What;s with the members of the Communon Partners? Mucking about again.

It begins with the "Communion Partners" group. Its a tangled web they weave. Good men all, I am sure, but they weave a strange fabric, in which there is both hierarchy only at the diocesan level and hierarchy at the Communion level, and nothing in between in The Episcopal Church save a voluntary gathering of autonomous dioceses. It gives me a headache, bordering on migraine.
Here is how the weaving plays out.

There is a group of bishops in The Episcopal Church who call themselves "The Communion Partners." The list of "active" (that is not retired) bishops, as of 2012 is as follows:
The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt*
The Rt. Rev. Russell E. Jacobus
The Rt. Rev. Paul E. Lambert*
The Rt. Rev. Mark Joseph Lawrence
The Rt. Rev. Gary R. Lillibridge
The Rt. Rev. Edward Stuart Little, II*
The Rt. Rev. William H. Love*
The Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson
The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins*
The Rt. Rev. David M. Reed
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith**
The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton
The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf
The Rt. Rev. Gregory O. Brewer

This group has as its vision and purpose the following:

In light of our understanding of the integrity of the Dioceses of The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Visitors concept announced by the Presiding Bishop, we have considered a need  to maintain and strengthen 
  • our ties with the Anglican Communion
  • our fidelity to the canonical realities, integrities and structures of the Episcopal Church
  • and our exercise of our office as a focus of unity.

We believe such ties will provide the opportunity for mutual support, accountability and fellowship; and present an important sign of our connectedness in and vision for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as we move through this time of stress and renewal.


Communion Partners 

  • provide for those concerned a visible link 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.
  • provide fellowship, support and a forum for mutual concerns between bishops. The Communion Partner bishops share many concerns about the Anglican Communion and its future and look to work together with Primates and Bishops from the wider Communion. 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.
  • provide a partnership to work toward the Anglican Covenant and according to Windsor Principles

The Communion Partner 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.

You may notice that in none of this is there mention of working together as bishops part of a syondical thing called The Episcopal Church, there is only the "fidelity to the canonical realities, integrities and structures of the Episcopal Church." The whole of the Communion Partners vision and purpose is bound up with dioceses (and their bishops) on the one hand and the Primates and bishops of the Communion on the other.

So, here they are.

Now several members of this band of bishops have joined as "friends of the court" in Texas. Of the seven who have joined with the Anglican Communion Institute in this brief,

The Rt. Rev. Maurice M. Benitez,
The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe,
The Rt. Rev. Paul E. Lambert,
The Rt. Rev. William H. Love,
The Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson,
The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins,
The Rt. James M. Stanton 

All, except Maurice Benitez, are members of the Communion Partners.  (Thanks to The Living Church for the article on this.)

In this brief they argue that " “These amici curiae support the traditional polity of The Episcopal Church founded on the autonomy of its constituent dioceses and therefore submit that the trial court erred both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law when it found that The Episcopal Church has a hierarchical authority superior to the diocese and its bishop.”

They do so while at the same time opposing the decision by those who in the Diocese of Fort Worth who left the Episcopal Church. 

They are arguing for a principle, and in a principled fashion. But the effect of their argument is to negate the ruling of the court, at least on the basis it made its ruling, and the end would be to throw open the question of the legal right of those who left to take with them the property, title, name, rights and such, that pertained to the Diocese of Fort Worth. If the court accepts their friend of the court plea, then it must reject the findings that led to the judgment against those who left the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The end result, of course, is that whether or not these friends agreed with now deposed Bishop Iker and company, they would be supporting his case.

Well, that's complex enough.

But wait, there's more: We might note too that it is members of the Communion Partners that are putting forth a resolution on the Anglican Covenant that essentially signals our pledge to adopt following a short period of further exploration.  Bishops Bauerschmidt, Martins and Smith put forward this resolution.

But it gets more interesting.

This week GAFCON  held a leadership conference in London. GAFCON is the group of bishops, clergy and others that met in Jerusalem several years ago and spelled out an alternative universe for Anglicanism in the future - complete with the Jerusalem Declaration (which is considered by many of them to be the better sort of "Anglican Covenant") and a vision of having some of the instruments of communion cast in new ways. GAFCON has in turn spawned the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a network to support its message in venues around the Anglican world. 

They met, as it were, in the belly of the Beast, in London.  Among those attending was at least one member of the Communion Partners, Bishop Mark Lawrence.

Now Bishop Lawrence is always a person of interest to those of us who wonder for the future of The Episcopal Church and its place in Anglican-land.  He has signed on to the Communion Partners, and here he is at the Leadership Conference of GAFCON in England.  

