I’ve decided to round up links regarding the recent US Episcopal General Convention, and what its decisions mean for the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion. I’ve blogged before about how I’m reading and listening and trying to understand about the tensions that exist in the worldwide communion and whether it is inevitable that the fragile Communion will fracture.
A quick recap of what happened at the Convention: The Episcopal Church voted to endorse the local option for parishes and priests to celebrate and perform same-sex blessings. While they did not change the definition of marriage, as it would have been a complicated endeavour to change the language of the Book of Common Prayer, these new rites are parallel and share many common features of the marriage rite.
“These resolutions in my opinion,” said Lawrence, “are disconcerting changes to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church–to which every bishop, priest and deacon is asked to conform. More importantly they mark a departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them, therein making it necessary for me to strongly differentiate myself from such actions.”
As well, a group presented the Convention with the Indianapolis Statement, a document that officially dissented from the decision of the Convention’s decision:
“The liturgy entitled ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant’ is for all practical purposes same-sex marriage. It includes all of the essential elements found in a marriage rite: vows, an exchange of rings, a pronouncement, and a blessing. We believe that the rite subverts the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer, places The Episcopal Church outside the mainstream of Christian faith and practice, and creates further distance between this Church and the Anglican Communion along with other Christian churches.
“Our dissent from this action of the 77th General Convention is thus rooted in the teachings of our own Church; in the historic biblical and theological witness upon which those teachings rest; and in the wider context of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church and our conviction that no part of the Church is free on its own to alter basic Christian teaching…”
(The full text of the statement can be found here).
Daniel Martins notes that there is a small silver lining in the vote to approve the rite:
“It could have been worse. In the Committee 13 debate this morning, we were able to greatly strengthen the language that not only gives bishops the authority to prohibit use of the rite in their diocese, but offers both clergy and laity concrete safeguards to protect them from retribution or canonical impairment because of this position on same-sex marriage–in the case of clergy, refusal to preside at this rite. I have been abundantly clear in the Diocese of Springfield that this form, or anything like it, will not be authorized for use.”
The full-text of the liturgy that was approved can be found here, at the bottom of the article.
So the question is, what does this action mean for the larger Anglican Communion? Other members of the Communion have called for the Episocopal (and Canadian) churches to pause and not continue on this push for the sake of Christian unity. On the other hand, the Episcopal churches have basically said that Christian Unity means that the rest of the Communion should let them do this and to not interfere in this “local option.” Churches and an entire diocese have left to join a new Anglican network under the authority of the Southern Cone, and have been called ‘schismatics’ for failing to uphold Christian unity. But one has to wonder if the Episcopal Church is the true schismatic for wielding Christian unity as a weapon of manipulation and defiance.
The Anglican Curmudgeon says that this Convention has opened the door to Liturgical Anarchy:
“Do whatever your own Bishop may choose to approve in his or her own Diocese. It can be this liturgy, for example; or it can be something someone else has written for this liturgically undefinable occasion, as long as the Bishop says, ‘That’s fine.’ Or it can be no such rites or liturgies whatsoever, if the Bishop says that. Whatever — just go with it, pewsters.”
Beliefnet News asks “Why is the Episcopal Church Near Collapse?” and traces the decline of membership in the Episcopal Church in the last 40 years. The article suggests that the resolutions passed at this Convention are not surprising given the free-fall that the Church has been in:
But few observers were surprised by the transgender and same-sex resolutions. A few years ago, the annual national Episcopal convention overwhelmingly refused even to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord. Upon returning home from that meeting, Bishop Peter H. Beckwith, leader of the Springfield, Illinois, diocese, wrote in a pastoral letter that the Episcopal church was “in meltdown.”
Conservative Anglicans are also asking, how should GAFCON respond to the latest developments:
The Communion lies becalmed and rudderless like a ship after a storm. The Archbishop of Canterbury can no longer gather the Communion and the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council has announced that it has no set time frame for the adoption of the Covenant. What was once held to be ‘the only show in town’ is dead even though it officially lives.
How does the GAFCON movement respond now? During the storm it provided a lifeboat for those orthodox Anglicans who were tossed over the side, but now there is an opportunity to get the ship under way again by being a catalyst for the renewal and godly unity of the whole Communion. The preparatory documents for the 2008 GAFCON Conference referred to a fork in the road, but how do we understand that road?
The Christian Science Monitor is also asking what this will mean for the future of the worldwide Communion:
“It means the Episcopal Church is now separating itself that much more from the Anglican Communion,” says Hood College historian David Hein, co-author of “The Episcopalians,” a standard history of the church. “The American Episcopal Church is trying to set itself up as a separate denomination, although they would claim that they’re not.”
Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori announced at a press conference that the Episcopal Church is well-positioned for the future:
At this convention, “you have seen the Episcopal Church not only of the future, but of today, in the presence of young adults, a more significant number than we’ve seen in a long time, people of many nations and tribes and language traditions,” said Jefferts Schori, noting that more than 40 international guests attended convention. “The Episcopal Church is healthy, it’s becoming healthier, and it’s poised for an even more significant impact on the world around us. There’s no stopping us. Watch out world. We’re coming.”
I haven’t seen anyone write on this yet, but I’m wondering how the results of the US Convention will impact the decision of who is chosen as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
p.s. check out this post In Praise of Episcopalians:
I’m proud of The Episcopal Church for the conclusion at which they arrived as well. As far as I’m concerned in all matters theological, when in doubt err on the side of generosity. When in certainty, do the same. Generosity, humility, full inclusion of all God’s Creation…If there’s a “come to Jesus” moment one day I’d rather be told I was too generous than too stingy with the love of God