I've been mulling over the Archbishop of Canterbury's (ABC) letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion. I've come to the conclusion that it is a primary example of what it means to be Anglican - it seeks to reach out to all parties, it reminds the reader of the reality of the current crisis (which some, including the TEC PB, continue to try to sweep away), it offers a pathway through the theological thicket, and it upsets just about everybody. Yep, that's what it's like to be Anglican.
Let's take a look at the letter, with the TinFoil Hat left on the table in the Spare Room.
This meeting will be, of course, an important and difficult and important encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist us in strengthening our unity as a Communion.
First thing that the ABC does is set out the vision for this February Primates Meeting - to make it to Lambeth in 2008. That is the point of the meeting, to prepare for Lambeth - which means facing the crisis at hand or the hopes of having any sort of traditional Lambeth Conference will dim to darkness.
There are two points I wish to touch on briefly.
He isn't out of the starting gate for two seconds when he gets down to business. No flowery language, no hyperbolic embellishments, no invoking the spirit to do this or that, the man gets down to business. What does that mean when we waste no time and get clear straight away? Well, I picture a Defense Attorney in front of a jury making his closing arguments, in a kind but direct manner. "Trust me," he infers. There are two things which "I wish to touch on briefly." Don't we just love the British? Americans have a hard time understating things - we must (like others in the Communion by the way) embellish, embellish, embellish - but the British (though I think Scots have it down to an art form, quite frankly) just aim to get to the point. There are two big-time reasons (well, there are actually three - but he seems to intentionally downplay the third) that the ABC is writing this letter to the primates so pay attention because it's pretty darn serious. The brevity speaks volumes.
The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church's response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear).
I think the first point ends here. As an editor, I would end the sentence here. In the next sentence, the ABC then gives us his opinion about the facts stated above. It is interesting though that the decision was made to add Rowan's opinion at the tale end of this statement of facts. However, before we get to his opinion about the facts (as important as that is), let's first take a look at the facts.
Rowan Williams reminds us that TEC is still under discipline (which has been largely forgotten in the recent press coverage of the Virginia congregational votes. It is news to many (if not most) in the media that TEC is under discipline and - in a very Anglican sort of way - has "agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08." This situation still stands - the relationship between TEC and the rest of the Communion (as exemplified by perhaps the most TEC-celebrated "Instrument of Unity" - the Anglican Consultative Council). This has been the most liberal organization (at least until the next meeting of the ACC which will now include all the primates of the Anglican Communion as well as the other provincial representatives). But this is the one that TEC has lost seat and vote in for the past year and another year and a half to go (at least) when we will hear the next part of the ABC's point in this paragraph.
He reminds us that the ACC Joint Standing Committee (which now does not include any representation from TEC) has a sub-group that is "working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations." So TEC is not out of the hot water yet. Since we know all ready how TEC responded to the Windsor recommendations at the last General Convention in Columbus, we now wait to hear from a subcommittee of a committee of another committee to tell us what it all means. But hey, that's democracy at work. Let's just stress the "work" part though.
I hadn't heard about this subgroup - but it must be noted that this is the ACC subgroup working on a "report" for the primates (or so it appears) to tell them what they should all ready know. Let's just keep a sharp eye on that little subgroup.
Just so we don't get sidetracked, the ABC helpfully tells us what this all means when he writes that "questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces," though he adds that some Provinces have all ready made their positions clear. So we could read this as a way of reminding the primates that there is a bureaucratic process in place (inside the American-funded ACC, no less) to find out what we all ready know - that TEC did not fulfill the specific requests of the Windsor Report.
As someone who has lived in the Bureaucratic Capitol of the World (BCW) should know, this is hardly innocuous. When is the "report" from this subcommittee to the committee to the committee supposed to be delivered? In time for February? Could be, could very well be (which may explain why Rowan Williams comes to his next conclusion). But do we know?
I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.
