Reflections stateside

As the American church once again takes centre stage, these reflections by the Bishop of Down and Dromore in the Church of Ireland offer a particularly acute and lucid perspective. Written now from experiences six years earlier, they unmask many of the central issues behind the headline disputes.

I should probably have said all of this six years ago, when I had just returned from being in the United States on sabbatical, but it all seemed very subjective. What I noticed then were several trends in The Episcopal Church in the USA which have probably become more pronounced over the intervening years. Some, if not all, of these first-hand but subjective observations bring into focus key issues which are at the heart of the new ways of understanding the faith in The Episcopal Church today. These highlight the fact that the divisions we are experiencing in the Anglican Communion are not simply to do with sexuality. I write about these because it is important to note that there really is the beginning of a new kind of religion in parts of The Episcopal Church – a religion which not only reinterprets the traditional central tenets of the Christian faith, but which in fact has the potential to jettison many of them altogether.


My first observation six years ago was the gradual replacement of the word ‘Lord’ in reference to Jesus Christ. There was a perceptible change as I travelled across from the east coast to the west, from the traditional: “The Lord be with you’ in the liturgy, to the revised version, ‘God be with you’, and eventually, on the west coast ‘God is in you… and also in you’! The reason for the change is relatively obvious: ‘Lord’ is not only male, it is also perceived as authoritarian. But there is a great seriousness about a simplistic removal of the word, which would eventually preclude rather than necessitating the basic early Christian declaration of faith ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ – the very declaration which all will make when every knee bows and every tongue confesses him.

Secondly, and aligned to the last point, is the removal or weakening of the title ‘Father’ in relation to the first person of

the Trinity. This has led to an uncomfort-ableness for some with the basic baptismal formula: ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ and to replacement ‘blessings’ such as ‘The blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustained where God is described by function rather than in personal names. Last year at the General Convention, a series of prayers were introduced for every situation from a child coming out of nappies to a person passing a driving test, and including, of course, a ‘coming out’ prayer. When I asked myself why it was necessary to provide liturgical prayers for such occasions, the answer immediately stared me in the face: all the prayers were devoid of the words, ‘Father’, ‘Son and ‘Lord’, and clearly were enabling people to pray in this new way! But the removal of ‘Father’ (a revealed name of God) would be a disastrous move, since it is the name by which Jesus taught us to address God in the Lord’s Prayer, and it is also central to the first tenet of the Apostles’ Creed: T believe in God, the Father Almighty…’

Theology and liturgy

My third observation was an emerging new theology of baptism. This was clarified for me when I was taken with members of the International AngHcan liturgical Consultation to a radical Episcopal church in San Francisco. When we entered into the liturgical space, I could see the table, which was unbounded by rails and clearly open to all. But I could not see the place of baptism. When I asked where it was, I was taken out the back, and told that it had been placed there so that baptism would not be a stumbling-block to newcomers. In other words, the idea goes, all people are welcome to the table no matter what their belief or lifestyle, as Jesus had table fellowship with prostitutes and sinners. Baptism can be looked into later when there is time to think things through. This is, of course, a reversal of the biblical model, where baptism was the sacrament freely and always available for all who come to repentance and faith, and communion, the table fellowship of the baptized for which self-examination was necessary.

Aligned to this, I have also observed, and seen particularly in the west coast, an uncomfortableness with repentance and confession of sin. The theory, as I understand it, goes something like this: the archetypal Eucharistic rite is focused

around the gathering, the Word, the intercessions, the table and the going out. Confession is an optional extra. This was almost encouraged by the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation document on the Eucharist, and by the pattern where the confession in the middle section was displaced when there was, for example, a baptism, a marriage or an ordination. There has been a reclaiming of penitence in some of these rites recently, especially in the Church of England, by placing the penitential section at the beginning of the service. It is one thing to omit penitence in a church which has the expectation of personal auricular confession, but quite another to omit it in a church of the Reformation which enjoins General Confession. There is, in my view, behind this, a serious underplaying of personal sin and personal salvation.

Lhe next element of the liturgy to be ‘downplayed’ was historic creeds. Again, we are told that the eucharistic prayer is credal (a part-truth), or that creeds are not a necessary part of worship (another part-truth), but the eventual reality which I observed was the omitting of the historic creeds altogether in the main Sunday liturgy. I was sensitized to expect something of this sort several years ago when I met a radical Presbyterian minister from Albuquerque. I asked him if they have the historic creeds in the worship of the Presbyterian Church in the US. His answer was this: ‘Yes. We have fourteen declarations of faith at the back of the book and they all interplay with each other’! There is a real reaction to and distancing from propositional statements of faith, even the historic ecumenical creeds – and in some cases from their central tenets and beliefs.

