10/23/2015

The Episcopal Church is a National Church.

The title of this blog is a simple declarative statement.  The Episcopal Church is an national church. Well, yes, of course. The official name, aka known as The Episcopal Church (TEC), is The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

In the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church it states that this church is "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, 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."

The Preamble to TEC's Constitution, lifted mostly from the 1930 Lambeth Conference, assumed that "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America," was a jurisdiction primarily determined by the jurisdiction of The United States of America. The primary "region" of this church is the entity called the United States of America. That is what "in" means.

National history has led the USA to hold various overseas jurisdictions in which TEC began to be active. And through missionary action TEC determined to be present in a number of other countries, building an Anglican presence there. It has always been part of TEC's mission policy to encourage the development of national churches themselves as Provinces, or parts of regional Provinces, in the countries where it has been present.  In that TEC has been mostly successful. Brazil, the Philippines, Mexico, IARCA have become provinces of their own. Other provinces are in formation. 

The missionary objective has been the implementation of national or regional provinces in all those countries where TEC missionary activity has been present.

At the same time there has been considerable affirmation that "The Episcopal Church is a international church."  It is certainly true that we are international, in the sense that we have member dioceses in several countries and a regional jurisdiction in Europe. At a time when our critics were saying that TEC was acting without any commentary from Anglicans in other parts of the world it was useful to remind those critics that the voices of people not from the USA are included in the life of this church.  And it was useful to remind ourselves that we need to include our international dioceses as integral to our own life. But it has also been confusing to others in the Communion and awkward, in that our listing in the Anglican Communion website makes no mention of its location. And yet we are, for all intents and purposes located in the USA and its territories.

In a letter to the Church posted today, Presiding Bishop Kathryn Jefferts Shori wrote, "We are clearer about who we are – a multinational church, with congregations in 17 nations, worshipping in countless different languages, thriving in international, immigrant, and multicultural contexts everywhere, and discovering the abundant life that comes in turning outward to love the neighbors nearby and far away."

The phrase "multinational" is much to be preferred to "international." The first is the reality that fits both the facts on the ground and the canonical sensibilities.

It is time to more strongly reaffirm that we are a church "in the United States of America." And we are THE church in the USA that is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. 

We need to affirm our "national" identity for several reasons:

(i) In order to maintain the missionary emphasis on encouraging regional and national churches in those places outside the USA where TEC has diocese. We may now indeed be international, but the hope is that our international dioceses will become part of new Provinces of the Anglican Communion. 

(ii) The Lambeth Quadrilateral holds that one of the marks of the Church is 

"The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church."  The determinants of local adaption assumes bishops in synod, which synods involve nations or peoples. If TEC wants to maintain that it shares the marks of the church, its body of bishops, working as the varying needs of the peoples of the United States of America requires, needs a national or regional identity.

(iii) The canons and ecclesastical practices of The Episcopal Church assume a US context. Outside that context they are clearly not the organization of the church in place.

(iv) In what is likely to be an even more complex bit of inter-Anglican life, ACNA is acquiring recognition by more and more Provinces at their "partner" in North America. Understood as an ecumenical partner, fine. But within the Anglican Communion we hold as well as we can the notion that in every nation, region, where there is a Province of the Anglican Communion, there is only one Province, although there may be several partners. A number of Provinces that are aligned with the Global South and have ACNA as their North American "Partner" have not broken ties with TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada, the official Provinces in North America (where do we put Mexico?) So they continue relations with TEC and with ACNA.  This is a pattern which may emerge with other Provinces. Our clarity about being the Anglican Province "in the United States of America," a church rich in religious, cultural and social diversity, is important if we are to maintain the claim that we are the Anglican Communion jurisdiction in the USA.

(v) Most importantly, TEC needs the focus on its primary task, to proclaim the Gospel in ways that will reach the wide diversity of peoples in this place, and to do so with what I would call  "poetic sensibility" of the deeply spiritual life of the peculiar religious community called The Episcopal Church. 



  

2 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank God for the presence of TEC within the world-wide Anglican Communion!

Pierre said...

I absolutely agree, Mark. TEC has had a tradition since the founding of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society to go forth and help people in other countries start their own Anglican Church. So we founded one-quarter of the Communion's provinces, and I am sure more will emerge from our overseas dioceses.

The heart of the matter, as you say, is in the United States. That is where our future will be worked out, as God wills. It is great that we have developed a much greater sensitivity to people and churches outside TEC, and this will be a new source of strength.

As for ACNA, and bodies splitting from it, I believe we are called to attempt reconciliation with them, in whatever measure is revealed to be possible.

Pierre Whalon