Later this week, Easter Week, the archbishops and presiding bishops of the thirty-seven provinces of the Anglican Communion of Churches will begin to arrive in London and make their way down to Canterbury for the Primates' Meeting, chaired by the host, George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Traditional Episcopalians in the USA need to be aware that the chances of the Primates' Meeting of April 2002 doing or saying anything to provide help for the restoration of a semblance of biblical orthodoxy and Anglican comprehensiveness in the Episcopal Church, USA were always less than moderate. And for good reasons - e.g., a crowded agenda, the retirement of George Carey and his obsession with unity, the skill of the American Presiding Bishop in describing the ECUSA in positive terms, the existence of a theological commission still looking at the type of questions raised within the ECUSA, and so on.
Now, on Easter Monday in Easter Week, I suspect that the chances of action by the Meeting are remote.
I make this pessimistic but realistic forecast because of the influence of three recent events.
• First, the death of the Queen Mother in Britain and her state funeral on Tuesday 9th April at 11.30 a.m. in Westminster Abbey, will take up a good deal of the time of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thus he (and maybe several other archbishops) will be absent from the Meeting during its crucial period - i.e., after the first weekend - and this will mean that less will be achieved in terms of decision-making. The plight of the traditional members of the ECUSA will thus be pushed off the agenda even if were ever on it. The status quo will prevail.
• Secondly, it is widely known that recently there has been a lot of internal disagreement within the Province of S E Asia over the involvement of its Archbishop in consecrations of Bishops in the USA for the Anglican Mission in America. It is now clear that there is no relation whatsoever between any diocese in the Province and the AMiA and that the relation of the Archbishop to the AMiA is wholly a personal one, permitted but not blessed by the Province. This information will count against any resolve by some Primates to raise the topics of (a) the state of the ECUSA and of (b) help for the faithful in the USA. The status quo will prevail.
• Thirdly, the recent "covenant" [to care for traditionalist parishes] made by the House of Bishops meeting in Texas in March 2002 will be presented to the Primates either formally or informally by the ECUSA Presiding Bishop as a clear sign that truly, even if belatedly, the ECUSA is taking care of its left-behind traditionalists. The warm and even effusive welcome to this "covenant" from the "evangelical" American Anglican Council (see e.g., the [excessively optimistic and naïve] comments of Bruce Mason that it is a "significant act of grace" cited in the London Church Times of Thursday March 28) will probably be cited as proof that this is a positive move that will over time solve the outstanding problems. If the ECUSA Presiding Bishop had merely the fact of the "covenant" to cite then perhaps he would not have been believed by all, but the further endorsement supplied by the AAC and widely publicised will surely be sufficient to give him the benefit of any doubt. The status quo will prevail.
• Further, I see little prospect of the Primates as a whole, or even a small group of them, giving to the American F in F movement the go-ahead to have its own bishop. The persistent and continuing questions about the true relation of the AMiA to both Rwanda and S E Asia seem to have caused hesitation and even backing off even by those few Primates who understand the difficulties of the traditional believers within the ECUSA and who wish to alleviate them.
The present decade is a time of trial and tribulation for the minority of American Episcopalians who want to be orthodox in faith and god-fearing in life. Thus, from a genuinely Christian stance, it is a time for rejoicing in heart and mind that the Lord loves them sufficiently to chastise them as his children.
The remnant, we may say, are being called upon to put their trust not in princes (and their modern equivalents) but in the living God, the blessed, holy and undivided Trinity. They are being called up to set aside false optimism (as the F in F NA, the AAC and the AMiA all seem from time to time to generate), secularised political moves and methods and to look only unto the Lord to uphold and guide them. It is possible that there is much more time to be spent in waiting upon the Lord and fasting before heavenly breezes will blow and showers of blessing fall; it is also possible that there is much more pain to bear before relief will come from above, for there are so many lessons of grace to be learned that can only be learned when we are humbled under the mighty - but gentle - hand of the Lord God Almighty.
"WE know that in all things God the Father works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
The Revd Dr Peter Toon Easter Monday, 1 April 2002