It gets messy out there in Anglican-Land and in Malawi

The mess of having the Anglican Church in North America as a church recognized as an "Anglican Province" by some of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion while there is at the same time a Church - The Episcopal Church - that is officially a member of the Anglican Communion but out of communion in a practical sense with several of the Provinces that recognize ACNA, is quickly becoming apparent.

The Diocese of Northern Malawi has decided to elect a new bishop. According to the blog, "Not the Same Stream," there is an impending clash around the election due in large part to the nomination of someone who is presently part of ACNA. Here is a longish excerpt from that post:

"... in the recently vacated Diocese of North Malawi clergy have been told by the bishops that they are to nominate one candidate only from amongst their own number for elections for a new bishop. The outgoing bishop Christopher Boyle, is shortly to take up a new position advising on immigration issues in the Diocese of Leicester, U.K.

However, a nomination to succeed him in the person of Fr Scott Wilson of All Saints Episcopal Parish, Weatherford, Texas has been made. Wilson who has led mission teams in South Africa and a Cursillo programme in Malawi was the ‘runner up’ to Bishop Boyle in 2001.

Unfortunately, since then Fr Scott Wilson’s parish, under his oversight, has joined a breakaway movement splitting off from the American Episcopal Church. As part of the former Diocese of Fort Worth his parish is now a member of the Common Cause Partnership – Federation of Anglican Christians in North America (A.C.N.A).

The status of this schismatic grouping is not certain and it is unclear whether it is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Certainly A.C.N.A. bishops were excluded from last year’s Lambeth Conference and the movement continues as a source of disruption within the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Central African Province has never been associated with the schismatic North Americans despite efforts on the part of former Archbishop Bernard Malango to persuade it to break with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

With allegiance to such a body, should Wilson be elected it would cause some significant tensions between the bishops within an already troubled Province. Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi has just been elected to a major position in the Anglican Communion as Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council. This is one of the four ‘Instruments of the Anglican Communion’ and is a focus of world Anglicanism.

Nevertheless, such is the ferocity of the current struggles it too has been heavily criticised by the breakaway Americans and Tengatenga accused of being ‘open to manipulation’. Additionally, it is difficult to see Wilson working in the Province with the likes of the Rev’d Dr Chad Gandiya the recently elected Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe, who has also been criticised by the Common Cause Partnership for his ‘liberalism’. Finally, what kind of relationship Scott Wilson would have with Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana is unknown? Wilson’s new grouping has hysterically criticised Mwamba for being willing to associate with the American Episcopal Church and for suggesting that Africa might have other more pressing problems than those of religious infighting in the United States.

...There is now potential for a divisive and schismatic scenario in Northern Malawi with the danger of an issue-based regime quite unlike the present. How the bishops of Central Africa respond to Wilson’s candidature will have the potential to affirm or destroy the Province’s status as a bona fide member of the Anglican Communion.

All eyes will be on what used to be an almost unknown part of the Communion but which over the past few years has become something of a bellwether if not a ‘basket case’. What the poor carpenter of Nazareth, in whose name this all takes place, would make of it all is anyone’s guess but he was rarely uncritical of those who misused their positions of authority."

So there is something of a test case here. By the time it all comes to a head, Fr. Wilson may well be, in addition to his other credentials, a priest deposed by the church that ordained him. Long standing norms suggests that churches in communion with one another honor such depositions. Of course these are not normal times and who knows? But the deposition may be an additional impediment. So Wilson is from a church not in communion with Canterbury, not a member of the Anglican Communion, not from the diocese and in the process of being deposed.

And on the far side, not knowing the workings of the church in Malawi except by way of the thoughts of a missionary who gave many years of his life to Malawi and from what I read in the Church press, I wonder just what is going on. Why is a diocese in Malawi not able to find suitable clergy from within the Province, much less the diocese?

This thing is a mess - a mess for the diocese, a mess for the province, for the Anglican Communion.


  1. re: borrowing a priest who may not be recognized in your communion--I remember asking my dad about that 20 years ago, when I said what was the big deal about women being ordained, some churches can go with it and others don't have to. He said what happens if she becomes a bishop and ordains someone, because then that person's ordination is not recognized somewhere else in the communion--eventually everyone has to start carrying their pedigree back to Peter around with them, to know where they can serve in the worldwide communion and where they can't because someone somewhere in their ordination tree was not acceptable. Truly weird. But here we are--not over women's ordination (at least not on the surface) but generally speaking, over what constitutes being in the pool of available candidates and what doesn't. Who's in and who's out. Who are we *really*, truly, deeply in communion with. This is where the rubber hits the road, when priests start to move around and have to be recognized or not.

    But I agree, why does Malawi have to pick a contentious person from Texas? Are there no priests in Malawi?

  2. Mess is a mess is a mess is a mess.

    When is a mess not a mess? Never, never, never.

    I think of Churchill's quote:

    Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

    I know that we're not at war with one another in the Anglican Communion, but if one takes out the word "war" and substitutes another word (and I don't know what that word would be), the rest of the statement could apply.

