The art of letter writing, as we all know, has all but died away under the pressure of newer technologies. How ironic, therefore, that it should suddenly find expression in a flurry of missives between the leading players of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Who would have thought that such high level ecclesiastical diplomacy would be conducted, thanks to the new technologies, in the full public view of the internet, by such old fashioned means? The issues are important; the statements made often forceful; the outcome still uncertain.
The Bishop of Central Florida, The Right Revd John W. Howe, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in early October telling him ‘that what I believe is needed is for him to clearly differentiate between those Bishops and Dioceses that are Windsor-compliant and those that are not.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury replied as follows:
14 October 2007
I’ve just received your message, which weighs very heavily on my heart, as it must – though far more so – on yours. At this stage, I can say only two things. The first is that I have committed myself very clearly to awaiting the views of the Primates before making any statement purporting to settle the question of The Episcopal Church’s status, and I can’t easily short-circuit that procedure. The second is that your Rectors need to recognize that this process is currently in train and that a separatist decision from them at this point would be irresponsible and potentially confusing.
However, without forestalling what the Primates might say, I would repeat what I’ve said several times before – that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church.
The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial
structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing – which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor.
Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned.
Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.
Do feel free to pass on these observations to your priests. I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ‘national church. I think that if more thought in these terms there might be more understanding of why priests in a diocese such as yours ought to maintain their loyalty to their sacramental communion with you as Bishop. But at the emotional level I can understand something of the frustration they doubtless experience, just as you must.
With continuing prayers and love, +Rowan
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, wrote to the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Bob Duncan
There have been numerous public references in recent weeks regarding resolutions to be introduced at your
forthcoming diocesan convention. Those resolutions, if adopted, would amend several of your diocesan canons and begin the process of amending one or more provisions of your diocesan Constitution. I have reviewed a number of these proposed resolutions, and it is evident to me that they would violate the Constitutional requirement that the Diocese conform to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. It is apparent from your pre-convention report that you endorse these proposed changes.
I am also aware of other of your statements and actions in recent months that demonstrate an intention to lead your diocese into a position that would purportedly permit it to depart from The Episcopal Church. All these efforts, in my view, display a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between The Episcopal Church and its dioceses. Our Constitution explicitly provides that a diocese must accede to the Constitution and Canons of the Church.
I call upon you to recede from this direction and to lead your diocese on a new course that recognizes the interdependent and hierarchical relationship between the national Church and its dioceses and parishes. That relationship is at the heart of our mission, as expressed in our polity. Specifically, I sincerely hope that you will change your position and urge your diocese at its forthcoming convention not to adopt the resolutions that you have until now supported.
If your course does not change, I shall regrettably be compelled to see that appropriate canonical steps are promptly taken to consider whether you have abandoned the Communion of this Church – by actions and substantive statements, however they may be phrased – and whether you have committed canonical offences that warrant disciplinary action.
It grieves me that any bishop of this Church would seek to lead any of its members out of it. I would remind you of my open offer of an Episcopal Visitor if you wish to receive pastoral care from another bishop. I continue to pray for reconciliation of this situation, and I remain
Your servant in Christ, Katharine Jefferts Schori
Bishop Duncan replied
Here I stand. I can do no other. I will neither compromise the Faith once delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them.
Pax et bonum in Christ Jesus our Lord, +Bob Pittsburgh
The Bishop of Fort Worth, Jack Leo Iker, replied to an almost identical letter from the Presiding Bishop
I have received your letter of November 8th and am rather surprised by your suggestion that I have somehow abandoned the communion of the church and may be subject to ecclesiastical discipline. Such a charge is baseless. I have abandoned nothing, and I have violated no canons. Every year at our Chrism Mass, I very happily reaffirm my ordination vows, along with all our clergy, that I will be ‘loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.’ (BCP, pages 526 and 538)
It is highly inappropriate for you to attempt to interfere in the internal life of this diocese as we prayerfully prepare to gather in Convention. The threatening tone of your open letter makes no attempt to promote reconciliation, mediation, or even dialogue about our profound theological differences. Instead, it appears designed to intimidate our delegates and me, in an attempt to deter us from taking any action that opposes the direction in which you are leading our Church.