And who else is there? 

It is reported by Bishop Guernsey  that "Archbishop Robert Duncan, who sits as a Primate on the Primates Council, will lead our (ACNA)  Church’s delegation. My wife, Meg, and I will be there, as will Bishop Julian Dobbs. Bishop Martyn Minns, in his role as head of the GAFCON London office, is one of the conference organizers."

Is Bishop Lawrence part of the GAFCON Leadership Conference? and at the same time part of the Communion Partners?  Interesting indeed.  Bishop Lawrence apparently believes that GAFCON is the place to be in support of the Communion Partners agenda. 

Now the Communion Partners is opposed to those in the Diocese of Fort Worth who left The Episcopal Church, but support the notion that there is no hierarchy in The Episcopal Church of the sort that would support the ruling in favor of the continuing Diocese of Fort Worth. GAFCON, however, is looking for a more strident and perfected form of global Anglicanism that would take the weak hierarchical structure of the current Anglican Communion which is not a church but a fellowship and transform it into a world wide church, with leadership from the Global South.

Well, good luck Bishop Lawrence. You have excluded the middle in order to maintain your own independence, but in doing so you also are open to the accusation that you are playing into the hands of potentates and powers who are no fools and will so reduce your diocesan powers to a point where you will wish for the days of mere pressure from the church that ordained you and gave  you license to be bishop. 

Meanwhile, out there in Anglican-land the GAFCON folk are making it clear: They want a Primates Meeting that becomes a Primates Council with an elected chair, and dear friends they will then feel just fine about the Anglican Covenant, for with the right chair of the Primates Council and sufficient sign on from Communion Churches the Primates Council can become the real and hoped for star chamber, deciding who can and cannot be members of the council, acting as an instrument of the Communion bent on the exclusion of members who do not sign on to the Jerusalem Declaration, accepting into their number people like the deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh, now the Archbishop of an alternative universe to The Episcopal Church.  And all without changing a thing about the Anglican Covenant, the instruments of Communion or even signing on to the Anglican Covenant.

If the Primates Meetings becomes a meeting with an elected chair, with rights that include determining who can sit as part of the Primates Meetings independently of the Anglican Consultative Council, then there is no reason to suppose that given the right chair of the Primates meeting, we might see Archbishop Duncan seated and whoever is Presiding Bishop removed. 

And of course, we might then see that same Primates Meeting become more and more a council gathering authority to itself as a "house of Primates" and finally determining which dioceses within TEC are really part of the Communion and which are not. And believe me, they will use the Anglican Covenant card when they want, and ignore it when they want. The Anglican Covenant will be irrelevant except insofar as buying on signals acquiescence to rule by majority decision of the Primates. 

This whole thing is hierarchical to such an amazing extent that I cannot understand how Bishop Lawrence can be there. Perhaps he is a visiting outsider, perhaps on a diplomatic mission. Perhaps as a bridge builder. But we don't know that. Right now it looks like he is the diocesan of a diocese in search of a hierarchy not his own.

So here it is: The Communion Partners support dioceses and the Anglican Communion and admit the realities of canonical life in The Episcopal Church, but don't think there is much good to say about The Episcopal Church having a hierarchy.  Some of their members want us to buy onto the Anglican Covenant with a pledge to sign as soon as possible. At least one of their members is at a leadership conference whose uber-leadership includes a deposed bishop of The Episcopal Church now leading an alternative church to The Episcopal Church. 

It is yet another nail in the coffin of the Anglican Covenant, when its supporters hold to diocesan hierarchy and Communion hierarchy but don't have much truck for the stuff in the middle. The only thing to keep those Primates from policing the diocesan house are the houses of our common synodical life, the General Convention and its exercise of authority through the canons to direct the life of this church.  

The Anglican Covenant is not a neutral matter. It is an instrument open to control by various power groups, the Primates being among them. If the Primates Meetings becomes a Council with elected leadership and duties beyond meeting for mutual support and advice, then we are in deeper trouble than we can imagine.  Except of course we can.



  1. Hmm, Mark. I am not sure that I am running very far with you on this analysis! Now, obviously there are differences between my church (Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia) and your church (TEC), but I see some resonances. In our church, as far as I can tell, dioceses are free-ish to leave and if they were to negotiate that, they could take their property (and nothing about our very very lmited hierarchy could stop that). We have bishops at FCA, bishops who are interested in the Covenant being signed, and interested in maintaining fellowship with +Mark Lawrence, +Bob Duncan, etc. Are they trying to start a Communion hierarchy when we don't have much of one? I don't think so. I think they are trying to renew global Anglican life around a coherent and disciplined understanding of Anglican belief. They want to build fellowship, not a hierarchy, and to welcome into that fellowship those who share Anglican belief (defined coherently, with discipline). A number of the leaders gathering would feel at times that they have more in common with Anglicans in other churches than in their own. I am sure these considerations don't lessen your worries about these developments, but I wonder if you might consider whether your analysis is based on an accurate understanding of them.

