Monday, April 14, 2008

So what now?

I had three days of mulling the state of the Anglican Communion in general and the prospect of an “Anglican Covenant” in specific at General Seminary with some of the best and brightest in this “Big Fat Anglican Family” in New York City last week. Entitled “An Anglican Covenant: Divisive or Reconciling?” the conference included keynote speeches, the presentation of academic papers and responding panels of faculty and students from the seminaries of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

You can hear the presentations yourself online on the General Theological Seminary website and there are some great photos for view as well by GTS Communications Guru Bruce Parker.

And now I’m back and I’m getting the “So whats?” So what did you learn? So what’s going to happen next? So what do you think about this “covenant” process?

So here goes … my thoughts on where we are and what next on “As the Anglican World Turns:”


The hot air balloon with the "Anglican Covenant or Bust" sign across it has sprung a slow leak. The urgent voices insisting we must all climb aboard "or else" have dwindled to a marginal few. And the rest of the Anglican Communion seems to be paying attention as never before to just exactly what it is that makes us the “Anglican” Communion.

Let’s review.

In spite of the uber-efforts of the Schismatic Sky-Is-Falling Spin Meisters to represent as fait accompli that which they wish would be:

· The American Episcopal Church has not been voted off the Anglican Island;

· The Lambeth Conference that was going to be boycotted by the “mainstream bishops” of the Communion is on schedule for July in Canterbury;

· The “parallel province” the Archbishop of Canterbury was poised to recognize as the legitimate franchise of Anglicanism in the United States in place of the apostate, heretic Episcopal Church is gathering dust on someone’s drawing board;

· The great flood of congregations and dioceses abandoning the sinking ship of the Episcopal Church turned out to be a trickle of usual suspects;

· And the proposed “Anglican Covenant” being fast-tracked by the primates as a means to (see first bullet point) vote the American Episcopal Church off the Anglican Island is now being mulled, processed, discussed, vetted, amended, revised and considered.

It does not appear to be going as planned in Schism Central. In fact, it can be argued that the coup d'état has, in fact, failed. The vast majority of Anglicans seem to be very much “over” what Jenny Te Paa described as the epidemic of SOAP (Sudden Onset Arch-episcopal Paroxysm) which impacted not just those primates directly infected but (sadly) the mission and ministry of churches throughout the Anglican Communion.

Do we need an “Anglican Covenant” to tell each other that the bonds of affection that have for generations linked our various and varying expressions of Anglicanism matter more than the differences the SOAP-infected primates have insisted must lead to divisions?

No, we don’t.

Might we be strengthened in those bonds of affection if we could, together – as a whole church (AKA “not just our bishops”) – create an explicit expression of those implicit bonds of affection in a document we could claim together?

Yes, we might.

And is it possible that this very “covenant process” which was intended to draw a circle to keep some “out” might be redrawn as a circle to gather all “in?”

Hmmmm ...

The scriptural text I’m drawn to is Genesis 50:20 – the story of God turning the evil intended against Joseph by the brothers who sold him into slavery into good for the whole people of Israel.

Can we dare to imagine that the same God – our God – could turn the efforts of the SOAP-influenced primates to create a juridical Covenant designed to cast the Episcopal Church off the Anglican Island into good for the whole Anglican Communion? Could it, instead of a means to exclude, become an articulation of historic Anglican Comprehensiveness that would draw others in? Could we create, as Ian Douglas suggests, a covenant with missiological rather than juridical intentions?

I admit I am not yet to the place where I hear “Yes we can!” as the reply to those questions.

But after three days in NYC – with the hot air (happily!) leaking out of the “Anglican Covenant or Bust” balloon – what I do hear is “Perhaps we could!”

And, at the end of the day, perhaps we will. Film, as they say, "at eleven!"


Ann said...

Can we build it? YES we can!

Hiram said...

One conservative's view of the proposed Anglican Covenant is that it was a good idea for holding the Communion together in many regards, but that it will wind up being divisive itself.

As I said in an earlier comment from a week or so ago, we have two views about what the Anglican Communion is -- a body of churches with a common history, or a body of churches with not only a common history but a common faith.

The Covenant was proposed as a way to state the common faith we have inherited through the English Reformation and the activities of Anglicans in spreading the Christian faith around the world, both through following the British as the Empire expanded and through intentional evangelism in various places. To me, it sounded as if what was being proposed was an updated and somewhat broader version of the Thirty-Nine Articles -- a theological statement of "mere Christianity." The first draft of the Covenant seemed to be this kind of document.

The second draft, however, is far less theological and far more organizational and procedural. In spite of its theological weakness, it still seems to be too much for most of the "progressives" in the Communion. There are three more drafts to be written, if I recall the plan correctly. My prediction is that each one will be less and less theological and more and more procedural.

Those of us who believe that the Christian faith has a broad range of expression regarding secondary matters but a common core of beliefs on primary matters ( which I would say are expressed in the first thirty-four of the Articles) will not accept a Covenant that is simply an expression of structure and procedures.