It is deeply troubling that you would have me prevent the clergy and laity of this diocese from openly discussing our future place in the life of the wider Anglican Communion, as we debate a variety of proposals. As you well know, the polity of this Church requires the full participation of the clergy and lay orders, not just bishops, in the decision making process. It grieves me that as the Presiding Bishop you would misuse your office in an attempt to intimidate and manipulate this diocese.
While I do not wish to meet antagonism with antagonism, I must remind you that 25 years ago this month, the newly formed Diocese of Fort Worth voluntarily voted to enter into union with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. If circumstances warrant it, we can likewise, by voluntary vote, terminate that relationship. Your aggressive, dictatorial posturing has no place in that decision.
Sadly, however, your missive will now be one of the factors that our Convention will consider as we determine the future course of this diocese for the next 25 years and beyond, under God’s grace and guidance.
In closing, let me be very clear. While your threats deeply sadden us, they do not frighten us. We will continue to stand firm for the unchanging truth of the Holy Scriptures and the redeeming Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whatever the costs. I shall continue to pray for you, as I trust you will pray for me, in the difficult days ahead.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt Revd Jack Leo Iker Bishop of Fort Worth
The Bishop of Central Florida, John W. Howe wrote to the Presiding Bishop apropos her letter to Bishop Duncan:
I have read with great sadness your letter to Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh. And, since you have chosen to make your letter to him public, I will make this one public, as well.
I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Bob in the efforts of the Network to reverse the course of The Episcopal Church with regard to recent decisions regarding human sexuality.
I part company with him in his decision to abandon the commitment we made when we formed the Network, to work ‘within the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.’
But, Katharine, I cannot support your thinly veiled threat to resort to litigation if the Diocese of Pittsburgh rescinds its accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.
Dioceses voluntarily join (accede to) The Episcopal Church. And they can voluntarily determine to separate from (withdraw their accession from) The Episcopal Church.
During the Civil War, the Dioceses within the Confederate States withdrew from The Episcopal Church without penalty. They were reunited when that terrible war ended. Perhaps there will be a reunion of presently seceding Dioceses at some point in our future, as well.
But just now, to threaten litigation, especially in the face of the unanimous exhortation from the Primates in Dar es Salaam (an exhortation you agreed to) to end such litigation, is deeply troubling. I beg you to stand down.
This can only harm our relationships as fellow members of the Body of Christ and our witness to the outside world.
Warmest regards in our Lord, The Right Revd John W. Howe
Anglican Mainstream (together with signatories from Church Society and Forward in Faith) sent the following letter to Bishop Duncan:
Dear Bishop Duncan and Bishops in Common Cause,
Warm greetings from the UK.
We have read the letter from Presiding Bishop Schori to the Bishop of Pittsburgh. We want to assure you, your dioceses and parishes of our prayers and fellowship as you take your stand on our shared Anglican heritage, accepting the Holy Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith, contrary to those innovators both in the British Isles and in the Americas who wish to give primacy to the demands of contemporary culture.
We are outraged by the threat and implementation of court actions against faithful Anglicans in the United States by the current leadership of The Episcopal Church who appear to be Unitarian and universalist in theology, and coercively Utopian in social practice.
We are most disturbed that the current plans for the Lambeth Conference are that the leadership of TEC be invited to the Lambeth Conference but not faithful Anglican bishops.
The Chairman of the Catholic Group in the General Synod of the Church of England with many other signatories wrote to Bishop Iker as follows:
Dear Bishop Jack,
We write to assure you of our support and prayers in the face of the letter you have received recently from Presiding Bishop Schori.
We are fully applaud the stand you have taken for scriptural and traditional Faith and Order, the departure from which of The Episcopal Church (TEC) has been deeply damaging and divisive within the Anglican Communion, and in our relationships with major ecumenical partners. The leadership of TEC’s use of the litigation to enforce their revisionist programme on faithful congregations and clergy is nothing short of a scandal, recalling St Paul’s strictures about the letter of the law which kills, in contrast to the Spirit of God which gives life and freedom. Bishop Peter Forster of Chester was quite right when he said last week that the use of legal procedures was not an appropriate way to address this kind of situation.
We are delighted by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement in response to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida that any diocese compliant with Windsor remained in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Anglican Communion, and trust that you and your diocese will be encouraged thereby.
We hope and pray that you, your clergy and people will find an appropriate way to remain true to the faith and order of the universal Church within the fellowship of the Anglican Communion. We look to the Church of England to give a lead in modelling better ways of handling disagreement to TEC and the rest of the Communion.