Saturday, September 15, 2007

Episcopoi, Episcopoi & Episcopoi: Bishops, Bishops and more Bishops.

A reflection by Dr Peter Toon arising from the announcement of four more bishops for CANA in the USA.

Who would have thought that when Common Cause—a loose affiliation of jurisdictions, groups, networks and congregations sharing a common view about the infidelity of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and the need to be affiliated with the Global South—was founded recently, that in late 2007 its partners would have more bishops as a total than have most provinces of the global Anglican Communion? Amazing, and, at the same time, deeply troubling to thinking souls.

And who would have thought that several African Provinces of the Anglican Communion would have consecrated a growing number of bishops to serve their own “colonial” interests (in new networks, dioceses and convocations) in the USA and Canada before the Lambeth Conference of July 2008? Again, amazing and deeply troubling, bearing m mind that those who evangelized Africa from the C of E were very slow in calling for bishops for the converts and when they came bishops were few!.

And, further, who would have thought that this planting of new networks, dioceses and convocations by different Provinces actually in practice sets supposed “brother” against “brother” in the competition for sheep and converts in North America, for there is no agreed areas for mission by the sending Provinces and it appears to be a free for all? Once more, amazing and profoundly troubling, that the ancient principle of territoriality has been ditched so quickly without agreement on what replaces it..

Finally—and this is very important—who would have thought that in America, “the land of the free and the brave,” where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a republic with democracy is the name of the game, Anglicans would allow their pastoral and spiritual oversight to be decided by secret meetings of bishops assembled as hierarchies in foreign lands?

This last point deserves more unpacking and comment—and I write as one not born in the USS but who has tried to understand in depth its Polity, which I admire.

Let us recall that the 13 colonies were under the Bishop of London until Independence and there were no local bishops at all in America only commissaries (who were priests).

Let us also remember that when eventually the new Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA got its own bishops it was by a slow and painful process for the American Episcopate was established only through tribulation.

Let us also hold in mind that during and after the Civil War PECUSA stayed together despite many occasions for separation and schism.

And, most significantly for this reflection, let us note that the polity of the PECUSA was very different from that of the Church of England, being loosely based on the new political polity of the USA—the Congress in particular. This meant that the House of Bishops of PECUSA had limited authority—for while bishops had the final decision on who were ordained priests and deacons, the whole Convention of the diocese and the whole General Convention of laity, clergy and bishops decided who would be a bishop for a diocese and within the National Church. It was by election through voting and was out in the open. TEC retains this Polity (which can be abused as can all human activities) and it is something that other Provinces of the Anglican Communion still find hard to appreciate (not least the Global South) for with them the House of Bishops has the right to act decisively in a whole set of matters without the consent of the clergy and laity in Synod.

Now let us ask another pertinent question:

Who is deciding the number, the names and the mission of the growing number of bishops being consecrated by overseas provinces to serve North American Anglicans? Is it American Anglicans assembled in due order and voting in a godly and orderly manner as they did in 1789 and following?


Secret meetings of the whole or parts of the Houses of Bishops in Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda are deciding who shall be bishops for the groups of seceders from TEC and ACC in North America. Further, there appears to be little or no consultation or godly cooperation between these separate House of Bishops as to specific strategy and plans. The result is—at least the impression of—chaos and dysfunctionality in the Anglican Way of those in North America who protest against the infidelity of TEC and ACC and have become seceders or extra-mural Anglicans.

And all this raises yet another pressing question:

How can such a beginning lead to a genuine united, biblically-based truly Anglican Province in North America to replace ACC & TEC? The answer is, of course, the gracious providence of God and major changes of heart, mind and activity by the new seceders and their sponsors.

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