Stretching the Bonds of Affection

It would appear that the famous “bonds of affection” that hold Anglicans together get a bit stretched and frayed these days, and no wonder.

The Episcopal Church is doing a new thing, but it feels old. We are told over and over that Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is the FIRST woman to be made Presiding Bishop, and of course that is true. But what we will do next week when we celebrate her investiture is old, and has more to do with her being a child of God placed by God in the place of honor so that the ministry of service might be all the greater and less to do with being a woman or a man. In this new / old thing the Episcopal Church gets touted as innovative (in both a positive and negative sense) and some of our fellow Anglicans elsewhere in the world mutter as they pass by, “Ah, just like those Americans, always doing whatever they want.” And no one notices that we have also provided Bishop Katharine a new cross to bear, and a new scaffold to clime up on.

As with all calls to service, this one will not be easy.

A small witness to the difficulties of this office: ENS and ACNS both reported the meeting of Bishops Griswold and Jefferts Schori with the Archbishop of Canterbury. That report was positive and vague and the pictures that accompanied the ACNS report don’t tell us much except that the three are pictured together, pretty much at ease, but properly distant from one another, unlike say, the picture of the ABC with the new Bishop of Recife. No, this was more formal, as is only proper. The ENS article is also properly distant. All seems as it should be in a diplomatic first meeting. But is it?

The Living Church online posted a story of the meeting that had a quite different feel. After repeating the ENS material, TLC reported, “Prior to the meeting, sources close to the archbishop told The Living Church that Archbishop Williams intended to ask Bishop Jefferts Schori what her response would be as Presiding Bishop to the recommendations found in paragraph 144 of the Windsor Report…The question holds particular pertinence for Bishop Jefferts Schori, who as Bishop of Nevada authorized clergy to perform same-sex blessings. Archbishop Williams’ question should not be viewed as an attack on the presiding bishop-elect, sources said, but an example of the didactic method he frequently uses in examining difficult issues.”

George Conger, the reporter on this, does not indicate whether or not the ABC in fact asked this question. But if she were, in spite of all the assurances to the contrary, it would be hard not to see this as “an attack.” If the meeting was all that cordial and collegial I am not sure planning a didactic examination of the Presiding Bishop elect is anything but tense.

We should have every hope that the meeting was a good one. I am sure it was. They seemed to come from the meetings friends. But such questions must be a little fraying.

Elsewhere the bonds of affection are being frayed more severely.

In the various communications in the past few days about the eight dioceses seeking Alternative Primatial Oversight ( The Bishop of Pittsburgh’s website headline) or a “special relationship of pastoral care and accountability under the Archbishop of Canterbury” (SRPCAUAC), as per the Bishop of Dallas it is clear that some confusion and difference of opinion has arisen between the two Bishops, both major contributors to the realignment movement. Thinking Anglicans has been very helpful in trying to untangle the mess.

Dallas says it is not interested in Alternative Primatial Oversight and never has been. Pittsburgh says Dallas was, but isn’t now.

When the core of the matter of oversite is discussed, the petition says this, “We seek provision of a Commissary, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, preferably in episcopal orders, to act as our point of connection to him and to exercise general supervision, direction, gathering, pastoral care and accountability on his behalf.”
The Bishop of Dallas, however, said this, to explain what a commissary is: “"Commissary" being, of course, a sort of vicar used by the Bishop of London in colonial days.” It should be noted that the Commissary to the churches in the American colonies was precisely to parishes under the Bishop of London’s own charge. A non-episcopal Commissary was appointed because bishops were mostly unwelcome in the colonies.

So the notion of a Commissary as proposed in the Petition is not like the notion of commissary in colonial times. The Bishop of Dallas was right to call that person “a sort of vicar.” Such a person was a direct agent of the bishop charged with the work to the parishes under his charge. None of this is true in what is being proposed in the Petition for APO or SRPCAUAC.

The APO / SRPCAUAC tif got a testy. But that will pass.

The question is, does the Bishop of Dallas’s distance from the other APO requests of make any difference? I am not sure. It’s hard to tell what the real difference is between Dallas’s position and that of the other eight dioceses, difference great enough to cause Dallas to withdraw. I have suggested that this may be part of the more general effort to make us think either one or the other is “more acceptable.” They are both unacceptable.

The Bishop of Pittsburgh opined in a recent lecture, “Whether we shall permanently live in Anglican silos labeled AMiA or Kenya or Anglican Province in America or Windsor or fill-in-the-blank remains to be seen. Will we choose the common good when push comes to shove? The future of Anglicanism will depend on our answer, both individually and corporately. Forty years of domestic Balkanization among conservative Anglicans point to the tremendous change of heart that must overtake us.” The little exchange on the APO matter may be just another sign of Balkanization.

But sign of Balkanization or not, its pretty clear the party of the first part and the party of the second part are not completely at one.

It will be interesting to see if Dallas is represented at the meeting between the four primates and the petitioners. If Dallas were to go and Albany were to come into the mix there would be nine dioceses in discussion. We are assured that the meeting is not to preempt the February meeting of the Primates, but where this set of Primates is present there’s a whole lot of preemption going on.


  1. I'm going ahead with this even coming as I do from the Diocese of Albany... who am not supportive of the ACN. I've taken my name and the name of my parish from the mailing list...

    But Duncan and company is bold and imaginative. The rest of us "liberals" (and I hate the box... heck it ain't even true... some of us Episcopal Majority ain't close to "liberal" :-)... anyway the rest of us get caught in what seems at this point after much reading of two liberal blogs a sort of rhetorical same old same old. Am I just bored with hearing it all over and over again? The gospel is gracious... but where is any word... I won't say any thought... from global christianity and from our hearing with rapt attention to the voices who prophesy throughout the kingdom... the heavenly body of Christ... spread through the world? There are poets who speak to the liberal west.

    The ACN is poetizing a global* gospel and reaching out to other nations. (*not really global because still "merely anglican" this is the flaw) Does anyone really believe that there are prophets outside America who are saying anything that we aren't already saying?

  2. I've been turning this idea of "commissary" over in my mind. It seems more and more like the image is that of a papal nuncio or an ambassador plenipotentiary: one with the authority to speak and act on behalf of the principle, with some independence.

    Unfortunately, that would seem just as clearly contrary to Canterbury's own statements of his office's limitations as would direct alternative oversight. Whatever solution another primate might offer, surely this is one Canterbury has already proscribed. It may be a different title - commissary instead of primate - but it's hardly a difference that makes a difference.

  3. Hi, Mark. I've been away from all of the discussion for a couple of months and I am grateful for you and your blog in letting me catch up. I've not heard you use the wonderful word that Stephen Colbert has coined: something that is not true but is said often enough becomes "truthiness". That seems to me to be what Dr. Duncan and his ilk present a lot. Keep pushing, my friend.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.