Losing their identity?

Sixth, and following on from the last point, there is an inclination to try to find ways of holding all faiths together as believing in a common god. This is seen, for example, in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, where there is an interfaith labyrinth and an interfaith chapel, in which the symbols of all the major world faiths are displayed. This makes its way into the liturgy, where, when the eucharistic bread is broken, I heard words similar to the following used: ‘We break this bread for our ancestors in the Jewish faith, our brothers and sisters in Islam, our friends who are Buddhists, etc…’ – and this at a key Christocentric part of the liturgy.

20 ■ newdirections ■ October 2007

And last, though in fact there are many other observations I could also make, there is, in my personal subjective view, a dawning realization that the heart of the central act of worship (the bread and wine of communion) is the doctrine of the atonement – a doctrine increasingly disliked in the new religion. I noticed an increasing emphasis on the Eucharist as ‘community meal’, a reduced emphasis on the sacrificial death of Christ in some newer eucharistic prayers, and the preference in some places to distribute the elements with words such as ‘the bread’ and ‘the cup’ rather than ‘the body’ and ‘the blood’. Alongside this, the issue has been raised as to whether the Words of Institution (‘this is my body… this is my blood’) are required for a eucharistic prayer. Whatever disagreements on eucharistic doctrine there may have been between Catholics and Evangelicals in the past, there was always an agreement that the heart of the matter was the sacrificial, atoning death of Christ.

I write all this because we need to be aware that change is incremental. It is only noticed after a period of time. I do not say this to damn The Episcopal Church. Indeed, my own diocese is in a very happy link relationship with a diocese of The Episcopal Church. But changes are happening, and changes which are not peripheral, but central to our identity as Anglicans and indeed as Christians. The issue which we face, as has so often been pointed out, is not essentially one of sexuality but one of authority and doctrine. In so many ways, parts of The Episcopal Church have been losing deep aspects of their identity. If God is not Father, Jesus is not Lord, the Son is not unique, baptism is not necessary, the creeds are optional, repentance and sin are dated concepts and the atonement is marginalized or even rejected, where do we go from here? The faith remaining will be a very different faith from the Christian faith once delivered to the saints – and I, for one, am not going there!

The Rt Revd Harold Miller writing in the Church of Ireland Gazette

Central Africa

Dioceses protest

The Anglican Province of Central Africa broke up yesterday following the withdrawal of Harare Diocese and expressions of intent to pull out by other dioceses that accused the province of failing to censure some bishops dabbling in homosexuality.

The Diocese of Manicaland also expressed its intention to quit the province along with one other Zimbabwean diocese. Its bishop said he needed to report to his diocese first before going public, making it three out of Zimbabwe’s five dioceses.

According to the Standing Orders of the Province of Central Africa, once one diocese withdraws, the province becomes null and void and will have to be reconstituted under a new name and structure.

In highly charged presentations to the Provincial Synod that opened and ended here on Saturday, Bishop Elson Jakazi of Manicaland, who moved the motion for the dissolution of the province, and Vicar General of Harare Diocese Venerable Harry Mambo Rinashe, who seconded, took the outgoing Archbishop, the Right Reverend Dr Bernard Amos Malango, and the homosexual lobby within the province to task over the issue.

Both men described homosexuality as an unnatural abomination that had no place in the house of God.

Archbishop Malango, however, failed to save the situation after he botched condemning the homosexual lobby, led by the Bishop of Botswana, Trevor Musonda Mwamba, the Right Reverend Dr James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi and two Zimbabwean bishops, one of whom argued ‘sex was good’, to the amusement of the packed synod.

Though in the end the synod drafted a resolution reaffirming its aversion to homosexuality, the anti-gay lobby, led by Bishop Nolbert Kunonga of Harare, was not convinced, particularly as the synod had been conveniently silent over the protracted issue of the Diocese of Lake Malawi which has been without a bishop for the past three years due to the impasse created by a London-based gay cleric, Nickie Henderson, who wants to buy a bishopric in the province.

Recently two American priests were ordained bishops in Kenya, countering the US Episcopal Church’s acceptance of homosexuals in the priesthood.

Bishop Kunonga told The Herald that the withdrawal of Harare Diocese was a matter of faith and principle: ‘We totally reject homosexuality; it is an abomination, it is totally against the law of God, and it diminishes the dignity of the human being. We also believe in the supremacy of the scriptures, the primacy of the scriptures and there is nowhere where homosexuality has been condoned.’

