Communion Partners: Some light on the matter of Episcopal Visitors

Out there in Anglican Land and in fair England the buzz is on: Jonathan Petre has written an article in the London Telegraph titled, "Secret Plan to Avoid Gay Split." He says, "Dr Rowan Williams has held confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders." Later in the short story he also writes, "However, she (the Presiding Bishop) met a group of conservative bishops and theologians in New York last week after hearing that Dr Williams was sympathetic to the new proposals." Petre apparently gets it partially right - that the ABC has met with a group and that the Presiding Bishop met with another group.

George Conger's article, "Presiding Bishop backs U.S. Deal" spells it out much better. He writes that there was indeed a meeting with the ABC on January 31st. "On Jan 31 Dr Williams met with Archbishop Gomez, Bishop Stanton, Prof Seitz and Dr Ephraim Radner and gave his backing to the emerging “Anglican Bishops in Communion” project, agreeing to issue invitations to the primates of the West Indies, Burundi, Tanzania, the Indian Ocean and Jerusalem and the Middle East to offer primatial pastoral oversight to the Episcopal Visitors."

The second meeting, Thursday, February 21nd, was with the Presiding Bishop. At that meeting, Conger said, "The Presiding Bishop was briefed by Bishops Stanton of Dallas, Smith of North Dakota, Howe of Central Florida, and Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana on Feb 21, giving her “nihil obstat” to the Communion plan, one participant reported."

Petre wrote of a "secret plan" "... to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues. The scheme would allow them to remain technically within the Episcopal Church but under the care of like-minded archbishops from abroad."

For some reason Petre also decided it was important for Telegraph readers to know that, "Bishop Jefferts Schori, a feminist... backed the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson as Anglicanism's first openly gay bishop." This, one supposes is for those phobic folks in England who need to know that not only is she a woman, but a feminist (gasp) and a backer of making a gay man a bishop.

It appears Petre was wrong and Conger more or less right.

The English press is having a field day with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Petre's article is less about the proposed "Anglican Partners" idea and more about the supposed desperation of the Archbishop. Secret plans are not about avoiding church gay split and more about the Archbishop's desperation. Petre writes, "Dr Williams is desperate to minimise further damage in the run up to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference this summer which could be boycotted by more than a fifth of the world's bishops." Later Petre says, "With several hundred of the world's 880 bishops expected to boycott the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, a schism is looking inevitable unless Dr Williams can paper over the cracks."

The subtext here is that Archbishop Williams is in trouble and his tenure as Archbishop is in question. The article is more yapping at the heels of someone that the press thinks is on the run.

Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, who met with the Presiding Bishop, emailed his diocese this scathing rebuttal of Petre (thanks to Kendall Harmon's Titus One Nine for the email). In it he also outlines the actual idea presented to the Presiding Bishop:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is not quite 11:30 PM here in Orlando. In London it is not quite 4:30 AM tomorrow. And Jonathan Petre of the London Telegraph has just released a story about yesterday's meeting between four American Bishops (Howe, Central Florida; MacPherson, Western Louisiana; Smith, North Dakota; and Stanton, Dallas) with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

Petre could not have been much more inaccurate! Here are his opening remarks:

"The Archbishop of Canterbury is backing secret plans to create a 'parallel' Church for American conservatives to avert fresh splits over homosexuality.... Dr Rowan Williams has held confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders....

"Dr Williams is desperate to minimize further damage in the run up to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference this summer which could be boycotted by more than a fifth of the world's bishops....

"According to insiders, Dr Williams has given his blessing to the plans to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues."

No, Dear Friends. Here is a summary of what we presented to the Presiding Bishop yesterday. We were not quite ready to release it, but in the light of this significant distortion, I am doing so tonight:

Communion Partners

In the context of the Episcopal Visitors concept announced by the Presiding Bishop at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans, a number of us have reflected a need for a larger gathering which we are calling Communion Partners. We believe such a gathering will afford us the opportunity for mutual support, accountability and fellowship; and present an important sign of our connectedness in and vision for the Anglican Communion as it moves through this time of stress and renewal.


