On Friday The 13th, Bishop Peter James Lee sent the following letter out to twenty one clergy whose congregations, following the Diocese of Virginia Protocol, voted to separate from the Episcopal Church, and whom he inhibited following his sudden cancellation of his own Property Committee as well as the stand-still agreement - all designed to negotiate amicably.
Notice that Bishop Lee introduces a new phrase, a new organization, in his Friday the 13th Letter. It's called The Communion of The Episcopal Church (as opposed to the Anglican Communion). Since the inception of the Episcopal Church, when churches won recognition from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself and then went to form dioceses, the word "communion" has meant the Anglican Communion.
Church of the Apostles, Fairfax, was able to call a New Zealand priest to be their rector because he was an Anglican priest. Bishop Lee is "in communion" with the Anglican bishops in New Zealand and so the clerical orders are recognized. That is what "communion" means. It means that all these clergy and bishops have orders that are valid to celebrate the Eucharist.
As we were reminded this week by the Pope, Anglican clergy and bishops are not recognized by any Roman Catholic church or bishop - for our clergy and bishops are not in communion with the Roman Catholic church or bishops. The Roman Catholic bishops do not recognized the orders of the Anglican/Episcopal clergy or bishops as "valid." From their point of view, if Anglican clergy celebrate the Eucharist, the elements are invalid. That's serious stuff.
But this is not the case for the Anglican Communion. Any Anglican/Episcopal clergy can celebrate the Eucharist, for the Anglican Communion recognizes the validity of the orders.
If this letter's threat goes through, Bishop Lee seems to be saying that he is no longer in communion with the bishops of the Anglican province in Nigeria - he seems to not recognize that the twenty-plus clergy cannot be defrocked by him because they are no longer under his jurisdiction. But they are still in the communion because the Anglican Church of Nigeria is in the Communion. And their orders are still valid.
Does Bishop Lee think that The Episcopal Church will no longer recognize the orders of clergy from around the Anglican Communion and the only province that is "valid" is The Episcopal Church? If the Episcopal Church is now setting up their own brand new "Communion" - and that is what this letter implies - well, that's breaking news.
Here is the text of this letter with commentary.
On January 22, 2007, I inhibited you from exercising your priestly ministry on the basis that by your actions, you had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.
What he fails to mention is that he had also cut off all the health care for the so-called "inhibited" clergy as well, including one whose wife was about to have a baby. He didn't wait six months for that - just cut it off then. And didn't even permit the clergy to have COBRA - which still boggles the mind as an action of Umbridge-like punishment. So he didn't just inhibit the clergy, he cut off their heath care and blocked them from extending the benefits through COBRA during the six month period. It's clear he had no intention of welcoming anyone back. Why would anyone go back to a bishop who cut off their health care?
He also introduces a brand new phrase here - not seen before in 400 years of the Anglican Church in Virginia. There is now something called "The Communion of The Episcopal Church." So now we have not only the Anglican Communion that all we all know, we also have something new called The Communion of the Episcopal Church. When Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican, not Episcopalian), was in Virginia doing confirmations, I don't think he was confirming people into the Communion of the Episcopal Church, but into the Anglican Communion. That's what my reaffirmed certificate says.
The six month period is nearing which will conclude your opportunity to retract your actions and I am writing in the hope that you might do so.
The problem is, the clergy are no longer in the Episcopal Church - they are now clergy in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America and their Anglican orders are recognized by other bishops in the Episcopal Church (even if Bishop Lee says something different) as well as in Anglican provinces around the world. In fact, one of the newly-ordained CANA clergy is going to serve in the Church of England. Oops. So Bishop Lee no longer has jurisdiction over these clergy because they are Anglican and his fellow Episcopal bishops still recognize the Virginia Anglican clergy. As long as Bishop Lee is still in communion with the bishops of Nigeria, he is communion with the clergy - we're all supposed to be in the same Anglican Communion (we're not Baptists, and we're not Roman Catholics - we're all supposed to be Anglican). Has he conveniently forgotten, or did the 815 litigators write this part?
The fact is that the Diocese of Virginia has taken no actions to interfere with your theological convictions or your ministry prior to your abandonment of the communion of the Episcopal Church. We have a large tent and you are welcome to to remain in it.
So we'll just ignore the actions taken by The Episcopal Church, which last time I checked the Diocese of Virginia was still a part of (and claims to be in a hierarchical church at that - which of course is news to us all - and this shows that it isn't actually true for Bishop Lee either, for he seems to be making a distinction between the actions of the Diocese of Virginia and the actions of the Episcopal Church - as if they are not the same thing). Sorry, Peter, you can't have your cake and eat it too. If the Episcopal Church authorizes the consecration of non-celibate gay bishops and condones same sex unions and does not affirm the Windsor Report requests - then that includes the Diocese of Virginia too - or does it?
I hope very much that you will retract your actions of abandoning this communion and return to the family of the Episcopal Church.
Once again, Bishop Lee seems to be building a wall between the Anglican Communion and the Communion of the Episcopal Church. Does this mean he anticipates the Episcopal Church leaving the Anglican Communion and so they have to set up a new one - is that why the Presiding Bishop is out touring the foreign countries in TEC and why flags from all the nations in The Episcopal Church were hung in the House of Deputies at General Convention? Is Bishop Lee sounding the Death Knell of The Episcopal Church's membership in the Anglican Communion and so is making a division here between two different communions? Or was this part again just written by the lawyers?
The Episcopal Church is not a Communion - it's in The Anglican Communion, it's not a communion unto itself. Does the Presiding Bishop think she'll replace Canterbury as the center of this new communion, this Communion of the Episcopal Church?
I hope you have noticed that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not inviting Bishops from the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) nor from the American Mission in America (AMiA) to the Lambeth Conference which raises the significant question whether churches associated with groups like that can be considered Anglican. My hope is that you will give prayerful consideration to returning to the communion of the Episcopal Church and offer your considerable gifts within our community.
I hope you have noticed that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not inviting Bishop Gene Robinson from the Diocese of New Hampshire to the Lambeth Conference which raises the significant question whether churches associated with the Diocese of New Hampshire can be considered Anglican.
The progressives are going to love that statement, Peter.
And just to sort of stick it to the Anglican Communion as well, we see he uses that phrase "The Communion of the Episcopal Church" yet again. We do wonder if he wrote this "letter" or the 815 lawyers did.
The six months period expires on July 22, 2007. I will be out of the country at a consultation on mission at that time so I am not likely to remove you from the ministry of the Episcopal Church until I return late on July 27.
Peter Lee can't remove anyone from ministry who has been received by an Anglican Archbishop in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury - unless The Episcopal Church no longer sees itself in the Anglican Communion. The clergy that he is threatening here are all recognized by the Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network and its bishops.
So if The Episcopal Church is hierarchical, then how can Peter Lee threaten something that other bishops in the Episcopal Church do not recognize?
What are we going to have - a Grand Inquisitor going around to all the dioceses to check to see if any CANA clergy are participating in worship? And then what? "Off with her head?"
The church is weakened by your absence and strengthened by your presence and my prayer is that you might consider returning to your appropriate place within our communion.
I think he means, "Strong letter will follow."