Seven years ago now...the Archbishop stepped in it. Lest we forget.

Over the fall months of 2003 the people forming the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, and in particular the then Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan, began saying that the network idea had been suggested by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  

I worked at finding out where and when the Archbishop might have done such a thing. Much of what I tried to find out was posted on Louie Crew's pages, HERE (please be sure to read the correction at the end.)  

Bishop Duncan began speaking about this in October 2003 and by the time the Network was formed in January 2004 it was considered a fact. But it was not until September 2004 that it finally was confirmed that, yes indeed, the ABC had met with some clergy from the US and apparently suggested the idea (its hard to tell from the Lambeth statement).

Early in September 2004 Martyn Minns wrote, 

"The Network was formed last year to support and encourage the life and ministry of those alienated by the actions of General Convention. The original suggestion came from a meeting that David Anderson, President of the AAC, and I had with Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace on September 18th, 2003. We had been invited to give a first hand report on the state of the Episcopal Church after Minneapolis. We shared something of our struggles and it was at that conversation that he suggested the need for a Network. 

He called it a Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes. He wanted to be sure that we used a positive name and not be identified as dissenters. He was also very deliberate in using the word "Confessing" because that would connect it with the "Confessing Christian" movement that stood for the orthodox faith in Germany at a time when the official Christian bodies were being manipulated and co-opted by the government of Nazi Germany. The name subsequently became the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (or Anglican Communion Network or ACN)."

The Archbishop's office, almost a year after the meeting, posted the following:

"ACNS 3888 | ENGLAND | 24 SEPTEMBER 2004
Statement from Lambeth Palace on the 'network' stories

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Rowan Williams, has had a wide range of meetings and conversations with many groups and individuals on all sides in relation to the current concerns in the Anglican Communion. These meetings remain private and confidential.
Amongst those with whom the archbishop met last autumn were those dissenting from the impending consecration of Gene Robinson; those involved wished to discuss the shape that might be taken by groups dissenting from the decision of General Convention but remaining within the structures of ECUSA.
The term 'network' was suggested as offering one appropriate model to provide support for those dissenting from the resolution but intending to remain within ECUSA's structures. The Archbishop felt that this might prove a suitable working concept, but no proposals as to its potential form, structure or outworking were advanced.
In relation to the discussion of the term 'confessing church'; this concept indicated, in accordance with traditional Protestant usage - that the dissent was understood to be on a matter of conscience that, for the dissenter, touched on the integrity of the church itself. No narrower example or more specific comparison, for instance to the church in Germany in the 1930s, was intended."

So, lest we forget, the "Confessing Anglicanism" idea has at last some of its roots in a conversation between the Archbishop of Canterbury and two men now bishops in churches that mean to replace The Episcopal Church as the "real Anglicans" in the US.  

At the time I wrote my article (summer 2004), 

"I had rather hoped that no reference for the Archbishop's initiating remarks could be found, for then we would only be dealing with the excesses in reportage of the Episcopal Church's own rather rowdy community. We all get excessive at times and hopefully are forgiven for it. But now that we have a date and time and content for the meeting we must deal with the very real possibility that the Archbishop of Canterbury has indeed taken a part in determining the course of matters internal to this Province and its decision making processes, in which he has no more standing than that of a "foreign bishop," save the respect due him and his office. That respect remains high, for it is not an office to be wished on any, but one from which we expect much. Still, there needs to be some care in mucking about in other people's gardens, for the respect due is not without its limits."  

I still feel that way.  I wish it were not true.

While the Archbishop of ACNA may indeed trumpet the notion of "confessing Anglicanism" it is an idea stirred up in the minds of three men meeting in Lambeth Palace seven years ago, and served up to us all by ACNA and GAFCON as the future of Anglicanism.  

It is a classic case of cross - boundary intervention gone bad. It is not a good idea to have private meetings with dissident members of some one else's parish, diocese or national church and then offer them friendly advice about how to proceed in their dissent. The Windsor Report might have found it a matter of interest to consider this a possible area for moratoria.

But at least we can remember.


  1. Oh Mark! I remember now that you remind me. What mischief, nay beyond mischief, real damage, is done by meddling in affairs where one has no business. Who will rid us...? No, I won't go there!

    No narrower example or more specific comparison, for instance to the church in Germany in the 1930s, was intended."

    Of course not! What a thought! The Network of Confessing Dioceses and their co-conspirator were ever completely innocent of intending comparisons of the Episcopal Church with Nazi Germany. Who would ever think such a thing?

  2. You know this whole mess with Archbishop Rowan ¨offering¨ advice is very clear...Dr. Williams always had clear and good intentions (and rarely verbalizes them very well), it´s just that the schismatics weren´t interested in anything other than using him as a beard...and the game continued in Entebbe, Uganda last week...I think it´s time that the ABC stays seated the next time he´s asked to dance the tango with other men with hairy eyebrows.