  2. Mark, I think you misunderstand both the commitments of the Communion Partners in this case, and the categories with which we are working.

    "Hierarchy", in the context, has to do with who you legally take orders from. Nobody in Communion Partners thinks that the Anglican Communion is or should be a "hierarchy" in this sense -- member churches "taking orders from" such and such a person or group within the Communion -- and the Covenant certainly does not presuppose that or anything close: it calls for an agreed-upon form of synodality (which, it seems, is what you like, as do I), that can in fact be abandoned/walked away from if the member church so decides. Communion life in Christ presses against such walking away, which is why we believe Fort Worth should not have decided to. But in any case, that decision-making process by a member church will engage whatever "hierarchy" exists in the member church.

    Communion Partners see something analogous with respect to General Convention: we want to be a part of it, and engage its synodical process (as the bishops and dioceses in question do); and we want to engage it in the form of agreed-upon processes. But we believe that the "hierarchical" element of these synods, technically speaking, lies with the bishop-in-diocese, whose representatives (bishop, laity, and clergy) are voluntary members of the synod. It is the commitments “in Christ” that members make to one another that founds the authority of the synod.

    I don't think there is anything complicated or inconsistent about any of this. Indeed, we believe that the synodical life of GC and Communion (and diocese as well!) should be inter-locking in their mutually informing manner of common commitment and "interdependence" (that is, that the synods themselves should be "interdependent"). Obviously, there is at root a different understanding of the polity of our church, both legally and perhaps theologically. But not a conceptually unbalanced one.

    Ephraim Radner

  3. Colin Coward notes on a new post at Changing Attitude that "A Kenyan bishop I met on my visit to Kenya in March described Chris Sugden as being the key figure aggressively driving the campaign in Africa to create schism in the Anglican Communion and replace the existing Instruments of Communion by a new power structure.". Those who have visited Anglican Mainstream recently may have noticed an obsession with homosexuality that may be viewed as verging on the pathological.

  4. In our church, as far as I can tell, dioceses are free-ish to leave and if they were to negotiate that, they could take their property (and nothing about our very very lmited hierarchy could stop that).

    Peter, that is not the polity of TEC.

    The Chair, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala stated plainly in the keynote address at GAFCON:

    Since 2008, we have acted, perhaps not always as quickly or as clearly as we should, but there has been action. In accordance with the Jerusalem Declaration, the GAFCON primates sponsored the Anglican Church in North America as a new province and ceased to be in communion with The Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada.

    In what capacity is Mark Lawrence present?

    Despite the soothing words by Peter and Ephraim, I think something is up beyond fellowship. I don't know what, but I have lots questions.

  5. This whole thing with the friends of the court is really discouraging for those of us in FTW. We have been ejected from our buildings and our savings are being held hostage while trying to continue to preach the Gospel in this part of the Communion.

    If there is no organization beyond the diocese, then how do we have an Episcopal Church? I do not understand how bishops of the Church can really hold to this kind of thinking. It isn't catholic and it isn't evangelical. It is just guys arrogating to themselves power that they have NEVER had.

  6. Nothing going on to change the mantra that "theology has next to nothing to do with it - it's about politics and power (and not a little about money)".

  7. Mimi

    We will soon find out how the courts of the land view the polity of TEC. SC has ruled one way. The Texas Supreme Court now has in its hands an amicus brief signed by seven Bishops, several from Texas. They make it clear the hierarchy of TEC goes no higher than the Diocese. They take their stand on the constitution of TEC.

    Even if the argument is made that another view is preferred (as it is), the TX Supreme Court simply witnesses that officials of TEC do not agree and it cannot be their role to interefere.

    Your claim is just an assertion. I suspect that is also how the TX Supreme Court will rule.


  8. Msgr, I will spare you and everyone a 'tis so; 'tis not' back and forth between the two of us.

  9. Perhaps, Msgr. On the other hand, New York, California, Connecticut, and Virginia have found this way; and South Carolina's cases have historical features that those in Texas might not share.

    We won't know how things will be disposed in Texas until the whole sequence, including appeals (and we know there will be appeals, don't we?), is completed.

