Common Cause Partnership Bishops agree to move towards establishing a Province in communion with the Global South
Dr Peter Toon September 30, 2007
I was present for the closing service (“Holy Eucharist” from the ECUSA 1979 Prayer Book, Rite 1, with Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh as the Celebrant) for the fifty or so Bishops of the Common Cause Partnership on Friday September 28, 2007 in Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh; then I stayed for the hospitality, the Press Conference, and, following that, for informal conversations with various bishops.
Here I want to reflect on the public Statement and commitment of the 50 or so Bishops rather then summarize its content, for it is available at websites (see e.g. www.anglicancommunionnetwork.org ). Further, David Virtue, who was present with me at the Service and Press Conference, has written about it already (see. www.virtueonline.org).
What I say may seem critical to some—especially those who want to rejoice without restraint; but, I think that, to the discerning reader, my offering will be seen as truly encouraging, by suggesting important ways to improve what has begun, which like a seed, has the potential to grow and, when growing, to manifest different features, good and bad. I want to encourage firm growth and good fruit. So here we go:
• The whole LAOS, people of God, need to be brought into this movement very quickly and very openly. Anglican history from 1785 in the new USA had the unique feature of the full involvement of the laity and this is part of its genius. Perhaps there are practical, even strategic reasons, why this movement from the many jurisdictions of the present to the one province of tomorrow had to begin with Bishops—but why did they insist on ending their conclave by dressing up and processing in a service where they outnumbered the few laity and clergy present in the small congregation. How much more meaningful, it could have been, had the majority of them sat with the few laity and clergy in the nave! As things stand the procession stands as a symbol not so much of genuine Episcopal leadership but possibly of Episcopal self-importance. What now is urgently needed is the people of God assembled in their small jurisdictions and the together in a national congress to give their hearty “Amen” to this movement, for, after all, they are the majority shareholders and they are the ones to pay the bills.
• The movement—of laity and clergy—also needs a simple, uniting and centering message both to announce to America and to focus attention. It will be recalled that in Germany in the 1930s when National Socialism had virtually taken over the major Protestant Churches, a minority of pastors stood bravely against the tide for the uniqueness of the Gospel of Christ and issued what was called “The Barmen Declaration.” Now in 2007 we have a minority of Anglicans refusing to be involved in the take-over of the major, main-line denominations, including The Episcopal Church, by the Zeitgeist of modern, western, secular culture. Common Cause needs today a “Barmen-type” short Confession to declare what it really stands for, and what it is truly against, in the American situation and against the religion being developed in the Episcopal Church. ‘Here we stand, we can do no other…” “We believe, teach and confess….”
• The major post-1977 Congress of St Louis Continuing Anglican churches surely must be charmed so that they feel a need to be brought into this movement if It is to have integrity as being the replacement for the present “revisionist” Episcopal Church. Regrettably, a well known Bishop of the ACA/Traditional Anglican Communion asked to be present as an observer at this Pittsburgh Meeting (Sept 25-28) on behalf of his own bishops and he was refused. Whatever good reasons for his being refused, this was a mistake. Without the descendants of the brave Seceders of 1977 any new entity will be partial; it will be permanently impaired and failing in its vocation to manifest unity in truth and truth in unity. What it will take to get the post 1977 Continuers inside will require much charity by all; and will also include much more honesty about women’s ordination by all. It appears that there is not yet sufficient wisdom and activity being put into the move to dialogue with the post 1977 Continuers—perhaps because there is one part of the post 1977 Continuum in the Common Cause already, known as the APA, and perhaps also because they seem very rigid on women’s ordination and against the 1979 prayer book, favored still by many in Common Cause. But Let Brethren dwell together in unity!
• In order to begin to face the contentious matter of women’s ordination, and as a first step. I suggest that the unique but imperfect Anglican doctrine [expounded in successive Eames Reports in the 1980s and 1990s] of Reception be re-examined and improved by the Common Cause Partnership to become at least the starting point for possible deeper conversations and relations between those who are wholly against, and those who are for, the ordination of women. (I have addressed this topic of Reception in some detail in my Latimer Monograph from the Latimer Trust on this topic –available from www.latimertrust.org – of London, U.K.) It would appear that beginning from this imperfect doctrine is the only means we have right now as Anglicans of engaging in dialogue and forging understanding.
• The Common Cause Partnership states that The Episcopal Church is unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ because of its innovations in worship, doctrine and discipline—fine!; BUT NOW it needs urgently to justify its own very major innovation! In fact it needs an apology—in the classic sense of apology, see Justin Martyr etc.—for its innovative claim that a Province in the One , Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church can be made up within one geographical region (North America or part thereof) of a multiplicity of denominations or jurisdictions or networks or ministries, each of which is autonomous (even though the autonomy in several causes rests not in US or Canadian hands but across the Atlantic ocean in African countries). This type of unity has never before been claimed by Anglicans, and it goes against a long tradition of teaching and claims made by Anglican Conferences, Synods, theologians and deep assumptions within Liturgy and within the classic Formularies. The creation of the Apology is a major and urgent requirement, for, right now, without this, the movement is extremely vulnerable to seemingly just criticism. In fact, already it is being described by friends as a like-minded but mixed group, who accept the realities of the competitive American supermarket of religions, and have made a pact to work together and form a kind of federation, which does not destroy their initial autonomy.
• Apart from the absence at Pittsburgh of Bishops from the classic Continuing Churches (e.g., the ACA, UEC, APCK & ACC), there were also no diocesan Bishops from the Anglican Church of Canada—apparently those who are loosely associated with the Essentials Movement in Canada have determined to maintain a positive stay in the Anglican Church of Canada at least for the next three years until the next General Synod and not be seen as potential seceders. The one Canadian bishop present, Don Harvey, is a retired diocesan bishop. Further, there was no representation from the Anglican Continuing Church in Canada. Thus right now this makes the movement exceedingly top-heavy from south of the border, which can hardly bode well for Canadians who have a different way of doing things than do the Americans!
• Those Bishops who are going to make the major sacrifices—perhaps the only ones of the 50 to make any very obvious sacrifices if this movement goes forward—are those presently within The Episcopal Church (the bishops from dioceses like Pittsburgh & Quincy & Fort Worth & others?). If dioceses led by their bishops vote to leave the Episcopal Church as a unit (or as a majority unit) the implications in terms of personal and family “safety” will be immense, for the leadership of the Episcopal Church will spend—if true to form—its last available funds to hound and hurt them by whatever means are available. To support them there surely needs to be in preparation a concerted commitment and effort of others in Common Cause (i.e., those whom we may call the Extra-Mural Anglicans, outside the Episcopal Church) to minister to their brethren when the pressures really begin.
• Finally, a doctrinal point, but important, I think. The Common Cause has committed itself to a Theological Statement as its basis. In this is a commitment to the classic Anglican Formularies, including the globally used Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The use of this book in its original form in the historic and beautiful English language of prayer, as well as in a suitably contemporary form using “You” of God and in so-called “contemporary” English, needs to begin now if words mean anything. (A major opportunity to hoist the flag was lost at the “Eucharist” of the Bishops, when they chose to use the prayer book of the very church that they say is revisionist, rather than one of the forms of the classic BCP—e.g., England 1662, USA 1928, and Canada 1962.) Very soon there will be available a form of the classic BCP in contemporary language for use in the U.S.A. and there are also plans—if financing available—to produce the classic BCP 1662 in attractive paperback edition (without prayers for the Queen etc) in order to introduce this globally used Prayer Book to the laity of the Common Cause Partner churches.
Enough is enough. I offer my suggestions in the hope that they may be of some practical use to the Common Cause Partners.