In other words, it is possible that the primates may be hearing the report from the subcommittee to the committee to the committee and after all that work (remember when the last time the Primates all met - in Ireland?) this "instrument of unity" needs to at least be all together to hear it, especially since the province in question is under discipline and did not take part (officially - only officially - since TEC has been the primary funding source for the ACC, you better believe that the Americans continue to be closely involved, bet the house on it - don't throw longstanding relationships - out the window simply because they aren't on this year's guest list).
What is interesting here, though, is that the subcommittee writing this report came from the ACC and not the Primates themselves. That is a very important piece of information - and may have so much to do with the next conclusion:
This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ.
Now it's not clear that the primates will actually be hearing a report (let's watch that space) so if they aren't, then this is the way that the ACC can get the American point of view into the report, while TEC is still under discipline. If they can't get the Americans into the room with seat, voice, and vote to write their little report about the Americans official response to the Windsor Report. General Convention appears to not have been enough after all, and so (if there is no report issued from the ACC) then this is a way to get TEC back into the room.
It's quite ingenious of whoever thought this up - because now the burden is on the Global South primates to show up. It is here that I share the alarm that come in the orthodox feel - that this is a power play to lessen the Windsor Report requests and shift it to something the liberals have been calling the "Windsor Process."
Whenever we see that term "Windsor Process" it does not mean Windsor compliant, but the tactics of "stall and recall" until everyone is exhausted, throwing up their hands in surrender or just leaving (though please leave the church keys at the front desk, thank you very much).
So we should see if there is going to be a ACC report issued to the Primates (or is there is a report coming from within the Primates group themselves, since they are the ones who issued the Windsor Report in the first place?). Perhaps we should emphasize a report coming from the Primates regarding the results of the American response to Windsor, rather than this report from the subcommittee to the committee to the committee - it is far more weighty to hear what the primates say about this (but it certainly behooves some parties to shift attention away from the primates to the ACC). Think about it.
Now someone must have raised this problem with Rowan Williams, because if this was the entire point - that the new TEC PB is invited to the pow wow without censure, then the Communion collapses. We were told over and over again that General Convention speaks for TEC (and TEC does NOT have a primate, as Bishop Lee told us after General Convention, only a presider -NO archbishop, despite how suddenly current letters are being signed by Katharine Jefferts Schori) then the PB cannot speak for TEC alone. She is not an archbishop. So the ABC comes up with another plan. Since the Presiding Bishop of TEC cannot speak for the Church (and only General Convention has that power), then Dr. Williams proposes the following, understanding very clearly that if he just invites Katharine Jefferts Schori and nothing else, he's in deep doo doo:
However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organizedised.
Brilliant. In one fell swoop, he diminishes Katharine as a primate who speaks for all Anglicans and recognizes that indeed TEC is divided - that a real division has occurred.
Now since that division has not - yet - achieved full communion recognition (only partial, so far) he proposes to invite two (or three) "contributors form that Province" for a pre-meeting to the major meeting. Dr. Williams goes on to say that his door is open and he is "consulting as to how this is best organized." In other words, ring up him now to get yourself a coveted spot as one of the "two or three" contributors at the pre-meeting.
So this is where the liberals begin to be outraged (though that may be short-lived if they get their own foot in the ABC's door) that Katharine Jefferts Schori is not enough to represent TEC and others are needed to give a full spectrum of the crisis now facing TEC.
Which of course, Rowan Williams is still highlighting in that this particular province needs more voices to represent it than its own Presiding Bishop (which of course, should be outrageous to those who elected the Presiding Bishop). But there you are. Either TEC is divided or not - and from this letter, it looks like Rowan Williams accepts that TEC is divided.
He never admits that he ever consulted Katharine Jefferts Schori before making this provocative decision (though he actually might have consulted, the fact that he doesn't mention it could mean that she objected). We do assume he did let her know first, but the fact that he doesn't mention it is glaring fact of ommission.
