New Westminster Diocese, British Columbia, Canada, & the Recommendations of the Anglican Panel of Reference. Comments by the Revd Dr Peter Toon October 14, 2006
We are being constantly being told that the Anglican Family (“Communion of Churches”) is gradually developing a Conciliar Polity, where autonomy with interdependency (not autonomy with independence) will characterize each Province (“Church”), and where Provinces will be held together by an Anglican Covenant, that all sign, even as the “Instruments of Unity” (e.g., Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates Meeting) seek to keep relations within and between Provinces sweet and smooth.
This Conciliar Polity can only work, and will only succeed, if there is present throughout the whole Communion of Churches the presence and the exercise of the grace of patience. Impatience and activism destroy fragile conciliarism. Receiving advice and counsel, asking for resolution to problems, either from the Instruments themselves (or panels, commissions, and working groups that they actually set up) is both an exercise in patience and in humility. There seems to be—as yet, even with global instant communication—no way for the working parts of the Conciliar Polity to make sound decisions quickly (and there is no Prefect in the “Anglican Vatican” to rule instantly). With time and practice they will, however, get quicker!
A perfect example of how slowly the wheels turn and decisions/recommendations are made is provided by the arrival in print of the Report of the Panel of Reference whose judgment (two years in the making) was published on the Anglican Communion Website on October 12, 2006.
This Panel of Reference, set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, made recommendations concerning the acute problems in the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada. These were caused initially by the implementation of radical innovations in the doctrine and practice of sexual relations. Here the Bishop, Michael Ingham, refused to accept Conciliar Polity in terms of the moral requirements laid down by the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 1998 concerning blessing same-sex couples, and chose to innovate knowing that what he did and allowed would be a major offence both to many in his diocese and to millions within the 80 million strong Anglican Family. In response to his actions some parishes left the diocese and others appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for help with regard to being granted faithful oversight, since they could not—and still cannot—receive in good conscience the ministry of their erring Bishop.
To appreciate what the Panel has recommended we must bear in mind that, despite many words of condemnation uttered from Provinces of the Global South, it is a fact that the Church of England (and other western Provinces) are still “in communion” with the Anglican Church of Canada and that, as yet, this Church has not officially in General Synod examined either The Windsor Report or other relevant reports and recommendations in the area of sexual innovations. The Panel had to come up with something that reflected how things are in official terms as seen out of the windows of Lambeth Palace, not how things are in the feelings and intentions of those who have been utterly horrified by the bad decisions of the Bishop of New Westminster and of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
At the center of the recommendations from the Panel are these two:
2. In the present temporary situation, the Panel recognizes that an agreed scheme of extended episcopal ministry needs to be offered to a number of clergy and parishes within the Diocese of New Westminster, which will both provide for their spiritual needs and offer assurance of continuity for their distinctive theological tradition.
3. Such a scheme should be achieved within the Anglican Church in Canada itself, at national or provincial level. The bishop of a diocese is subject to the general ecclesiastical law of the church or province concerned, and one would look to the Anglican Church of Canada for action to be taken in the first instance. The provision of a scheme of Shared Episcopal Ministry [SEM] by the Canadian House of Bishops in 2004 offers a model which we believe to be appropriate, with some additional safeguards designed to take account of the special circumstances prevailing in this case, given the protracted and deep divisions which exist.
Then it proposes that the emergence of this working situation—of an Episcopal Visitor being deeply involved in the protesting parishes— be protected by various safeguards made on both sides, by the diocese and the protesting parishes. For example, the diocese will eradicate from its records all charges against the clergy and parishes, and the latter in turn will pay their diocesan quotas and conduct themselves in such a way as to be members of the diocese. It all seems very reasonable and fair—if seen from the perspective of Lambeth Palace and the palaces of most English, Australian and South African bishops.
However, from the perspective of the Global South it is too little, too late. Presiding Bishop Venables of the Southern Cone, who is known for plain speaking, has written:
Given that the Panel of Reference process has taken twenty painfully slow and drawn-out months to do what was considered desperately urgent at the onset, it is now tragic to receive a report that fails to address the crisis in New Westminster adequately. It simply does not reflect the depth nor the severity of the crisis that has been precipitated by Michael Ingham's actions.
Bishop Gregory obviously thinks that the parishes should have been cut free from New Westminster altogether and put under the pastoral guidance of a Global South Bishop.
The Archbishop of the West Indies, Drexel Gomes, also of the Global South, has provided a fairly technical comment on the Recommendations, which cannot be easily summarized. However he ends this way:
While one appreciates the legal logic displayed by the Panel, one cannot help but conclude that the Panel has failed to understand the political and theological reality of the situation in which the applicants find themselves. Consequently, in my opinion, the recommendations of the Panel do not respond adequately to the real situation. In addition the Panel seems to have ignored the present situation in the Communion as described by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his 14th of September, 2006, letter:
"It is clear that the Communion as a whole remains committed to the teaching on human sexuality expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and also that the recommendations of the Windsor Report have been widely accepted as a basis for any progress in resolving the tensions that trouble us. As a Communion, we need to move forward on the basis of this twofold recognition."
The Panel is recommending that the applicants who share the position outlined by the Archbishop of Canterbury submit to the jurisdiction of a bishop who vociferously denies both of the elements so clearly articulated by the Archbishop. In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Province of Canada provide a secure resting place for the applicants while the Province prepares for its General Synod. Christian charity demands no less.
I recommend that we agree with (my old friend) Archbishop Drexel and that we pray that to all in New Westminster will be given the grace of time and humility so that they can patiently and graciously continue for as long as it takes for the (providence of God through the) Conciliar Polity of the Anglican Communion to decide the status in the Anglican Family of the Anglican Church of Canada! The next few years are going to be times of pain and tribulation for my friends in British Columbia; but, in and through these (see Romans 5;1-5), there is the promise that they and we shall all be able to rejoice in the glory of God!
The Revd Dr Peter Toon, President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA, www.anglicansatpratyer.org and www.pbsusa.org and www.anglicanmarketplace.com