  10. How many times must one repeat that the SC ruling was specific to a single suit? And, apropos of nothing, a suit related to a sect that is fast and acrimoniously imploding.

  11. Yes. This time the amicus brief clarifies more than in even SC that the hierarchy of TEC goes no further than the Diocese. Yes, SC and TX are different and being differently approached re: litigation as well. I believe this is the first case where sitting Bishops have weighed in -- ones in TX and also in CFL, Albany, W-LA.


  12. In their Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC ruling, handed down on January 11th of this year, the Supreme Court, ruling unanimously in favor of the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, observed that "the First Amendment permit[s] hierarchical religious organizations to establish their own rules and regulations for internal discipline and government, and to create tribunals for adjudicating disputes over these matters…When ecclesiastical tribunals decide such disputes, we further explained, “the Constitution requires that civil courts accept their decisions as binding upon them."

    I am surprised that this recent ruling, which has exceedingly clear implications for ongoing litigation between TEC and secessionist groups, has not been more widely noted.

  13. Rabbit. And what the TX Supremes will have to determine is the precise character attaching to the word 'hierarchical' when it comes to TEC. They will have been made aware that TEC officials are *themselves* in serious disagreement over this. In turn, this means there is no clarity over what kind of tribunal could render a sufficient judgment. The First Amendment indeed gives the right to establish such tribunals, but at issue is whether such exist above the diocesan level. The TX Supreme Court can conclude that none such exist, and that it cannot be their remit to sort this out for the church in question, without violating the 1st Amendment.

    We will have to see what the court decides, now that thr rough-and-ready concept 'hierarchical' is dubious.


  14. And Bp Bauerschmidt is one of the people supporting the resolution that asks TEC to adopt the Anglican Covenant as is.

  15. You keep grasping Monsignor, at the opinion of this small handful of bishops, as if it means something, as opposed to the fact that the TEC House of Bishops has a membership of over 100 active and retired bishops who have not as yet waded into the situation, who may totally disagree with this handful.

  16. I find it hard to understand how bishops whose elections had to be consented to by bishops and standing committees and had to obey the canons of TEC in many matters both small and large can claim with a straight face that the hierarchy goes no higher than the dioceses. My earlier respect for Bp Martins has eroded some.

  17. Actually, Lapin, both TEC and the "Local Episcopal Parties" (i.e. the TEC-Fort Worth Diocese)cited Hosanna-Tabor extensively in their briefs to the Texas Supreme Court. Hosanna-Tabor involved alleged employment discrimination. Whether the Texas Supreme Court will apply its reasoning to the two property dispute cases before it (or whether the U.S. Supreme Court will do so if any of the various property disputes comes before it) remains to be seen.

  18. Daniel Weir, exactly. What did Bishop Martins and Bishop Lawrence think they were doing when they spoke their ordination vows?

  19. Thank goodness the TX Supreme Court doesn't need a vote from TEC Bishops to make a ruling! The very notion would show them that TEC does not have a constitutionally founded claim to 'hierarchy' at the level of the 'national church.'

    We are speaking of constitutionality here, David, not schemes to bring suit.


  20. Fr Weir--a consent process is not a national church hierarchy. You are confusing the issue. In fact, the very absence of any single supreme hierarchy is manifested by the consent process itself!


  21. Covering one's ears and loudly singing "Lah, Lah, Lah - NOT Hierarchial" does not make it so and does not make the concept "dubious". For years secessionist congregations and groupings have been fighting law suits coast to coast and have won just one, qualified, victory. The basic principle behind the cases has been to go through the court systems, one state after another, playing the "sling it against the wall and see if it sticks" game. Hasn't stuck so far and looks very much as though this suit, aimed at the relatively conservative Texas courts, is seen by our buddies at the ever-so-slightly self-important Anglican Communion Institute as their last great chance. The "Communion Partner" bishops make for better window dressing than previous cases have offered, but doubt they'll actually amount to much. The Texas legal system has been burdened with Ft Worth cases for years now and so far only attorneys have profited. This case offers the opportunity to nail down the coffin lid on these specious, trouble-causing arguments once and for all. Be quite surprised if it's not taken.

  22. I do not think I am confusing the matter by citing the consent process. The TEC's hierarchy is not like that of Rome, rather the General Convention holds the authority, and it is clear, IMV, that TEC is hierarchical.

  23. "Be quite surprised if it's not taken."

    Good. Then let's wait and see. If Tx Supremes dismiss the summary judgment--and Illinois has already done so--it might be time to give everyone a short course on TEC polity.