Lest he appear to be too domineering (he is exercising his leadership as another instrument of unity by inviting other Americans to this primates meeting - normally held in secrecy allotted to Langley), Dr. Williams takes a step back and reminds us the reality of the situation on the ground in TEC, just in case the primates have forgotten (which of course, is highly unlikely). Is this yet another shot at TEC who want to be the only voice of Anglicanism in the United States?
The Episcopal Church is not in any way a monochrome body and we need to be aware of the full range of conviction within it. I am sure that other Primates, like myself, will welcome the clear declarations by several bishops and diocesan conventions (including those dioceses represented at the Camp Allen meeting earlier this year) of their unequivocal support for the process and recommendations of the Windsor Report. There is much to build upon here. There are many in TEC who are deeply concerned as to how they should secure their relationships with the rest of the Communion; I hope we can listen patiently to these anxieties.
From here we can get an idea who might be invited:
A Windsor Bishop: No doubt, someone who attended Camp Allen I & II will be invited. Perhaps Bishop Wimberly himself since he's the convener (though if the Windsor Bishops truly want their voice heard, they should think long and hard as to who they want to be their reprentative). Early indications are that this group is growing - and is the "group of choice" since it included not only rank and file TEC bishops who support Windsor, but also the ACN diocesan bishops (like Bishop Duncan). Who they pick could have the stature of the presiding bishop, whether they like it or not. They make themselves a rival to her - and something they should think long and hard about before the walk through that door. This is not tea time with crumpets.
Who is the other one? This will depend on whether the ABC counts the new PB as representing the mainstream of TEC (if a liberal is invited, then it's two to one since Katharine Jefferts Schori is progressive, which would not be fair). So if she is included as part of the American voice, then the second bishop could be a Network Bishop (if this not just futile exercise in institutionalism). If a liberal bishop is chosen (like a Bishop Sauls for example), then the case could be made that is unfair since the American church now has two liberal speaking for it, and a third bishop should be chosen - this one being from the Network partners.
I warn you, this is total Anglican Wonkism at its height and so for the Anglican Wonks watching, keep an eye on who the "two or three" who are gathered there are - if there are three, that is a clue as to how Katharine Jefferts Schori is viewed. Is she really a voice for the American church or not?
Again, since this is one of the best ways the liberals like to shove this whole crisis under the rug (moving or not, thanks Mr. Dylan), Rowan Williams reminds us that we aren't all about crisis - and so this crisis must be solved or the whole thing goes down the drain. This is his second point:
My second point is to underline the importance of planning constructively for Lambeth 08. If we become entirparalyzedysed by our continuing struggles to resolve the challenges posed by decisions in North America, we shall lose a major opportunity for strengthening our common life. The recent St Augustine’s seminar which considered the Lambeth agenda was agreed by all to have been an outstandingly positive week, which has laid out a programme I believe to be worthy of our hopes for the Conference, and which was wholeheartedly owned and approved by people from very different regions and points of view within the seminar group. I do not want to lose that energy. I want to see it channelled properly into projects for better equipping ourselves as bishops and all our pastors and teachers, and into the work we all agree we must do in response to the crying needs created by poverty and violence in our world.
Now, back to the crisis at hand. Who is going to Lambeth (for this - more than what the ACC does, really - is how we traditionally know who is in the Anglican Communion or not, who is headed that way and who is not)? The Archbishop of Canterbury decides.
The question of invitations to Lambeth has been raised several times, in relation to the status of TEC, and indeed other Provinces. I shall seek the advice of the meeting on this.
Once again, Dr. Williams makes it clear his door is open. This is the Anglican Way. So for TEC leaders who think this can all be shoved under the rug - that it's a done deal that TEC is invited and no on else is, think again. Either that, or block Rowan's door (one way or the other). Let's keep an eye on Rowan's doorkeepers. No wonder Dumbledore made Hagrid the "keeper of the keys" - who has the key to the door is trusted. Who has Rowan's key?
I am aware that decisions must be made soon, and I mention it primarily to alert you to the issues that lie ahead and to commend all this to your prayers over the coming season.
Got it. Lambeth invitations are important (it's another instrument of unity) and it's not a done deal. The ABC also positions himself as well - if the door is still open then he's still a player. Make note of that (and then see Point #3).
