The Episcopal Church has been identified by its leadership with "the Jesus Movement." I have written on this recently.
What that means for us as a church community is immediately relevant to issues of the day. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's recent video commentary is a fine example of how our being part of the Jesus Movement plays out as we respond to violence and hate.
At the same time it seems to me there is less and less interest in The Episcopal Church as part of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Curry also posted some remarks on the Primates meeting in 2016. That meeting was , he suggested, "disappointing." The Anglican Consultative Council met later that year. Since then there has been little stirring in Episcopal Church circles concerning the Communion. The inauguration of the new Province of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, and the terrible news of continued war and violence in Sudan have drawn attention to the difficulties the church faces there. There continue to be prayer concerns for various churches as they respond to social and natural disasters. But regarding the Anglican Communion as a "fellowship" very little seems to be going on.
There is not much excitement or interest in which Provinces will not attend the next Lambeth Conference. Uganda seems to have said "no." Did anyone care? At least the bishop representative of The Episcopal Church will be going off prior to the next ACC meeting. Who will replace Bishop Ian Douglas? (Who could?) Who cares?
So my question for the afternoon, an afternoon when domestic issues of violence and hate, confusion about leadership, and other matters secular and religious are occupying our time, is this: Are issues about the Anglican Communion and the level of our inclusion in it increasingly irrelevant to life in The Episcopal Church?
And, as a side bar, is the identification of TEC as "a branch of the Jesus Movement" a move away from identification of TEC as a "a Fellowship, within the one holy catholic and apostolic church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the see of Canterbury."
Some thoughts on this:
The Episcopal Church has over the past half-century come more and more to identify itself as a baptismal community. As such its focus and allegiance is not to an institutional expression of the Christian faith but to an existential confession of a core allegiance to Jesus the Christ of God.
So it is, after all the exhausting institutional focus of the issues regarding inclusion of all the baptized in the full range of ministries and sacraments of the church, that the Episcopal Church now identifies itself as a branch of "the Jesus Movement," rather than specifically as a church grounded in a historically peculiar way in the scripture, creeds, sacraments and episcopal ministry.
It is, of course, a matter of degree. While The Episcopal Church is indeed primarily a community within the larger Christian community of "followers of Jesus" or "the Jesus Movement," The Episcopal Church continues to have its own peculiar hierarchical structures which guide its understanding of its institutional and governance responsibilities.
Those responsibilities have occupied much of the energy of The Episcopal Church as the changes which have led to greater inclusion were also sources of great conflict within the church.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was bound by those responsibilities to oversee the processes by which TEC sought to retain properties, institutions and names which disaffected congregations and bishops claimed were theirs. Perhaps one day she will be more fully honored for having so well held the line against institutional collapse. She and her legal advisors were mostly successful in keeping the institutional church functional through this period.
At the same time the place of TEC as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion needed to be maintained. TEC is the institution recognized as the member church in the United States of the world wide fellowship that is the Anglican Communion. The concerted effort to make sure the Anglican Communion "instruments" understand that reality has been a major effort of both the Presiding Bishop and members of the various Anglican Communion bodies. Our representatives to the Anglican Consultative Council have there made our presence known and our positions clear. In particular Bishop Ian Douglas, first as clergy and then as bishop representative to the ACC, has done a remarkable job in affirming TEC's commitment to and engagement in Anglican Communion affairs.
But now it appears the focus is turning more towards TEC as a "branch of the Jesus Movement" and away from TEC as a "branch of the Anglican Communion."
There are good reasons for this change in emphasis. And I am convinced that it is a change in emphasis and not a change in basic allegiances. We are, after all, both. We are part of a fellowship within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and we are a branch of the Jesus Movement.
Does this change in emphasis, if that is what it is, tell us something about how the leadership of The Episcopal Church is coming to understand TEC's engagement with Anglican Communion issues?
For example, at the next General Convention there will for sure be an effort to re-examine the level of financial support for the Anglican Communion office. There will be at least some move to introduce a new resolution on the Anglican Covenant. (I hope I am wrong on this.) And there will be, I do hope, some effort to begin church to church conversations with the Anglican Church of North America on an ecumenical basis with a view to future reconciliation. And then too there will be a variety of resolutions concerning world wide Anglican responses to grave problems faced by particular Provinces. All of these involve Anglican Communion affairs.
My hope is that even with the change in emphasis (if that is indeed what is going on) there will continue to be careful and good work done to continue our witness in the context of the Anglican Communion.
My sense is the Anglican Communion continues to be relevant as a fellowship from which we can all draw for inspiration. The question is how will that relate to the idea of The Episcopal Church as movement rather than institution?