A discussion starter from Dr Peter Toon
Anglicans, following the western Catholic tradition, have often spoken of the historical Episcopate, that is, Bishops in historical succession from the ancient Church, as unifying the Church across space and through time.
Thus within the Anglican Communion of Churches, there has been a commitment to the doctrine that the member Churches are bound together globally by the college of bishops, with each bishop functioning in his own diocese and only crossing its borders to minister in another by invitation and permission. This commitment to stay in one’s own diocese had its exceptions—overlapping jurisdictions in Europe for English and American bishops, armed forces bishops who crossed many boundaries and also bishops for native peoples, whose lands are in various dioceses—but it general it worked until recently. Bishops, together with the use of the Book of Common Prayer and with a common loyalty to the mother See, Canterbury, were the glue to bind all together until, it seems, yesterday.
But we now have a situation in North America where Bishops are the very opposite of a sign of unity across space and through time.
Begin with The Episcopal Church. Here there are many Bishops and they are very far from being of common faith and practice, even though in general they respect territorial rights. The Episcopate of The Episcopal Church is probably the least united of any Provincial Episcopate in the history of the Anglican Communion. Then, invading the territory of the original Episcopal Church of the USA and The Anglican Church of Canada are two very different sets of Bishops.
One set are the 100 plus bishops who belong to the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions and groups which have formed since the nineteenth century but especially since the 1970s. These live within and totally disregard the dioceses and their boundaries of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church. In fact they act as though they do not exist.
The other set are foreign Archbishops and Bishops who have either planted missionary churches in the USA and Canada (e.g. the Archbishops of Rwanda and of Nigeria) or have adopted individual congregations which have seceded from The Episcopal Church. (100 or so of the latter exist)
So if one were to draw a map of the USA and Canada and seek to impose upon it all the various territories claimed by all these bishops then one would have the most confusing picture imaginable. Even the angels with their special and supernatural eyes have great difficulty, I am told, seeing all the lines of demarcation and making out what lies underneath this or that delineation.
And what I am describing is The Anglican Way in North America. Lord have mercy upon us!
What ought to be the primary sign of its unity across the vast areas of the USA and Canada has become the primary sign of its profound sickness. Bishops have completely and totally ceased to be the sign of unity for Anglicans in North America. And one cannot see any indications that they as a whole, or a good number of them, are making any real attempt to bow before the Bishop of all bishops, the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of all the sheep, in total submission to allow him to help them to sort out this massive mess. Too many it seems enjoy their “authority” and will not let it go, or they provide themselves with good reasons for maintaining it when common sense says otherwise.
If there is a massive supermarket of varied and competitive religions in the USA & Canada—and there certainly is—there is also within the 1.5 million Anglicans a similar supermarket, howbeit on a much smaller scale! This is new—it was not there fifty years ago. I hope it will not be there in ten years time.