The consecration of Gene Robinson has provoked a crisis of communion across the Episcopal Church. A Network of parishes and dioceses has been set up, refusing to receive the ministry of Bishop Robinson, or of those bishops who consented to his consecration.
The American House of Bishops produced its paper Caring for all the Churches as a response to the expectations of the Primates, and as a means of defusing the present crisis. such extended episcopal care to be offer and received.
English readers will notice the differences between what is being demanded and proposed in the United States and the provisions available in England under the Act of Synod. The American Crisis is one of morals and not primarily of ecclesiology. The grounds for refusing the ministry of bishops who consented to Robinson’s consecration are by no means clear. There are claims (which have never been made in England, about the ordination of women to the priesthood) of wholesale apostasy on the part of the majority in ECUSA.
All these factors are important. But most important is the influence which the acceptance or otherwise of the proposals of the American House of Bishops will have on the conclusions of the Lambeth Commission, which is reporting to the Primates on the world-wide implications of the North American Crisis.
Forward in Faith International responded to ‘Caring for all the Churches’ aware that any decisions taken by the Commission might be influential in discussions about provision for dissent in the debate about women bishops in the Church of England.
Caring for All the Churches
A Response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to an expressed need of the Church
The church is the Body of Christ. Our life in this Body is a continuing action of God’s grace among us, by whose power alone we are ‘joined together’ in Christ and grow ‘into a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph. 2:21). Through the Church’s common life in Christ, God intends to signify to the world the beginning of a new and reconciled creation.
We know the unity with God that Christ has won for humanity, he won through the victory of his passion. We are mindful of the suffering of Jesus who, on the Cross and through his resurrection, reaches into every corner of alienated human life, reconciling and restoring to the household of God all who come to him in faith. By God’s grace the Church is continually called, in repentance and hope, to be a trustworthy sign to the world of this costly reconciling power of God. We understand that, in obedience to Christ and putting our whole trust in him, we may share in his unity with the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion in the Trinity is the salvation of the world. The church, thus, exists for the sake of the world. Therefore, for the sake of the world, we have been called ‘to serve before God day and night in the ministry of reconciliation’, (BCP, p521) which is to be carried out ‘with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4.2–3).
We as bishops are not of a common mind about issues concerning human sexuality. Different points of view on these matters also exist within our dioceses and congregations. In some instances there are significant differences between congregation(s) and the bishop and few of our congregations are themselves of one mind. As we exercise pastoral leadership in our dioceses, we pledge ourselves to work always towards the fullest relationship, seeking, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, ‘the highest degree of communion’. We are grateful for his leadership and share the pastoral concerns expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in their statement of October 2003, ‘for those who in all conscience feel bound to dissent from the teaching and practice of their province in such matters.’ We have committed ourselves to living through this time of disagreement in love and charity and with sensitivity to the pastoral needs of all members of our church.
In the circumstance of disagreement regarding the actions of the 74th General Convention on issues of human sexuality, we commit ourselves to providing and to making provision for pastoral care for dissenting congregations, and we recognize that there may be a need for a bishop to delegate some pastoral oversight. Oversight means the episcopal acts performed as part of a diocesan bishop’s ministry either by the diocesan bishop or by another bishop to whom such responsibility has been delegated by the diocesan bishop. In other Anglican Provinces, the term ‘pastoral oversight’ signifies what we mean by ‘pastoral care.’ In our Episcopal Church polity, ‘oversight’ does not confer ‘jurisdiction.’ We are aware of current examples of the delegation of pastoral oversight in the gracious accommodations which have occurred in some dioceses.
As we together commit to a process for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, we also recognize the constitutional and canonical authority of bishops and the integrity of diocesan boundaries. We are in accord with the statement of the primates: ‘Whilst we affirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates.’
Sensitive pastoral care does not presuppose like-mindedness. Bishops and congregations have frequently disagreed about particular articulations and interpretations of scripture and the Creeds while being able to transcend their differences through common prayer and celebration of the sacraments of the new covenant. The notion that the bishop’s views must be in accord with those of a particular rector or congregation for the bishop to be received as chief pastor opens the way to undermining the bishop’s pastoral ministry, which must embrace all and ‘support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries.’ Our theology and practice hold that ordination and consecration provide the gifts and grace necessary for the sacramental acts of a bishop to be effectual. (See article XXVI of the Articles of Religion: Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.)
As bishops we share a ministry of episcopé as stewards of the mystery of faith that none of us possesses alone. We believe it is our particular charge to nourish, guard and represent in the church this ‘unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ We understand this to be for the sake of the world and in fidelity to our Lord who gave his life to restore all to unity with God. We recognize and repent of our failures of charity towards one another in this shared ministry of episcopé, and we pledge ourselves to a sacrificial ministry with one another, valuing in each the presence of the Crucified and Risen Christ. While our unity may be strained, we continue to strive for godly union and concord. Our task requires humility, charity, mutual respect and a willingness to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In March of 2002 the House of Bishops adopted the following covenant:
‘We believe that the present Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church are sufficient for dealing with questions of episcopal oversight, supplemental episcopal pastoral care, and disputes that may arise between the bishop and a congregation. We encourage that their provisions be used wisely and in the spirit of charity.
