In response to the failure of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church [TEC] (a) to express regret for the consecration of Gene Robinson as a Bishop in New Hampshire, and (b) to make commitment to cease the blessing of same-sex couples, together with its election of the radically progressive Katherine J-S, now Bishop of Nevada, as the new Presiding Bishop, four dioceses have asked for “Alternative Primatial Oversight” [APO] . That is, they do not wish to have the new Primate, Bishop Katherine, as their Presiding Bishop and Primate. They wish some Archbishop from overseas to act in this role.
Their stated reasons for this are mixed. Two dioceses seem to have two reasons – that the new P.B. is a woman, and, also that she is wholly supportive of the new sexual innovations in TEC; while the other two seems to have one reason – that she supports wholeheartedly the new sexual agenda and practice in TEC.
Apparently the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, which is separated from its province, asked for APO last year and still awaits a reply from Lambeth Palace, the home and office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Whether (a) the Archbishop of Canterbury as counseled by his chosen advisors is ready even to think of such a move as a possibility, and (b) whether it would be acceptable to the House of Bishops, Executive Council and later the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, are unknowns at this time.
If we view the action of the four dioceses – Fort Worth, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquim – as a cry to the Anglican Communion for help from a beleaguered minority, we shall be tuned into where they are and how they feel. In this context, this appeal for APO may well be – in political terms – the best way they could come up with, at this time, to express their cry for help, and give them a rather long breathing space to see just how much help is forthcoming from overseas in terms of specific recognition, guidance and help for what to do in the months and years ahead.
Right now, it appears that the Dioceses are placing themselves in the strongest negotiating position they can find in their unhappy state so that they can move in one of several directions as and when required. They appear not to be thinking of secession but of staying where they are and developing different and new relations and connections on the ecclesiastical map.
What I find confusing in their claims is (a) that they state that they are “biblical and orthodox” and yet (b) their chief Formulary, which they seem to use uncritically and always, is not “biblical and orthodox.”
“The Book of Common Prayer 1979,” which is truly “A Book of varied services and doctrine” and not in truth “The BCP”, was put in place by TEC as a replacement for the Formularies which had been in place throughout its history – the very same Formularies which are the Formularies of most of the Anglican Provinces overseas. In Canada the equivalent of the 1979 Book was called “The Book of Alternative Services” and in England, “The Alternative Service Book,” as the BCP itself stayed in place. The creation of the new “BCP” of 1979 was part of the remaking of The Episcopal Church in progressively liberal terms (remember it was the 1970s which saw the changing of the doctrine of marriage in 1973, the introduction of the ordination of women in 1973 (illegally) and 1976 (legally) and the beginnings of many resolutions on the rights of “gay” people.).
It is clear that this setting aside of the received Formularies of the Anglican Way and the commitment to new ones (all within the 1979 Book), with different and varied doctrine, is one of the root causes why TEC is where it is today – advancing into more and more radical expressions of Religion. The Baptismal Service with its “Covenant” has been and remains the religious charter often mentioned for the innovations in all areas as “peace and justice” are pursued, and “the dignity of all persons,” just as they are, is affirmed.
So the questions arise:
Why is it that those who claim that they are “biblical and orthodox” and are seeking a better future for the Anglican Way in North America will not state clearly that the 1979 Book is NOT now their Formulary (despite the Canon Law of The Episcopal Church) and that their Formularies are those of England, Nigeria, Uganda and so on --- i.e., the classic BCP, Ordinal and Thirty-Nine Articles? Why do they not demote the 1979 Book to the status of “ASB” or “BAS” as a starter in this recovery of authentic AnglicanTradition?
This kind of action would really tell the Anglican world where they intended to be and to go.
And it would show clearly to all that their concerns are much greater than not having actively “Gay” clergy in their midst! To stay with the 1979 Book s Formulary is to stay with – at best – a mixture of truth and error, of orthodoxy and heresy and it is to be committed to “The New Episcopal Religion” of America, which was invented in the 1960s and put in place in the 1970s and afterwards!
June 29, 2006
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)