which this refers.

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  2. The way I read this, we are severing ties with the rest of the Anglican Communion. Is that the intent? If so, why? And why do precisely what those who "enforced" the Lambeth 1998 resolution most want us to do?

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  3. Two thoughts: 1)There is nothing "modest" about this proposal, and 2) things evolve. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

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  4. This is a good idea. A frank acknowledgment that TEC is no longer what it once purported to be. The changes will clarify this.

    SCM

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  5. Devon Miller-Duggan11/3/14 12:45 PM

    SECONDED.

    Devon

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  6. I like it. May the GC make it so.

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  7. Thank you, Mark, for raising concern about the Preamble. I am concerned that TREC is focusing on newly raised issues and ignoring other, perhaps more important matters, of less recent vintage.

    I have written a good deal about maintaining the unity of the church from the perspective of someone in a diocese that experienced schism at the hands of militant traditionalists such as Bob Duncan. As long as we are trying to fix things in The Episcopal Church, we need to try to inoculate ourselves against the likes of Bob Duncan, Mark Lawrence, etc.

    As for the Preamble, I am inclined to think that shorter is better. I urge readers to consider my essay of May 6, 2010, “A Preamble Proposal,” as well as my essay of December 14, 2011, “Changes Needed in the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.”

    TREC will have failed the church if it does not address some of the concerns I have raised in these posts.

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  8. When TEC adopts this new preamble, then it will signal its discontinuity with what a former preamble held to be so.

    Will other constitutional changes not also need to come into force to accommodate the new TEC being inaugurated?

    Those prefer the status quo can then seek to determine whether and how they may remain where this church has been for several hundred years.

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  9. SCM....(i) I doubt Convention will adopt this sort of proposal, (ii) the proposal does not change anything (although voices on the left and right think so), so there is no "new TEC being inaugurated" and (iv) whatever is meant by remaining "where this church as been for several hundred years" it has nothing to do with the current or proposed Preamble. The Preamble in its current form came in in the 1960's.

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  10. The point is that many in TEC will happily retain the present preamble as consistent with and encouraging of the vision of Anglicanism in the US. So if the status quo is thrown out, then that will signal discontinuity with the present understanding. That is what is so clarifying about your proposal. It honestly casts aside a Communion understanding many of us will gladly retain.

    SCM

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  11. The Episcopal Diocese of SC has just voted fully in the spirit of the present TEC C/C Preamble.

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  12. My simple point is that if you undertake the changes in the C/C Preamble, the Episcopal Diocese of SC will look far more like the present TEC than an altered one you are proposing. That is patent. What you strike out and alter -- that is precisely the TEC many of us what to preserve and retain.

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