‘The provision of supplemental episcopal pastoral care shall be under the direction of the bishop of the diocese, who shall invite the visitor and remain in pastoral contact with the congregation. This is to be understood as a temporary arrangement, the ultimate goal of which is the full restoration of the relationship between the congregation and their bishop.’
Expanding on this previous agreement, and working always towards ‘the highest degree of communion,’ we offer the following recommendations in order to provide Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. We expect that the first priority in a relationship between a diocesan bishop and congregation is a striving for unity. As such, it is incumbent upon both the bishop and the rector/congregation to meet together, with a consultant, if needed, to find ways to work together. If for serious cause in the light of our current disagreements on issues of human sexuality, the bishop and rector/congregation cannot work together, we propose the following process for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.
1) In the spirit of openness, the rector and vestry, or the canonically designated lay leadership shall meet with the bishop to seek reconciliation. After such a meeting, it is our hope that in most instances a mutually agreeable way forward will be found.
2) If reconciliation does not occur, then the rector and two-thirds of the vestry, or in the absence of a rector, two-thirds of the canonically designated lay leadership, after fully engaging the congregation, may seek from their diocesan bishop, (or the diocesan bishop may suggest) a conference regarding the appropriateness and conditions for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.
3) After such a conference the bishop may appoint another bishop to provide pastoral oversight.
4) If no reconciliation is achieved, there may then be an appeal to the bishop who is president or vice-president of the ECUSA province in which the congregation is geographically located, for help in seeking a resolution. Those making such an appeal must inform the other party of their decision to appeal.
5) When such an appeal has been made, the provincial bishop may request two other bishops, representative of the divergent views in this church, to join with the provincial bishop to review the situation, to consider the appeal, and to make recommendations to all parties. If an episcopal visitor is to be invited, that bishop shall be a member in good standing in this Church.
6) When an agreement is reached with respect to a plan, it shall be for the purpose of reconciliation. The plan shall include expectations of all parties, especially mutual accountability. The plan shall be for a stated period of time with regular reviews.
The provincial bishop shall periodically inform the Presiding Bishop, the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, and the House of Bishops at its regular meetings of the progress and results of this process.
As bishops of this church, we pledge ourselves to pray and work for patience and the generosity of spirit that can enable a pastoral resolution as we live with our differences. As well, we will strive for Godly union and concord as together we seek to be led by the Spirit of truth who, as Jesus tells us, ‘will guide us into all the truth.’ (John 16:13)
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church
23 March 2004
FiF International responds to ‘Caring for all the Churches’.
‘I could not possibly be more proud of our bishops, who with great care and deliberation sought to articulate our shared ministry of reconciliation in ways that are generous toward those who feel themselves in some sense alienated from our common life,’ Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said, commending the House of Bishops’ paper ‘Caring for all the Churches’.
The paper itself lays equal stress on a doctrine of reconciliation and on the role of bishop as a focus of unity. It needs to be asked, therefore, what reconciliation the bishops envisage or expect as a result of their initiative.
As the bishops admit, two conflicting opinions are held in the Episcopal Church about the moral admissibility of homosexual acts. Where is compromise between these positions to be sought? What issues are at stake and how might they be settled?
In understanding of the Scriptures? Here there is a fundamental disagreement.
On the one hand there are those who suppose the plain meaning of scripture in the matter of same sex relationships to be apparent to all and to be upheld by the consistent tradition of the Church throughout the ages.
On the other hand there are those who suppose that scripture is unclear on this and other important matters, that the tradition is no certain guide to its interpretation, and that modern knowledge raises matters previously unknown and so unaddressed by its authors. Some of them believe that the scriptures are the possession of the Church (in the sense of the contemporary believing community) and that the Church (in that sense) can re-interpret or ignore them as it will.
In attitudes to the authority and competence of the local Church? Here there are also radical differences of opinion.
On the one hand there are those who hold that the local church (in the sense of the diocese or province) has plenary authority to order its own affairs. For them a democratic decision at the appropriate level settles the matter. (That level is held by some to be diocesan – ‘the people of New Hampshire have the right to call the bishop they want’; by some it is thought to be provincial – ‘this Church has the authority to order its ministry as it alone sees fit’).
On the other hand there are those who cling tenaciously to the understanding that no province of the Anglican Communion (or even the Communion as a whole) is more than a small part of the Church Universal and that those parts are answerable for any wounds or divisions inflicted upon the wider Church. In particular they are directly answerable to other churches in the Anglican tradition and to the common inheritance.
In sexual morality? Surely it is here that the deepest disagreements lie.
On the one hand there are those who hold that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life, and that all relations of a sexual nature outside that bond fall short of the demands made by God of Christian people. They are consequently of the opinion that a man who cannot or will not conform himself to such standards of conduct (or remain celibate) is not a fit person to assume the role of bishop in the Church, – for the bishop is to be, in the words of St Ignatius of Antioch, ‘a type of the Father’.