On the whole, we conservatives are better pastors than politicians. We are being outmaneuvered by the progressives. A lot of us will leave -- probably messily. By 2020, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as we knew them in 1990 will be no more. There will be an Anglican Communion centered on Canterbury, much smaller than the Anglican Communion today. And there will a lot of those who love their Anglican heritage, and who will be in a non-Canterbury-centered body of some kind. There will also be many who will "swim" the Tiber, the Bosporus, or even Lake Geneva, or walk through the Wittenberg door. And some will be nowhere.

I am a parish priest and I have no part in making plans for anything -- this is simply what I think will happen, based on what I have observed over the years.

JimB said...

I suppose we have to pause and give the schismatics some award for persistence. I note that the agenda for the ACC is to add primates selected by them without any other input as voting members. This is, of course, a curial move and I hope will be defeated, along with the covenant as drafted and clearly as currently intended by the authors.

Which of course is why I think the covenant is a bad idea. Whatever is in it, there will be some who will want to announce that some folks are outside it. Inevitably it will become a boundary.


Brother David said...

I am disinclined to believe that "a lot" will leave. We know some have left, and there will be a few more. But those leaving are scattered and will have little amongst themselves to provide much cohesion. Which is why they may "'swim' the Tiber, the Bosporus, or even Lake Geneva, or walk through the Wittenberg door."

As an Anglican in another province, I see few of my brothers and sisters caught up in great interest in the schismatic topics of the ultra-orthodox. The few who ride in with their patent medicine shows are hardly recognizable as Anglicans, so few are foolish enough to harken after them.

I truly feel that Dr. Jenny Te Paa, has her finger on the Anglican-of-the-pew's pulse and knows that few of us have the time or inclination for such shenanigans. We are busy trying to stay alive, with the need to find and provide adequate food, clothing and shelter for our families and following the Gospel imperative to love out neighbor as ourselves, by assisting all our neighbors who have the same plight.

The only Anglicans with the time or energy for these games are those who, by our standards, are wealthy. I do not believe many folks in the Southern Cone, the West Indies or sub-Saharan Africa would be "concerned" if their individual fat-cat primates were not constantly stirring the pot. And the primates could not afford the luxury of stirring the pot if they did not have funding from dissidents in the USA, Canada and Great Britain.

Perhaps the Anglican Communion as we know it now will change for the short term, but I believe farther into the future, those who leave because of the demands of the ultra-orthodox few, will find themselves seeking means to bridge the chasm, mend the breach and return.

Muthah+ said...

I disagree with Hiram. Too much is made of the 'conservative' and the 'liberal' sides. If there is to be a covenant it will need to be much more of a middle ground than the two versions of the covenant proposed thus far.

With what we have seen of the disintegration of the right-wing surge in San Joachin and Ft. Worth, and the political climate moving closer to the center than the far right, we will see the Church regain its centrist position.

But I am not as optomistic as Susan about the fizzle of the Covenant at Lambeth. When it comes down to it, the 'ick factor' is still with us. I feel that the HOB will still sell us down the river if it gets too hot for them. They have done it before.

johnieb said...

I am grateful for the reports and the work you have been doing, Ms. Russell, both at the Covenant meetings and with INYC. I don't know where this will end up (who ever does), but I see Godde's Wisdom working Her way through your work, and I'm glad for that.

Too often I want to count the beans, and remember the betrayals, and throw up my hands, and pound my head until it all goes away. It's so good to hear good news.

And, am I the only one that wants Jenny Te Paa to be ABC?

uffda51 said...

I don’t know how many posts I’ve read saying essentially the same things as Hiram does – but never mentioning the word “gay,” or the acronym LGBT. It’s really remarkable to me.

All I can say is that the “common faith” that my LGBT friends and I know says that God loves all of his children equally and did not create a “lesser than” group, different from the rest, to be targeted for demonization and scape-goating. I sincerely hope, pray and believe that the Anglican Communion WILL look different in 2020 than it did in 1990-larger, much more diverse and fully inclusive.

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...


Leaving is a choice and TEC wil lbe poorer for it. For what it is worth, I received some very sage advice from a friend. "If we both thought alike then one of would not be necessary." I do not think the "progressives" are outmanuevering the "orthodox" and it probably doesn't matter. Whatever we think all we need at the end of the day to pass the peace and break bread. I pray, the rest, in God's time will be worked out.

Hiram said...

The ASA of the Episcopal Church is dropping by an average of 60 per week. How long can such a decrease be sustained? I am in a medium sized diocese, and in a recent conversation with our bishop, I learned that half a dozen congregations were on the brink of closing.

Yes, there are vibrant congregations of all theological perspectives -- but on the whole, the more "progressive" ECUSA gets, the smaller it gets.

uffda51 said...