• To provide a visible link for those concerned to the Anglican Communion

Many within our dioceses and in congregations in other dioceses seek to be assured of their connection to the Anglican Communion. Traditionally, this has been understood in terms of bishop-to-bishop relationships. Communion Partners fleshes out this connection in a significant and symbolic way.

• To provide fellowship, support and a forum for mutual concerns between bishops
The Bishops who have been designated Episcopal Visitors together with others who might well consider being included in this number share many concerns about the Anglican Communion and its future, and look to work together with Primates and Bishops from the Global South. In addition, we believe we all have need of mutual encouragement, prayer, and reassurance. The Communion Partners will be a forum for these kinds of relationships.

• To provide a partnership to work toward the Anglican Covenant and according to Windsor principles..

The Bishops will work together according to the principles outlined in the Windsor Report and seek a comprehensive Anglican Covenant at the Lambeth Conference and beyond.


• The Communion Partners will be informally gathered – there will be no “charter” or formal structure

• Are committed to non-boundary-crossing: the relationships will be governed by mutual respect and proceed by invitation and cooperation

• Will work with mutual cooperation within and beyond the partnership


• The Episcopal Visitors who desire to participate (EVs named at House of Bishops New Orleans)

• Those Bishops who are willing to serve as EVs

• Initially, five Primates of the Global South: West Indies, Tanzania, Indian Ocean, Burundi, Middle East


• Communication of activities with both the Presiding Bishop and Archbishop of Canterbury

• Respect for the canonical realities, integrities and structures of the Episcopal Church and other Churches

Our purpose in meeting with Bishop Schori yesterday was to apprise her of this plan, seek her counsel, and assure her that we remain committed to working within the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and that the Primates involved in this discussion are NOT involved in "border crossing," nor would we be. We will visit no congregation without the Diocesan Bishop's invitation and permission. We do believe this is a step forward, albeit a small one.

I hope this is helpful, and I thank you for your prayers regarding this important meeting.

Warmest regards in our Lord,

The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida
1017 East Robinson Street
Orlando, Florida 32801"

As I understand it the scheme would be that the Episcopal Visitors have some group of Primates that they can engage for fellowship and in a forum for considering matters related to the Anglican Covenant and the Windsor process.

Up to a point this seems a reasonable scheme by which the Episcopal Visitors might have access to the thinking of Primates who are committed to working things out within the norms of life in the Anglican Communion. But here are some initial problems:

(i) the Participants will consist of the Episcopal Visitors and those bishops who are willing to be Episcopal Visitors, along with five primates and others who might join them. That is the forum could grow to include all bishops in the Episcopal Church who consider themselves "Windsor Bishops" (committed to an Anglican Covenant and the so called Windsor Process) and are willing to be Episcopal Visitors and all Primates willing to abide by a "no boundary crossing" rule. This opens the door to the argument by those who are in this "forum" that they are the center of The Episcopal Church and that they have the approval of the majority of the worlds Anglican Provinces.

For those who believe either that (a) the Anglican Covenant is a really bad idea at least as conceived in the St. Andrew's Draft or worse the drafts previous to it, or that (b) the Windsor Report along with its "process" is now moot, this drift is not such good news.

(ii) The "Anglican Partners" idea is not a bad one. Actually it has been tried on a number of levels - The Lambeth Conference, the variety of networks within the Anglican Communion, the Anglican Consultative Council, the wide variety of Companion Diocese relationships. Seemingly those are not enough. What makes this one different is that it is a gathering of "partners" committeed to Covenant and Windsor Process, not necessarily to the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of churches.

How that plays out is yet another strand in the continuing desire to make the Anglican Communion look more like a world-wide church. The "Anglican Partners" is a move towards defining the Anglican Communion by subscription to a covenant. It would become the international forum for that proposition. More importantly it would give the Episcopal Visitors and those who would be willing to be Episcopal Visitors a primary voice in pursuing this end.