  3. textjunkie, all of us, in and out of communion with one another, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Anglicans, Protestants, all are in communion with Christ,

    which is why, I think, it becomes so important to declare one or another of us - say TEC - not Christians because then we can be declared to not be in communion with Christ...

    an exercise in madness.

    The verification word is "seloc" - I seloc thee, I deseloc thee - wow.

  4. The Diocese of Northern Malawi has been a "companion diocese" to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth under Jack Iker for years. When Iker left, that relationship remained. Iker's current organization, erroneously and illegally called, "The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth," still claims Northern Malawi as a "companion diocese."

    FYI and FWIW

  5. Actually, does this situation not highlight the injustice of the TEC 'one solution fits all who breakaway' use of deposition?

    Anglicans outside of TEC do not recognise this action as fair, appropriate or Anglican!

    By all means deprive the breakaway priest or bishop of their licence to minister within TEC, compel them to take their money and leave the pension fund, but deprive them of their ordination?

    That is a harsh step. It does not happen Down Under! Does it happen anywhere else? If TEC wants respect from the rest of the Communion on its handling of breakaway priests and bishops it might consider revising its use of deposition.

    Malawi is quite entitled to ignore the deposition of any American priest it wishes to consider for its episcopacy.

    Of course there is the question why it is considering a priest from outside its own ranks. I presume Anglican life is complicated there, whatever is happening in North America!

  6. Mark - you've got this slightly wrong - the posting is from Not the Same Stream, it is from Anglican-Information who are being covered by NTSS.

    If you care to visit the Anglican-Information website at: www.anglican-information-archive.org you will find a lot of material about the Central African Province much of which will make your hair stand on end.

    What is happening in Northern Malawi is actually an example of how the schismatic tendencies of ACNA et al are influencing both directly and indirectly the Province of Central Africa.

  7. Why would Anglicans in Malawi, a country that I presume has no shortage of experienced and qualified clergy, feel the need to go to Weatherford, Texas to find a new diocesan bishop?

    I really wonder if the "no homos" doctrine being elevated to the same status as belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation is worth all this trouble.

  8. I don't know Fr. Wilson, so I can't comment on his suitability as a bishop in Northern Malawi. However, if he is chosen, he won't be serving as a bishop in ACNA or TEC. He will be serving as a bishop in the Province of Central Africa. As long as he remembers that fact and acts accordingly, I don't see his affiliation with ACNA as a deal-breaker.

    As someone has already pointed out, Fort Worth and Northern Malawi have been companion dioceses since 1995. Several people in Fort Worth (including Fr. Wilson) have visited Northern Malawi and have hosted visitors from there. Some of those people are now part of FW-TEC, others of FW-SC. These relationships shoud be allowed to continue. The Anglicans in Northern Malawi shouldn't be asked to choose between one group or the other.

  9. If Rowan Williams had any sense, this would be settled by his clear statement that breaking fellowship matters. But instead he sets new lows for indecisive leadership.



  10. What matters is the jurisdiction. If he is elected to a recognized jurisdiction, he should be recognized as a bishop. This was the rationale when there was discussion about VGR's (non-)invitation to Lambeth.

    We adopt and regularize clergy who have been deposed by other jurisdictions. What is important is that the church involved should know all of the pertinent details.

  11. To make this even more "Twilight Zone" it is my understanding that the four ex-TEC Dioceses (including Fort Worth) are maintaining for the time being their supposed membership in the Province of the Southern Cone, even as they have become members of ACNA. I assume the purpose of that is to be able to claim membership in the Anglican Communion while ACNA is not recognized as an AC province.

    That said, I agree that is seems strange that Malawi can't find a suitable bishop among their own priests.

    My word was puropers--pure interlopers?

    Bill Ghrist

  12. Nom de Plume29/6/09 9:33 AM

    Peter Carrell said, in part:

    By all means deprive the breakaway priest or bishop of their licence to minister within TEC, compel them to take their money and leave the pension fund, but deprive them of their ordination?

    The trouble with one Province ignoring the canonical processes by which another Province regulates its clergy is that it is a fundamental breaking of communion.

    Full Communion is predicated, in large part, on the recognition of the legitimacy of the ordered ministry in the partner Church. Notwithstanding the anomaly of certain Provinces (or in Australia, certain dioceses) not recognizing female clergy, in the Anglican Communion we all recognize each other's clergy as valid clergy. This is in part what gave rise in certain Provinces to the complaint that the ordination of Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church was ordination for the whole Communion.

    Recognition of orders implies recognition of the canonical, administrative and liturgical processes by which a cleric is ordained. But it also, in my view, necessitates respect for the canonical and administrative processes by which a cleric is regulated in his or her own Province. That is to say that discipline, inhibition, deposition, or renunciation of ministry (whether voluntary or presumed under canonical procedures) in one Province must have effect for all other Provinces. If not, then Communion is undermined.

    If Mr Wilson is made a bishop in Malawi, then it introduces grave uncertainty about the validity of any orders he subsequently confers. This is a huge mess.