Hiram is right. Mainline Protestant churches, including TEC, overall, are losing members. Some would blame all of this on the Bishop of New Hampshire and claim that if he weren’t the Bishop of New Hampshire, all would be well again. If the conservatives got their wish I’m not sure what exactly would be “conserved.”

The churches that are growing are mega churches like that of Joel Osteen. He seems like a heckuva nice fellow. But his services look like an Amway convention. I’m sure they have a nice food court. However, you can never tell what Sunday of the church year it is. The sermon is always the same. God wants you to prosper. Iraq, Darfur, Tibet, hunger, poverty, torture, and so on will not be mentioned. Organs, stained glass, crosses, steeples, vestments, processions, incense, etc. will not be seen. People looking for a refuge from the commercialism and worldliness which overwhelm our daily lives will not it there. People looking for certainty, comfort and easy answers will find them there. Some of the mega churches are realizing, though, that what is bad for our planet, the only one we have, will be bad for conservatives as well as progressives, and that’s a good thing.

toujoursdan said...


The same scenario is going on in the conservative dogmatic Roman Catholic Church. The second largest religious group in the US are ex-Catholics. Parishes are closing left and right in parts of the US and in other parts of the world, like Ireland, Quebec and Latin America, that used to have 90% attendance, have empty churches. The Eastern Orthodox churches in the US recently trimmed 10% off their membership figures. The ELCA, other mainline denominations and an increasing number of evangelical denominations are flattening and declining.

Instead of diverting our attention to declining church attendance by falsely laying this on a certain theology, let's be a bit less myopic. All liturgical traditions are being impacted. The only churches that are growing faster than the general population increase are the megachurches. But does trading in worship for entertainment really what we want to pack bodies into the pews?

Fr. Christopher said...

It's not only unnecessary, an Anglican Covenant, especially as proposed, is very unwise.

Beryl Simkins said...

The decrease may have more to do with our public battles and conflicts than anything else. How do you draw people into the fold, or keep the people in the pews when the clergy and lay of various points of view are attacking one another? I will battle and support the church because I have already learned to love her over my period of life in the church that has lasted more than 40 years. But, if I did not have the experience and background that I have, and was looking for a Christian community, the hostility and anger exhibited by US would be difficult for me to understand.

LET'S LAY DOWN THE SWORDS! Let us learn to listen to one another, respect one another because we all have some common beliefs and understandings that are deep and important, more important than our differences. I'll respect your view if you'll respect mine. I'll come with you to the altar rail for communion knowing we are both there by God's grace.

Our Episcopal Church is beautiful and precious. I am grateful for her.

Unknown said...

"By 2020, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as we knew them in 1990 will be no more."

We can always hope!

Unknown said...

Just an aside here: 'The Eastern Orthodox churches in the US recently trimmed 10% off their membership figures.'

Only 10%? One of the big three E.O. jurisdictions in N. America - the Orthodox Church in America or OCA - has advertised itself as having 2 million members for years and years. Recently, and in the midst of accusations of longstanding financial corruption, their administration admitted that ^25,000 members is more accurate. The Greek archdiocese also has inflated numbers - perhaps as high as 40+%? The Antiochian archdiocese has relied on heavy infusions of Evangelical Prod converts and some disaffected Anglicans to slow down "the revolving door". So, despite the conservative spin, don’t look to the E. Orthodox for an example of growth.
Not to mention the E. Orthodox have done an *especially* piss poor job (yes, all groups have) when it comes to clergy sexual abuse. The one OCA priest who’s been ‘investigating’ abuse allegations has recently been found to have no certification whatsoever to do so. The websites: and especially highlight the dirty little secrets hiding behind the incense and mysticism.

Been there & coming home to TEC

Cany said...

regarding toujoursdan's comment...


As for the concept that as we fight people leave, I can tell you that in my L.A. CA parish, we are remaining steady, right now, and most have no CLUE what is going on and, if they did, probably wouldn't care.

My parish is more suffering, right now, from the economic downturn...

As for the megachurches I have this and only this to say: you either ARE a trinitarian, like liturgy, or you aren't and don't. You couldn't get me in one of those "Amway" (nice description, BTW) churches. I would stay home and watch trinity or somewhere on line.

I do NOT think that the more progressive we get the more people we lose. Perhaps the equation relates more like this... not-really-episcopalian-in-thinking = might be attracted to a church that tells you exactly what to believe.

There is NO question, in my mind, that many among our ACommunion are really not Anglicans/Episcopalians, right to the bishops and PBs. Does that make them bad? No. But just because one calls one another, or oneself, Anglican/Episcopalian, doesn't make it so... There IS a history and tradition behind the Bible that we accept, and the beautiful BCP that we rely on.

In reading the covenant, as proposed--and in fact the whole concept--I read it as a legalistic document intent on prosecuting those that do not hold to TODAY'S thinking. Good Lord help us were we the exact church from Elizabethan days.

I stand firmly (almost hate to use those words for obvious reasons) on the NO convenant EVER side. We have to work things out and we must allow the future to do likewise.