The offer of Episcopal Visitors was a good one when first made. This overlay - that the EV's should become TEC's members in an international forum for the promotion of the Anglican Covenant and the Windsor Process - is a bad one.

Of course the Presiding Bishop's permission was not asked. No matter that as Conger reports, "The Presiding Bishop was briefed ... giving her “nihil obstat” to the Communion plan, one participant reported." Bishop Howe's email makes it clear, "Our purpose in meeting with Bishop Schori yesterday was to apprise her of this plan, seek her counsel, and assure her..." Apprising her is not like asking permission or seeking approval. These bishops are going to do it anyway. Had she objected they would have been under no obligation to cease working on this.

Two members of that interesting and often neglected entity, the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc, (as opposed to the Anglican Communion Institute), Prof Seitz and Dr Ephraim Radner were party to the planning of this deal. Their agenda is very much bound up with making the Anglican Communion a more coherent (and I think more conservative) whole. Both were present at the meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It appears from Bishop Howe's note that they were not present at the meeting with the Presiding Bishop.

Additionally, Bishop Drexel Gomez and Dr Ephriam Radner are on the Covenant Design Group and busy at the task of producing an Anglican Covenant.

So the bishop players are being guided by people with a high committment to the Anglican Covenant. They are guided within by bishops who are part of the Network or part of the wider group called the Windsor Bishops.

How this all unfolds I do not know. The early read is that this is yet another effort to organize those who do not want a woman Presiding Bishop exercising primatial oversight (whatever that is), particularly someone who supported the ordination of Bishop Robinson and a feminist, and, under the guise of the Episcopal Visitor program, to give them greater voice in the Anglican Communion. It seems a very bad idea.


  1. I'd be far more comfortable with this sort of approach if Gomez were left out of it. Affter preaching at the consecration of schismatic bishops in Kenya, he is hopelessly compromised, and it was foolish of Cantuar to lert him continue as a member of (let alone chair of) the Covenant Design Group.

    I also see no commitment from the dissenting bishops that they will participate in the larger life of the Episcopal Church. As the Presiding Bishop said in her letter to John David, soon to be formerly San Joaquin, how can there be meaningful engagement if one side refuses to talk?

    On the plus side, I notice that (with the exception of Gomez), the conservative primates mentioned have not been involved in the schismatic actions of the "conservative" extremists. Indeed, the Primate of the Middle East has basically been written off by the GaffeProne hardliners because he refused to endorse their open attmpt at an anti-Lambeth hatefest.

  2. There are too many bishops involved in this. What about the laity who don't agree with their rejectionist bishops? What about the priests who don't agree? Should the Dio of NWPA start missions in the Dio of Pittsburgh? I don't see how any of this is workable. It just prolongs the agony IMO. And promotes entirely too much power on the part of the bishops which is where the trouble started in the first place.

  3. Malcolm, I could not agree more. Bp. Gomez' inclusion is not good news.

    If such a plan for "Episcopal Visitors", or whatever else the troublemakers are labeled, is in force, I predict that my diocese, with its Windsor bishop, will be (no matter the smooth words that are spoken to the contrary) marginalized from TEC.

    In a situation like that, you don't have to have a schism to have a de facto absence of a common life.

  4. The "Caesar's Wife" principle - the appearance of absolute, unimpeachable propriety - might also be cited with reference to Messrs Radner & Seitz. While no-one doubts their innocence of impropriety in the Grace Church, Colorado Springs matter, the ongoing association of ACI with Grace Church and support of ACI by that church, together with the speed with which both gentleman jumped ship when the Grace Church going got tough, makes one question whether they ought at this time to be close to the center of events. In addition, since both are now employed by Wycliffe College, Toronto, they are, one assumes, no longer TEC residents.

    Christopher Seitz has put in his two-cents-worth on the "Communion Partners Plan" on the ACI (now "ACI, Inc") website. He finds "Mark Harris's assessment fairly clear-headed, and reproduce[s] it". I shall be very interested to read Mark Harris's assessment of Dr. Seitz's latest and of his slighting of the authority of the Presiding Bishop.