  13. ruidh..You write, "We adopt and regularize clergy who have been deposed by other jurisdictions."

    Do we? Do you have any examples?

  14. wdg-pbg - I firmly believe that many people in the S.Cone dio. of Ft. Worth and the rest would be very upset if they were deemed non-anglican because of the move to ACNA. Keeping membership in the SC at least gives them the appearance of remaining anglican.

  15. Hi Nom de Plume
    Your comments re recognition of orders across the Communion can be reflected on a little further:

    (a) Dioceses in Australia that do not themselves ordain women, do recognize the validity of ordained women in this sense, they have been validly ordained according to the canons of their ordaining province. On the one hand this means that were an ordained woman to emigrate to such a diocese and present herself to the bishop she would not be licensed to minister (or, in the specific case of Sydney which ordains women to the diaconate, she could be licensed as a deacon). On the other hand, were Diocesan policy to change, ordained women would be recognised as such and not be required to be re-ordained.

    (b) The request that other provinces recognise the 'deposition' of a province (such as TEC in these present circumstances) so as not to undermine our Communion is, IMHO, not straightforward, for at least these reasons:

    (i) any Anglican holding to a theology of indelibility of orders such that nothing takes away the ordination cannot treat 'deposition' in the same way as 'ordination' itself, that is, as a matter of consistent theology an indelibilist is entitled to (politely) ignore the former while recognising the latter. (Of course the reasons for 'deposition' should not be ignored as these might give cause not to offer a licence to a deposed priest from one province turning up in another. But my argument is that deposition for breaking away from TEC is not in itself reason not to be licensed in another province. When Rome laicises a priest do we not still recognise the validity of his ordination if he seeks to minister in an Anglican context?)

    (ii) our family relationships across the Communion are complicated: if simultaneously TEC deposes a priest and the priest is licensed in a jurisdiction of another member church of the Communion what is another Anglican church to do? Respect TEC's decision and disrespect the other's? Vice versa? It's hard to keep all members of the family happy all the time!

    In the end a judgement call is being made that, however TEC has arrived at the decision that deposition is the right thing to do re breakaway priests and bishops as a matter of its internal polity, it is not agreed by other Anglican churches that this deposition overturns the validity of the ordination of these priests and bishops.

    In an important sense, Malawi's willingness to consider an ex-Tec/now-ACNA priest as an episcopal candidate is a common Anglican theology of orders trumping a particular local application of canon law.

  16. Nom de Plume29/6/09 7:13 PM

    Well, Peter Carrell, you give much food for thought. But...

    1) With respect to indelibility of Orders, I do not deny this doctrine. However, deposition from or renunciation of orders does not affect the ontological effects of ordination, only the juridic effects. With respect to the latter consider CofE Canon C1(2) which states:

    No person who has been admitted to the order of bishop, priest, or deacon can ever be divested of the character of his order, but a minister may either by legal process voluntarily relinquish the exercise of his orders and use himself as a layman, or may by legal and canonical process be deprived of the exercise of his orders or deposed finally therefrom.

    The key phrases here are "use himself as a laymen", which is obviously not the intent of those who use renunciation as a purported mechanism to transfer to another jurisdiction, or "deposed finally" in which "finally" seemingly means "temporarily" in some minds.

    2. You state When Rome laicises a priest do we not still recognise the validity of his ordination if he seeks to minister in an Anglican context? I reply that I was not aware we were in Full Communion with Rome.

  17. Hi Nom de Plume
    Thank you for well made, thoughtful points. Yes, we are not in full Communion with Rome - interesting though that we will recognise their ordinations but they won't recognise ours, such can be the vagaries of not-in-Communion!

    But 'full Communion' between Anglican churches raises a further reflection for me: Christian Communion is unity-in-truth (with 'truth' in Anglican contexts tricky to define, but something is held in common between us!). If in respect of the specific matter of the application of canonical law such as "may by legal and canonical process be deprived of the exercise of his orders or deposed finally therefrom" one Anglican church does not recognise a particular application of another, might it raise the question whether the Anglican Communion would strengthen 'full Communion' between churches if we shared a common canon law, rather than having different versions about which we have principled disagreements?

  18. Well, nom de plume, yes and no. Rome is not in full communion with us, but we don't see things the same way. We recognize Rome as maintaining the historic episcopate, whether they reciprocate or not. We recognized the validity of their orders and sacraments. So, when a Roman who has been confirmed commits to the Episcopal Church, he or she is received and not again confirmed. By the same token, a Roman priest who has voluntarily request dispensation and has "used himself as a layman," and then seeks to return to priesthood in the Episcopal Church is not reordained, but received in orders.

    Now, I don't know of a case where a Roman priest who had been removed from orders but not voluntarily has been so received. Even Mattew Fox and Fr. Cutie were still in orders, and not deposed, when they requested to enter Episcopal orders.

    The security word is "cutsno;" sort as in this case where a line is cut, but not both ways.


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.