But it illustrates the point I have made recently to the St Augustine’s Seminar and other groups: at the moment, we urgently need to create a climate of greater trust within the Communion, and to reinforce institutions and conventions that will serve that general climate in a global way.
I would maintain that this is the greatest casualty of this entire crisis - the loss of trust. Once trust is broken it is immensely difficult to get it back. The loss of trust is a paramount issue. How do you get it back? Is talking enough - or is it actions? I think it's their actions - which is why the laity are watching this very carefully - which will regain the trust that was lost. What will they do?
During my visit to the Pope in November, it was very clear that our ecumenical partners are looking to us not only to strengthen our bonds of ecclesial community and the coherence of our Christian witness, but also to show a hopeful and Christian spirit in resolving our current problems. Our partners are praying very intensely for us in this task, and their prayer deepens my own sense of resolve, as I am sure it will yours.
Now if you are liberal progressive TECer, I'd be quite worried about this statement. Rowan doesn't mention hanging out with Integrity or the other lobbying organizations like it in Great Britain (which is often brought up in the TEC circles to gain credibility). He doesn't mention any other denominations - not the Presbyterians or Methodists or the Greek Orthodox or anyone. Alas, he doesn't even mention the United Nations.
He mentions the Pope.
This is not insignificant. He calls the Pope "our ecumenical partner" and says that "it was very clear" that he is "looking to us not only to strengthen our bonds" of community and Christian witness, but also to solve this problem now. Rowan Williams uses as strong words here as he does in any other part of the letter, if not more. The Pope, he infers - no, I think he states - is "praying very intensely for us" (and what is Benedict praying for, may I ask?) for whatever it is, Rowan is resolved to get it done. Perhaps he knows what will happen in England, if not America, if this isn't solved in a way that makes Benedict pleased. If I were progressive, that would concern me.
Is TEC interested in making Benedict happy (after all, TEC has billed itself as "Roman Catholic Lite" in some quarters - all the dress-up without the doctrine)? Does TEC truly care if Christendom suffers a mighty blow if the Anglicans and the Catholics, the two major worldwide Christian communities, can no longer parley? Or does being a prophetic witness mean more? Clearly Dr. Williams is worried if he's bringing the Pope into the equation - the same man who wrote of the support of John Paul II to the gathering of orthodox Episcopalians at "Plano/Dalls" in October. 2003.
I should also mention that I have accepted the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee that the Archbishop of York should be invited to the forthcoming meeting, so that there is a distinction between the two roles of speaking for the Church of England and chairing and moderating the meeting overall.
I love this last statement - though it's not very American (in fact, it sounds like something the lawyers would advise). Here's another example, in the structure of this letter (which is perhaps why it's leaving so many Americans puzzled) of the culture gap that exists between the British (including their Commonwealth, by the way) and the United States. "Oh, by the way, I saved perhaps the most important point for last and didn't want to draw your attention to it by listing it as one of my 'two points.' But this is my third point. And I'll make sure to tell you it wasn't my idea, but a committee of a committee's idea." Right.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, born in Uganda, a theological orthodox leader who spoke emphatically and clearly at General Convention, is going to be at the Primates meetings in February, representing the Church of England. When he spoke before the special committee at the standing room only hearing at General Convention, he pleaded with TEC leaders to follow the direction of Windsor. It was amazing.
Now he's going to represent the Church of England, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury in that traditional role. This is a huge development for England - and thus for the Communion. Rowan moves into a executive position for the Anglican Communion (thus, strengthening his position as an Instrument of Unity) and the Archbishop of York represents the Church of England. The Archbishop of York takes on the mantle of primate.
And that is a major development.
I'm going to go ahead and publish this now because I have to get back to my office. Thanks to all who gave me Starbucks Gift Cards for Christmas. BabyBlue endorses the Chai Latte - the Drink of Choice for Anglican Wonks.
Stay tuned for the final conclusions regarding this letter.