  3. +Rowan, it's time for you to go home now.

  4. I always found it funny that they called themselves "confessing" christians when they spend all their time denying wrongdoing.

  5. I agree with Leonardo, but we also have to accept that in his position, or for whoever holds that position, he will not stand up and dance the tango with those stridently on the other side of controversy, either.

    I absolutely reject the way the dissenters have prosecuted their "war of righteousness", but can we accept our own culpability in all that has transpired? If we can't, if we can't "walk in their shoes," then we are not truly progressive or liberal, but simply in want of our way without compromise or consequences. We simply become "like them."

  6. Bob G wrote, "...in his position, or for whoever holds that position, he will not stand up and dance the tango with those stridently on the other side of controversy..."
    So far as I can tell, Carey did just that. The result: the infamous 1998 Lambeth Conference that produced Resolution 1:10 amidst great rancor and led to a new expectation that the bishops and primates would become a magesterium, casting out and lifting up at will.

    The word verification is "tindows" - windows made of tin, designed so none can see in.

  7. It is worth noting that Bonhoeffer declined to label the Nazi controlled church a false church and simply pointed to the marks of the true church which he believed could be seen in the Confessing Church. If our brothers and sisters in this new confessing movement followed Bonhoeffer's example and refrained from vitriolic attacks on the Episcopal Church things might be far better now.

  8. "Confessing Church" Self congratultory baloney! What the Confessing Church did was to stand in opposition to popular prejudice against the Jews, idolizing nationalism and militaristic imperialism.

    How does the Archbishop read history? Certainly what ACNA is about has more to do with the prejudices and nationalism of conervative Americans than the rejection of NAZIism in Germany in the 1930's! What a terrible comparison!

    Rev. Sarah Flynn

  9. Might a word or two be said in defence of the accused here?

    (1) To suggest a 'network' be formed in order to draw together those dissatisfied with a decision is not in itself an original or novel suggestion, nor one likely to occur to the ABC but not to anyone else. In the circumstances of 2003, to encourage Episcopalians feeling disturbed and disaffected to form a network seems a matter of common sense. It seems likely that a 'network' response would have formed with or without a word from the ABC, because that was an obvious thing to do.

    (2) A 'network' of itself is not necessarily a schismatic body. Networks can work within a larger body without leaving it. Clearly the 2003 network later did become a leaving rather than staying entity, but did the ABC encourage that departure? (I realise that some feel that he did with later statements about 'dioceses' being the basic unit of Anglicanism etc).

    (3) It would be most unfortunate if 'confessing' was included in a name in the sense that the body being distinguished from was seen to act in some kind of 'Nazi' manner. But I always understood that the objection of the Confessing Church of the 1930s to the wider German church under Naziism was to the capture of the church by 'German culture' represented through the 'German Christians' movement. Thus 'Confessing' intended to capture the distinction between a church beholden only to the Lord Jesus Christ and a church also beholden to culture. There is an argument abroad in the Communion that TEC, along with other Western Anglican churches contemplating progressive change on same sex relationships are following culture more than Scripture. Promotion of 'Confessing' is then not making a comparison between TEC and Nazi Germany but between churches in respect of lordship: Christ alone or Christ and culture? (Naturally much argument to be had here, and there is plenty of scope for rejoinders about what elements of 'culture' are influencing ACNA, Nigeria, Uganda and all).

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  11. There are plenty of comments that one could make about culture and the communities of faith to which we belong. Although it is true that there is a growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in North America, the dominant culture still seems to me to be heterosexist, and it this culture that is clearly reflected in ACNA. There are still vestiges of Christendom and triumphalism in North America, evident in both the Episcopal Church and ACNA. While some elements of culture cannot be accommodated within faithful communities, there are some that can and it is the task of those communities to make that discernment. Perhaps the Episcopal Church is wrong in its discernment, but I remain unconvinced by all the arguments.

    My major quarrel with those who have left the Episcopal Church is that they seem stuck in defining themselves as not-the-Episcopal-Church, that is, stuck in a rivalry that will ultimately do them harm.

  12. Fellow Christians, without doubt. Anglicans, just for now. If the ACNA bishops and priests step away from being part of the province of the Anglican Cone without aligning with another already existing province, then they form a new Christian denomination or denominations, hopefully one without such a mouthful of capital letters as ACNA or GAFCON. For the evangelical wing that allows WO, perhaps the name Duncanites? For the Anglo-Catholics something more traditional? Of course, they're still welcome in TEC. I wish our brothers and sisters in Christ well, whatever they decide. It will be interesting to see who allies with whom ten years hence.

  13. The scheme DOES sound a lot like ++/Rowan's misbegotten "Flying Bishops" scheme for the C of E though, doesn't it? And about as likely to remain airborne...


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.