  5. The reason this will certainly fail is because, as usual, the ldeaders are negotiating with the wrong folks. The conversation should have included San Joachim and CANA, or at least Forth Worth and Pittsburgh, finding out what they need and what would work for them. Gomez and Howe are not going to break away any more than Radner is. An agreement they find acceptable is hardly relevant.

    This is a pattern in the Episcopal Church. DEPO came about without including conservative parishes in the conversation. The "Episcopal Visitor" plan was introduced at New Orleans, the leaders knowing full well that the Network leadership had already rejected it at an earlier meeting in NYC. It's amazing that a church that believes its mission is reconciliation knows almost nothing about the subject. Perhaps they wish at least to give the impression that they are attempting to address the issue. Surely they know that they aren't. Sad, really.

  6. Good catch, Malcolm. These guys pledge not to participate in border-crossing. But that's precisely what Gomez did when he participated in Kenya's consecrations of more old white guys to undermine TEC.

    And the Crazy Wabbit is right about Seitz and Radner.

    And it's been how long since Stanton really joined in the councils of TEC and shared in communion with his brother and sister bishops -- including our Presiding Bishop?

    How can any of us believe this scheme was concocted in good faith?

    I cannot see this as anything more than a nefarious strategy for institutionalizing schism. Absent an active plan for reconciliation and a definitely stated end-date, it looks as mendacious as the "Flying Bishops" scheme in England has become.

    The neo-puritans have long stated they want a "church within a church." We've had several of those within TEC. Integrity functioned as one -- offering mutual support and comfort, without ever feeling a need to bring in outsiders nor to attack the structures of the church. I believe there have been many other special-interest groups who, likewise, operated firmly within TEC, without the destructive agenda that today's schismatics have. Why would we allow these neo-puritans to create their own unprecedented scheme? Because Daddy Rowan wants it? Not good enough for me.

    Having vented my spleen in this, let me also observe that we have had no confirmation from the Presiding Bishop of the veracity of these stories nor of her support for them. Absent that, I shall try to exercise the virtue of patience.

  7. Conger used the term "endorsed" when discussing +KJS's response to this "plan". The words of the unknown source was her "nihil obstat". There is nothing here implying support or endorsement of anything. It is a term, in its its RC meaning, that the content of a document or publication has been reviewed by a theologian and there is nothing heretical in it. In this context, it may mean that she reviewed it and saw nothing innately in opposition to the current canons and constitution of The Episcopal Church. But Mark's+ argument is well-taken. CANA originally was a ministry to Ex Pat Nigerians in America. No problem there, done with permission and even financial assistance of TEC and its dioceses. Once on the ground, it morphed into something very different. The "Network", as approved by +Rowan has morphed into something very different. I would like this to be a safe haven for conservatives if TEC can maintain control and a diocese's membership in this group does not become the measure of its membership in the Communion. But I fear a Trojan Horse. There have already been two and this scheme has all the potential to become one. Can we make this work? And what will be the safe guards?

    There is reason to be very concerned about Seitz+ and Radner+'s framing of this scheme. About Lambeth, +Radner has said Lambeth can be anything it wants to be. He is a conciliarist and beleives authority rests with councils. For me, the problem with Councils making decisions is the "majority of the moment" (ala Dar es-Salaam Lambeth 1998) etc. Radner+ would argue that 2008 has the potential to confirm the work of the Spirit begun at Lambeth 1998 (specifically 1.10) I would suggest that it is very difficult to discern the work of the "Spirit" vs what political commentators have identified as the ability of a well-organized 20%, in any democratic body, to take over and bend a group to its will. EPfizH

  8. I know a wolf in a lambskin when I see it, and I think the rest of us do, too.

  9. My first reaction to this story - as a native Washingtonian - was that this was one of those "trial balloon" leaks. I am back to thinking that now. The next step will be to have this morph into something that doesn't include foreign bishops. Or perhaps I should say re-morph?

    I live in the land where politicians point fingers, accusing each other of playing politics. We must remember that any offer of compromise can be met with a counter-offer.

