About responding to "Communion Matters..."

From a friend I received this note (modified a bit to exclude specifics of diocese, etc), referring to the "Communion Matters" document:

"Being but a simple retired lay woman on no Church Committees, nor within the field of the Bishop's vision, I wonder how my beliefs on the future of the Church might be registered. Will (bishops call) for special meetings with the GC Deputies, Diocesan Council, SC, CoM, diocesan clergy active and retired, Daughters of the King, vestries, parish ministries and, last and least, ordinary lay folk?

Perhaps the Diocese now powers through the summer, unlike the comfortable torpor which prevailed when I was active on Church Committees. Or perhaps bishops are expected while on vacation to intuit the mind or minds of their diocese?

But then, the direction of the Episcopal Church, yea, the Anglican Communion, seems to be to concentrate more and more power in the hands of the Bishops? Leave it to the Bishops, whose special charism is being a theologian? Bonnie Anderson, where are you?

And when did you last know a bishop who was a teaching theologian?"

She then went on,

"It is the Anglican Communion fixation on Bishops that is forcing TEC to act like this. The HoB said quite rightly that they could not possibly get a full response together by the end of Sept. And now every diocese is expected to do it during summer vacation so that the Bishop can sing his song in September? Perhaps if we could take Anna Russell's advice and "just sing it", all would be well. That's the only way I could cope with the [so-called] Athanasian Creed. By singing it. Preferably. In procession. Or, perhaps we could follow that great planner, Nancy Reagan, and 'Just say NO'."

She signed herself,


Dear Irritated One: Glad you haven't forgotten how to speak your mind!

The request from the Primates to our bishops was not, as far as I am aware, actually given to them in any direct way. It was a request published in the Communique from Dar Es Salaam and then only in the "Key Recommendations" section - the section that apparently was the result of "intense spiritual battle" to quote Archbishop Akinola.

TEC Bishops could have chosen from among a wide range of options the means of gathering the 'sense or mind of the church.' It appears they chose to have comments filtered through bishops in their dioceses.

So the question "How?" is right on target. How indeed over the Summer months when the reasoning of otherwise clear thinking mortals in the northern climes turns to mush made up equally of well deserved siestas and the occasional Dairy Queen dipped cone? How indeed in the more southerly domains where life, one hopes, slows to a crawl?

I have heard almost nothing anywhere in TEC about any plans for diocesan feed back. Let's see what comes up in the next few weeks.

Then again, looking at the Document what indeed does it ask of anyone related to the requests made by the Dar Es Salaam Communique? The closing questions (part IV) are very oblique to the Communique.

Part III of "Communion Matters" tries to set the Communique in context. It gets muddled almost immediately.

There are several useful questions hidden In Part III but to get to them you have to wander through the odd beginnings in paragraph two. The paragraph begins "Nothing has highlighted this challenge (the challenge of addressing local issues in ministry while maintaining catholicity) in recent years more than issues surrounding human sexuality."

The document then goes on immediately to talk about homosexually oriented persons as if that is what mostly occupied our time in this period and was as well the core issue "surrounding human sexuality."

The last forty years, claimed as the period in which we addressed such concerns, is in reality also the period in which we moved from having no women deputies to general convention to having a woman as Presiding Bishop. The last forty years has been the time of The Episcopal Church's awakening from the torpor of blind racism and acquiescent support of military America to some more critical social stance. The last forty years have seen the development of the notion of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in Christ, which has had rocky time of it, having first been confused for a funding scheme and in these last years confused for a rationale for limiting autonomy. The last forty years have seen the change from understanding mission as God working through us for the good of the world to mission as God's mission impinging on us all.

There has been a lot going on, and the concerns for "homosexually oriented persons" has only been a part of what has occurred. Much of what has happened has involved ways of including a broad range of people in the determination of church life. That inclusiveness has been both about including people in the church and including the church in people's lives. It has been a difficult process with some successes and some failures.

I think most of Section Three, after the initial gaff of not recognizing that the issues at stake are not limited to, or finally even legitimately addressed by reference to "homosexually oriented persons," is quite good. At the close three questions are asked, questions that do not appear in the Questions for Reflection:

  • Are such requests (as those made by the Primates) appropriately addressed by the bishops as chief pastors and teachers, or more representatively by the General Convention?
  • How best may theological and mission development take place in churches which are "autonomous in communion"?
  • How can the Communion appropriately consult about important matters such as these without a centralization of authority that is unknown to Anglicanism?

These three questions, it seems to me, are more to the point than some of the more vaguely stated questions of the last section of the paper.

It would be wonderful if these three questions became the central ones, and the information would be gleaned in ways that welcomes participation by all sorts and conditions, most not bishops. You said, "It is the Anglican Communion fixation on Bishops that is forcing TEC to act like this." I think you are right, and unless this fixation is addressed the possibility of "reason" at least as understood in the reformation period, is swamped by authority.

And, it seems to me, it would be good if the bishops stood back from making any response to the Primates askings (or demands). There is no good reason to accede to the demands of the Primates, couched even as requests. Furthermore the bishops already know that polity and reality are stacked against doing what was requested. It is either illegal or impossible, or both.

Oh... yes. There are indeed some bishop theologians. Paul Marshall, for one.


  1. I appreciated that the Executive Council invited all Episcopalians so inclined to respond to the draft covenant study guide. I doubt that many did, but the invitation was generous.

    Our bishops, perhaps modeling the behavior of the primates, seem to want only to hear from other bishops. Adding injury to this insult, I live in a diocese (Pittsburgh) in which our bishop will be busy this summer bringing his flock to a discernment as to whether they want to leave The Episcopal Church, sabotage it, or “submit” to it. I expect little attention to be given to this document from the House of Bishops. In other words, there is no one to listen to my voice.

  2. Lionel...you have done amazingly to bring what might not be heard in the diocese to the whole church. Your work these days is really important.

    The "Forty Days of Discernment" materials assume the result before the process begins. It is deceptive, or maybe not deceptive, just totally biased, and willing to be so.

    No one listens to your voice inside, perhaps, but out here in the rest of Episcopal-land many of us do. Thanks

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  4. Theologian bishops NT Wright (Durham), Peter Jensen (Sydney), Rowan Williams (Canterbury)

  5. This is the first that I have heard that I was invited to respond to the draft covenant guide. How was I asked? When? It certainly was not posted on our parish door.

    However, I have had five years to respond to the initial GC actions that started this whole controversy. I did respond to my Bishop and, as part of his oversite program, he gave me a period of time to change my mind.

    I doubt that all Episcopalians were given a real opportunity to respond to the whole issue.


  6. Mark, your "irritated" friend expresses my view perfectly. Like your friend, I am, at the present time, a simple pew-warmer, holding no position of power whatsoever in TEC.

    I have written to my bishop twice, an email and a snail mail letter with questions and concerns, but I have not received a response to either.

    My bishop puts himself in the Windsor camp, but there has been no "listening process" in my diocese.

    I've said elsewhere that I started to fill in the response to the Draft Covenant, but found it a daunting task. Since, I don't believe we should have a covenant at all, no matter what it says, I gave up the onerous work before I finished.

    What say will I have in decisions about the future direction of TEC? So far as I can see, none, except in venues like yours. And who will be listening?


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.