Revisiting Article III of the Episcopal Church Constitution... bishops for Foreign Lands.

We ought, as often as possible consecrate bishops for foreign lands, rather than consecrate Episcopal Church bishops for overseas dioceses, that is dioceses not part of the territories of The United States. It is time to be less imperial and international in our reach.

A.    The Constitution of THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH includes the following possibility:

“Bishops may be consecrated for foreign lands upon due application therefrom, with the approbation of a majority of the Bishops of this Church entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, certified to the Presiding Bishop; under such conditions as may be prescribed by Canons of the General Convention. Bishops so consecrated shall not be eligible to the office of Diocesan or of Bishop Coadjutor of any Diocese in the United States or be entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, nor shall they perform any act of the episcopal office in any Diocese or Missionary Diocese of this Church, unless requested so to do by the Ecclesiastical Authority
thereof. If a Bishop so consecrated shall be subsequently duly elected as a Bishop of a Missionary Diocese of this Church, such election shall then confer all the rights and privileges given in the Canon to such Bishops.”

This Article has been rarely been used. White and Dykman note the following use of what was Canon 10 and later Article III of the Constitution (the text above):  Haiti, in 1874, Mexico in 1879, Brazil 1899, and in 1948 consecration of bishops for the Philippine Independent Church.  Recently there has been the attempt to remove this article from the Constitution as being no longer relevant.

B.    “In the United States of America”

One of the early reasons for this canon / article was the notion that “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” was by intention the Episcopal / Anglican Church for the whole nation, for all places where the government of the United States of America held sway.  Churches established by PECUSA outside the territory of the United States could be formed as missionary dioceses and have some representation in the General Convention, but the forward planning and object was the establishment of national Episcopal churches in the various “foreign lands.”

In recent years, there has been some confusion of this division – between foreign and domestic – and we have talked of The Episcopal Church as being a church that includes 16 (or so) nations. We have talked of TEC as an international church. That move, from seeing the work as distinctly domestic or foreign to seeing the work as international echoes the increasingly international character of many businesses.  This move has been seen by some who find conspiracy under every rock as an effort by TEC to see itself as an international “Church” in the same way that the last two Archbishops of Canterbury erroneously slip into talking about the Anglican Communion as a church.  The error in that instance is confusing a communion of churches for a single entity. It is an error of old empire builders. Just so the conspiracy folk see TEC building empire, or at least international corporation.

C.     Reclaiming Foreign and Domestic mission.

It is time to address this confusion by reclaiming one part of the missionary vision of The Episcopal Church, namely to take our part as a national church in the development and strengthening of cognate bodies – churches like (but not the same as) ours in foreign lands.

It is time to insist again that TEC is a legitimate expression of Anglicanism in the United States of America and that as an Anglican church it has every hope that like-minded believers in other counties, in “foreign parts,” will be raised up and encouraged to form their own Anglican churches, autonomous and related to all the rest of the Anglican churches by bonds of affection and not by bondage to some international cartel or curia. 

It is time to encourage overseas dioceses of TEC to move to greater self-governance, greater self-sufficiency, greater self-propagation.  We need once again to hold up the vision of these churches in “foreign parts” taking their place at the table of Anglican Communion fellowship as independent national episcopal churches.

D.    Article III of the Constitution is a basis for establishing a new / old relationship between TEC and dioceses in foreign lands.

As an example: The Episcopal Church of Haiti has requested TEC permission to hold an election of a bishop coadjutor.  As it stands that bishop will be part of the TEC House of Bishops and the diocese will be a diocese in union with the General Convention, in other words Haiti will remain as a diocese of TEC.  

Any progress towards establishing the Episcopal Church of Haiti as an autonomous church in Haiti would involve getting permission from General Convention to withdraw from that union, and as a parallel action, the Bishop getting permission to leave the House of Bishops.  At the same time, if the church of Haiti were to become an autonomous province in the Anglican Communion, the Church of Haiti would have to establish to the satisfaction of the Anglican Consultative Council that it consisted of four (or perhaps three) dioceses and with sufficient resources.  If the Church of Haiti wanted to it could ask for “extra-provincial” status, with a concordat with an existing province which would place this diocese in relation to the rest of the Communion.

Having a TEC bishop is an expensive proposition: The bishop is expected to go to General Convention, to House of Bishop’s meetings, to have a salary and benefits based on a US standards, and to exercise ministry under the specific requirements of TEC Canon law which reflects the “local” requirements of church life in the United States of America.

If the coadjutor bishop of Haiti were elected as a bishop for foreign lands it would signal the intention that the Episcopal Church of Haiti was an emerging separate entity in the Anglican Communion seeking its connection to the whole by either moving to autonomy as a province of its own, or to union with other dioceses in a regional province of national churches. On a temporary basis connection with TEC could be continued with a concordat under which a panel of several TEC bishops would act as a council of advice to the bishop of Haiti, assuring the bishop of continued connection to at least this part of the Communion.

Freed from the constraints of responsibilities to the House of Bishops and the General Convention, and the expectations of the TEC episcopate, the church in Haiti could establish an episcopal presence that, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral proposes, was “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”  The episcopate, ordered locally, might exhibit such “servant leadership” as would make it possible for the Church in Haiti to ordain several bishops and establish several dioceses, thus moving it further towards being a self-sustaining church.

The canons of the Church in Haiti could also be ordered in ways that were appropriate to its location and, at the same time, through the concordat, aligned in substance to canons of TEC.

E.     What goes around, comes around.

Something very like this was the basis on which the Church in Haiti, already in place as the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti, was first connected to TEC.  The consecration of James Theodore Holly as a bishop for foreign lands in 1874 was accompanied by a concordat, a bishops advisory group, and the establishment of canons for the governance of the church in Haiti. When in 1912 the church of Haiti asked to join TEC as a missionary diocese it lost the right to name its own bishop, became part of TEC and over the years has become a “regular” diocese of this church.  But it began precisely by using the canon on consecration bishops for foreign lands.

Perhaps it is time again to make use of Article III and consecrate the next bishop of Haiti as “a bishop for foreign lands.”  In doing so we would counter the unfortunate assumption that TEC ought to be an “international church,” with whatever imperial or internationalist corporate assumptions “international church” language brings.   Too, we might learn from the experience in Haiti something more about alternative ways to understand the role and function of the bishop in the church.

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