    But in my heart, I do not think the time of reconciliation has come. It will, but not now. The bombs just officially landed in the San Joaquin Valley. And the Yankees are too fired up on both sides.

  10. Just like BO33, TEC's PB gives old Rowan whatever he wants......

    Truth again takes second place to expediency.....again

  11. Not worth commenting on beyond that it is a weak idea coming from beleaguered people who want to live in a different world than the one they live in.

  12. Why can only the conservatives have such "Partners" across the Communion? There is an implicit statement in this plan that the conservative cross-connections are among folks whose doctrinal etc. views are normative for the Communion.

    Yet there is no reason such a plan could not allow such links of fellowship etc. to eb established between, say the Diocese of LA and the Primate of Mexico, or the Diocese of Massachusetts and the Primate of Brazil, or the Diocese of Washington and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, etc etc etc.

    In fact, such linkages might be a joyous and profitable undertaking.

    So, why not a more inclusive version of this "Communion Partners" plan?!

  13. More or less cross-posted from Thinking Anglicans:

    I wish people understood Bishop Howe's vision for his Diocese a little better. There is nothing mainstream about it.

    You can learn about it from the Diocese of Central Florida website http://www.cfdiocese.org/index.html which links to an upcoming diocese-wide conference, "A Kingdom Mandate," on April 10-12. You can educate yourselves fully about where this is heading if you will only take the time.

    The direct link is http://www.incarnationoviedo.com/a_kingdom_mandate_conference.htm

    You will find that the three main speakers are

    --- the Bishop himself,
    --- a non-Anglican megachurch pastor named Mike Atkins of Jackson Hole, Wyoming,
    --- and the Reverend Dr. Steve Childers - "President of Global Church Advancement and Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary" (Orlando, FL).

    You can access MP3 files of Mike Atkin's "teachings" from an earlier revival (yes, revival) at All Saints Episcopal Church in Winter Park. He's very fond of using phrases like "the Bible says" and "signs of the End Times."

    You can learn from the GCA website that the Reverend Dr. Steve Childers is pretty solidly Dominionist. The Global Church Advancement website 's "About GCA" page endorses the value of being "Kingdom-Minded":

    "Because we believe that God’s ultimate purpose includes the restoration of the entire cosmos and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, our ultimate goal will be not merely planting churches and raising up worshippers among all nations, but also the spiritual and cultural transformation of all nations, thereby making the invisible kingdom visible over every sphere of life." http://www.gca.cc/About_GCA.htm

    Then you can start to count the number of women in the photos on all the sites. You might notice that the Reformed Theological Seminary has just one woman faculty member, and she is visiting faculty, identified as "Mrs.," and teaching marriage and family counseling.

    As for the Bishop's own theology, here's a revealing snippet from his homily at the 2008 Diocesan Convention, republished on page 2 of the February 2008 Central Florida Episcopalian http://www.cfdiocese.org/news/pdf/cfe0208.pdf

    I was at St. Francis of Assisi in Lake Placid last Sunday, and as is so often the case, we had several people give their personal witness before being confirmed. One man related how he was pretty complacent about his faith until he read the “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye.

    And whether you accept all of Tim’s theology or not, his books pose an incredibly disturbing question:

    What if, on that great day when Jesus gathers all of his Church to himself, what if I were left behind?

    That question so disturbed this gentleman that he said it forced him back into reading his Bible, forced him back to church, forced him back to Jesus. And he ended up giving his life to Christ, and having it wonderfully changed.

    Howe is taking his diocese somewhere far outside the mainstream, and he's doing it with the cooperation of the whole, Anglican Communion, who somehow think he's a conservative in need of protection from radical ideas.

    Now what in the Anglican tradition corresponds to this brand of pre-millenarian Pentecostalism? And why is it labeled "conservative"? There's nothing conservative about it. Why is Howe a conservative? Because he's "against the gays?" Does it come down to nothing more than that?

    Anoynmous = Charlotte, in this case.


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.