    The creeping 'PB is in charge' mentality snuck in to foster a scenario whereby TEC had standing to go to court in the first place. It is a deep irony, though unsurprising, now to see liberals returning to their senses and asking aloud if the office has overreached and overspent. 'Yes' is the answer to both questions.

    So maybe TX will indeed put some nails in a coffin. That would certainly help with the concern for balancing the budget -- a budget which in 2013-15 speaks of less litigation and less Title IV adventuring.

    Yes, some imaginings come with a big price tag.


  24. So does the Church's authority to discipline, depose and defrock diocesan bishops fit with the "Not Hierarchical" argument?

  25. Re the cost of legislation, almost 10% ($500,000) of the diocese of SC's expenditure over the last two years has gone to legal fees, though there have been no lawsuits or threats of legal action against the Diocese during that period. Early this March the bishop requested that the diocese cough up an additional $110,000 for this year's legal payments.

    FWIW, apparently annual diocesan income is now $500,000 below its level at the time of Mark Lawrence's consecration.

  26. Title iv gave said authority to **fellow bishops**. Not to a supreme court or to a hierarch. Colleagues in sovereign dioceses monitoring one another.


  27. The Presbyterians are considered a hierarchical body. Episcopal governance is not a prerequisite.

    Regarding TEC lawsuits, Dr Primrose, posting earlier today at Thinking Anglicans, pointed out, in reply to Christopher Seitz, who has been pretty active over there of late, that "the Tennesee Court of Appeals recently rejected the claim the TEC was not hierarchical, but a voluntary organization of equal dioceses, based on a claim by 15 or so bishops, apparently the same group appearing in Texas. The court held that they were expressing mere opinion which contradicted the church constitution and canons, which expressly provided otherwise."

    The opinion can be read here. The issue mentioned above is discussed at page 24.

  28. Re: TN.

    A parish seeking to leave a diocese/Episcopal Church faces a different set of arguments and constraints than a Diocese does. The parish in TN obviously did not take the route of DFW, as the former is unable to speak of the Diocese as a hierarchy.

    Please read the amicus in TX more carefully in terms of its logic and rationale.


  29. There are a number of cases from the US Supreme Court over the last two centuries that refer to a handful of national US churches as hierarchical churches, one of which is the Episcopal church, including the US Supreme Court descision which led TEC to enact the Dennis Canon. Although it is certainly free to reverse course, there is no compelling reason for the US Supreme Court to reverse its mind in the case of TEC hierarcical polity. Nor for the US Supreme Court to ignore the decision of a number of state supreme courts that TEC is a hierarchical church.

    Monsignor appears to be under the false impression that only a church with a hierarch, such as the Roman church and her Pope, is hierarchical in its polity and governance. There are a number of hierarchical churches in the US where the hierarch is a governing body, not a governing person. TEC is one of those churches. I know of no one who looks at the TEC PB as a hierarch.

  30. David--this summary should help you get a clearer picture:

    First of all, it is misleading to cast the operative decisions in terms of whether or not ECUSA is “Hierarchical”, because that does not always determine the outcome of whether the trust expressed by the Dennis Canon is deemed valid or not.

    For example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in its decision In re Church of St. James the Less, 585 Pa. 428 (1985), held that the Dennis Canon was ineffective to impose a trust unilaterally on parish property, without the consent of the parish expressed in some clear fashion, but it also deemed ECUSA to be hierarchical.

    Again, the only court upholding a unilateral Dennis Canon trust in Texas thus far is Masterson v. Diocese of Northwest Texas, 335 S.W.3d 880 (Tex. Ct. App. 2011), but it said it would reach that result whether it deferred to ECUSA as “hierarchical” or whether it decided the case under “neutral principles.” And that case is now under review by the Texas Supreme Court, so until that Court acts, Masterson cannot be cited as the “law” in Texas.

    The decision of the California Supreme Court …was a decision overruling a demurrer by the parish to ECUSA’s complaint, which pled that ECUSA was “hierarchical.” On such appeals, the Court is required to regard all such facts pled as true and incontrovertible—so it is scarcely a “finding” that ECUSA is hierarchical.

    In Virginia, Judge Bellows cited Supreme Court precedent holding that trusts like the Dennis Canon were per se invalid under Virginia law—but he went on to find that an “implied trust”, not based on the DC, had been established through conduct over many years.
    A better criterion is to compare the States in which a national church has been permitted to impose a trust without a parish’s written consent, versus those States which have disallowed any such trust creation.

    In favor of such trusts: CA, CN, GA, MA, NC, NJ, NY

    Against such trusts: AK, AR, KY, LA, MO, NH, PA, SC, VA

    States whose Supreme Courts currently have the question under review: IN, TX



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.