As The ECUSA General Convention of June 2006 gets nearer, more and more people are asking questions and making predictions about what will happen to “the orthodox” and the “revisionists” in ECUSA after that event. Here are some observations concerning what is being said about The Network, which claims to speak for “the orthodox”.
(a) There are those who optimistically believe that the purpose of The Network is to create a new Province of the Anglican Communion in North America. They hope that The Network will gather together the “faithful” dioceses and parishes in ECUSA and these will be joined by Common Cause Partners (e.g. Reformed Episcopal Church & Canadian Network) and as one new body (maybe a kind of federation of jurisdictions and dioceses) this amalgamation will be “approved” and “accepted” by a majority of overseas Provinces and Primates. And all this will occur after the General Convention of the ECUSA in June 2006, when the ECUSA will demonstrate that it is not worthy any more to walk in the fellowship of the Anglican Communion.
According to this optimistic way of seeing things, the ECUSA bishops and ECUSA clergy are all prepared to walk out of their well paid positions and trust in the Lord to supply their needs as new congregations and organizations of congregations are formed.
The placing and seating of Bishop Harvey of Canada and Bishop Duncan of the USA with the Primates at the recent service in Singapore for the installation of the S E Asia Primate is seen as a kind of prophecy of what shall be – two new provinces with two new primates.
(b) In contrast, another (this time) realistic way of seeing things is more sanguine about human nature, the history of the PECUSA and possibilities in a mainline Church. It also remembers the high hopes raised by the Episcopal Synod fifteen years ago for renewal and reformation, and how these were dashed to the ground. It is cautious!
It judges that the Episcopal leadership of The Network is waiting to see what will happen at the General Convention and then afterwards in meetings of the various “Instruments of Unity” of the Communion, as well in provincial synods overseas. It senses that the Ten diocesan Bishops are hoping either (a) that if the ECUSA via its General Convention in June begins a U-turn (maybe Bishop Gene R. who is presently on sick leave will have to resign for health reasons and this will provide occasion for beginning to turn); then they can stay around to work for reform for another three years at least; or (b) that if the ECUSA does not begin a U-turn that the rest of the Anglican Communion (especially the C of E) will then declare that The Network is the unit with which they will deal and thus the Network will become de facto the American Province of the Communion, without them doing anything much more than merely waiting and watching.
To contrast the two views, one could say that the first is the traditional way in the USA taken by reforming groups in the mainline Churches. There are many examples of “schism” leading to major new denominations (e.g. PCA) and seminaries (e.g., Reformed Seminary, Jackson) from the 19th and 20th centuries. And, or course, there was a small schism in 1873 from PECUSA leading to the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church and in 1977 from ECUSA leading to the formation of The Continuing Anglican Church. The second is the way whereby respectable reform is attempted from within the mainline Churches – that is, one seeks to stay around and outlast the liberals and then regain power in synods and structures (the intellectual guru and advocate for this approach is Thomas C. Oden in his recent, Turning around the Mainline, Baker, 2006).
There are other possibilities. These two seem to be the basic ones which can be adapted.
History is in God’s hands. One can only speculate based on what we know from the past and what we know of the persons and groups involved right now. On this basis it would seem that the high probability is that the “realistic” approach will prevail wherein there will be no major exodus as such from ECUSA and possibly – as happened with the Episcopal Synod – the whole movement will fizzle out as a reforming movement, even as some congregations exit ECUSA to join the 75 or so which have left in the last year to be embraced by overseas bishops as their pastors. Bearing this in mind, it may be appropriate, even wise, for those Anglican groups already outside ECUSA to look to ways of uniting themselves in a coherent and comprehensive way and without the leadership of The Network.
It is all in God’s hand but he has given us a certain amount of free will and we so often use it in the interest of our own selfish ends. Lord have mercy.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon March 7, 2006 email@example.com