On the other hand there are those who suppose that a man may separate himself from his wife and family, contract a new and openly carnal relationship with a person of the same sex, and still be regarded as an appropriate person to exercise the office of a bishop and the guardianship, in the diocese over which he is appointed, of the Church’s doctrine and morals.
In short there are presently represented, in the Episcopal Church, in its dioceses and in many of its parishes, two views which are diametrically opposed. They are, moreover, asymmetrically disposed. Those who reject the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual as bishop do so, at least in part, in order to sustain the unity of the Church in present time and its continuity with the past. Those who uphold the appointment of such a man as bishop express their opinion contra mundum.
The Proposed Solution
There are, moreover, obvious and serious problems with the mechanism – Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight – which the bishops have proposed as a means of dealing with these differences. The problems are of two kinds: of principle and of process.
The principle underlying the bishops’ statement is that the unity of the Church consists, not in shared belief, but in due canonical form. ‘Sensitive pastoral care does not presuppose like-mindedness,‘ say the bishops. ‘Bishops and congregations have frequently disagreed about particular articulations and interpretations of scripture and the Creeds while being able to transcend their differences through common prayer and celebration of the sacraments of the new covenant.’
Some of this, of course, is true – to a limited extent. But it is not true that bishops may, with impunity, entertain whatever theological or ethical opinions they think fit. On the contrary, the Church entrusts to them the task of guarding the faith, so that it may be passed on, in its integrity, to future generations. The college of bishops, both provincial and world-wide, should be a fellowship in which restraint and discipline are exercised in charity. The failure of the House of Bishops of ECUSA to exercise, or even to acknowledge, that collegial restraint has, in the recent past, been apparent by their willingness to accept among their number bishops who have denied the principal tenets of the Nicene Faith. It is similarly manifest in their deliberate rejection of the fraternal guidance offered them by successive Lambeth Conferences, and by the recent meeting of the Primates.
Where the House of Bishops of a province is dysfunctional in this way, the responsibility to guard the faith and perpetuate its doctrines inevitably devolves to groups of clergy and laity.
Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, as the bishops define it, is a proposal which gives plenary authority to those who have precipitated the present crisis to administer provision for those alienated by their actions. It gives to those at variance with the majority in the Episcopal Church no rights in the matter whatsoever. All discretion is in the hands of the innovators. Where it counts, the protocol of proposals invariably uses the word ‘may’; where the interests of the minority are at stake the word ‘shall’ never appears. It will come as no surprise to those who drafted it, that this is wholly unacceptable to those to whom it is addressed.
Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (as the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has defined it) is:
a) precisely, not oversight – that is to say it does not provide what the Primates of the Communion called for. They asked for ‘provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates’. Elsewhere in the Communion, ‘oversight’ (episcope) involves responsibility for the care, governance and supervision of part of the Church; in short, it necessarily involves jurisdiction. Not so, it seems, in the Episcopal Church, where the bishops assert the opposite to be the case: ‘In our Episcopal Church polity,’ they claim, ‘oversight’ does not confer ‘jurisdiction.’ ‘ By this sleight of hand, redefining episcope to mean what they want it to mean, the bishops of the Episcopal Church have sought to evade the very provision demanded of them
b) in any case, minimal – that is to say it affects the existing rights and jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop in no way. Nor does the provision include anything new, or even extend what already exists. As the bishops themselves say: ‘We believe that the present Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church are sufficient for dealing with questions of episcopal oversight, supplemental episcopal pastoral care, and disputes that may arise between the bishop and a congregation. We encourage that their provisions be used wisely and in the spirit of charity.’ The problem that, in some quarters, those provisions have not been applied (with or without ‘charity’) is simply not addressed.
c) concessionary, rather than conciliatory – that is to say that it makes no admission or acknowledgement that there has been, or might have been, conduct prejudicial to the unity and well-being of the Church on the part of the bishops who have framed it.
d) temporary – that is to say that its clear intention is to eliminate dissent. ‘When an agreement is reached with respect to a plan, it shall be for the purpose of reconciliation… The plan shall be for a stated period of time with regular reviews.’ These ‘plans’ will be temporary; they are simply to allow time for the parish concerned to brought to ‘reconciliation’ with the views of its bishop. In any case, no one who has observed the fate of those opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate (reduced now to three bishops whose dioceses will be unable to secure the required consents for like-minded successors) can expect a body of bishops opposed the recent innovation to survive for any length of time. A future in which there are no bishops who could be invited to offer DEPO is already in sight.
We reject the proposals of the House of Bishops, both as to their premises and their provisions. Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight will not provide what we need.
We trust that the Lambeth Commission and the Primates Meeting will reject it as an insubstantial and merely cosmetic response to a deepening crisis of both Faith and Order.
Let no one be in any doubt: DEPO will not and cannot bring about the reconciliation promised. The self-congratulatory language of those who have framed these proposals is, moreover, a further offence in itself.