He said Africans in general and Zimbabweans in particular have never tolerated homosexuality: ‘The Constitution and laws of Zimbabwe do not permit us to engage, compromise or indulge in homosexuality. So when we look at all the angles – the religious life, the cultural side, the political system in which we operate – there is no institution that embraces homosexuality’

Dr Kunonga also dismissed the last-minute resolution drafted by the Provincial Synod reaffirming the province’s opposition to the gay lobby as a face-saving move: ‘It is believed and well known that one of the bishops in Zimbabwe – and we will not mention names here – is also practicing homosexuality and received donations from outside. Those donations are believed to be coming from a man who was expelled or fired by previous bishops in Harare who has come back and is giving donations on behalf of the gay movement.

‘There is also another bishop in Zambia receiving donations, issues of Lake Malawi, the accommodation of Revd Emmanuel Seruwada of the Episcopal Church of the USA to address synod, and Rt Revd Michael Doe (General Secretary) of USPG (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) to secretly lobby with donations’

In their addresses, Revd Seruwada and Bishop Doe had implored the synod to drop the issue of homosexuals from the agenda in exchange of funding for church projects. A day earlier, Revd Chad Gandiya of the USPG Africa Desk, who toured the diocese in Zimbabwe on a similar mission, attended a meeting of the Provincial Standing Committee where he expressed similar sentiments.

Bishop Jakazi of Manicaland said he stood by the decision taken by the Diocese of Harare. ‘Manicaland Diocese has the same sentiments with Harare but my problem is I haven’t held a synod yet in my diocese to confer with my people, but they already know my stand because I have come out very clearly on homosexuality before. I have been quoted in some newspapers, so it is not something I have thought of today, but it has been of concern in my ministry and in my diocese.’

At its 61st Synod, the Diocese of Harare drafted and adopted an Act barring all its members from consorting with homosexuals. The Act reads: ‘This Synod has unanimously agreed to make a Diocesan Act that with effect from the 4th of August 2007, the Diocese of Harare dissociates itself and severs relationship with any individual, group of people, organisation, institution, Diocese, Province or otherwise, which indulges, sympathises or compromises with homosexuality’

The withdrawal of Harare Diocese is the second time a leading diocese has severed ties with the province following what the now Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, did years back when he dumped the province, again over the issue of homosexuality.

In August 2003, Archbishop Akinola stated that if the non-celibate homosexual Revd Jeffrey John of the Church of England was consecrated as Bishop of Reading, the Church of Nigeria was going to leave the Anglican Communion. Under pressure from Archbishop Akinola, Dr John withdrew from the race.

Caesar Zvayi Mangochi. This piece originally appeared in the Herald newspaper, Harare


Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande

To the Clergy of the Diocese

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This is a very difficult letter to write as your bishop and colleague in the ordained ministry, and I hope that you will receive it in the prayerful spirit in which it is offered. A pastoral letter to the people of the diocese will follow in a few days. At the House of Bishops meeting about to be

convened in New Orleans, my intention is to ask them for permission to begin the process to resign as diocesan bishop. The bishops must give their consent, and then I will step down by the end of the year.

The reason for this decision is that my conscience is deeply troubled about where the Episcopal Church is heading, and this has become a crisis for me because of my ordination vow to upholdits doctrine, discipline, and worship. An effective leader cannot be so conflicted about the guiding principles of the Church he serves. It concerns me that this has affected my ability to lead this diocese with a clear and hopeful vision for its mission. I also have sensed how important it is for those of us in this position to model a gracious way to leave the Episcopal Church in a manner respectful of its laws.

I believe that God’s call to us is always positive, always a to and not a from. At the clergy conference next week I hope to be able to share something of this. Many of you already know of my love for the Catholic Church and my conviction that this is the true home of Anglicanism. I will not dwell on this, however, so as not

to lose sight of my responsibility to help lay a good foundation for the transition that you must now lead.

I also want to acknowledge with gratitude the pastoral support I have received from the Presiding Bishop and her office during this time. She has offered to visit, and I have invited her to be with us at the clergy conference the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 26, and perhaps also for that evening, for mutual conversation and the opportunity to know each other better in this time reserved for the clergy. I hope that you all can be present.

This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision to make because of the bonds I share with you and the people of this diocese. It has indeed been a privilege to serve alongside you these past seven years. With deep feelings I write, with regret for how this may complicate your own ministry, with profound gratitude for your prayers and support, and with much love for you. I pledge to you my prayers and friendship in these days to come.

Your brother in Christ,

+Jeffrey Steenson