Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Rise of an American Flotilla

So who is the officially recongized Anglican face in America these days?

Is it Katharine Jefferts Schori?

Is it Bob Duncan?

Can we say as we lay out the cards - it looks as though someone else is the most recognized face for The Episcopal Church. Period. All the Presiding Bishop gets is a little "Have a Nice Day" closing prayer on Wednesday when everyone else is back at at their desks - and there's no HBO televised global package with performances by Bono and The Boss to shout out about.

Do we remember how at the last Primates Meeting in Tanzania (note how Rowan Williams keeps picking Global South locations for the Primates Meetings - shrewd) Katharine Jefferts Schori had her personal "Pants on Fire Moment" which came up in Telecolor during the trial in Virginia in October 2007? Remember how a year later she stood with her arms folded in defiance at the close of the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury? Remember how she's been on this "listening tour" around the States, but not abroad?

She's working the crowd all right - but it's the one right here at home.

And Anglicans abroad have duly noted this.

Yet who do we think the Americans on the street think of when The Episcopal Church is in the press these days, as it seems to be more often - The Presiding Bishop?

Uh, no.

Now we have Steve Waring reporting that Bob Duncan is preparing for the primates meeting in Egypt. Of course, he's not the only one. Mark Harris has himself tied up in knots about it all. But is the face of American Anglicanism Bob Duncan?

Uh, no.

Pause and consider. Just who will be beamed around the world on Sunday night as the current face of The Episcopal Church - yes, around the whole world? Who's face will we see beaming in front of the iconic feet of Abraham Lincoln? Is it Katharine? Is it Bob?

Think again.

The American Anglican/Episcopal crisis continues. Americans in the street know that. There's no doubt about that. Even the French probably know. What to do then?

We remember that Rowan Williams didn't dare call another Primates Meeting until the little ducks were all in order. The primates were completely thrown off schedule, as the ducks assembled first.

And yes, those ducks are in order now. Which is why Bob Duncan couldn't it to the Mere Anglicanism conference in South Carolina.

But it's not the order we may have expected.

As many know, the Archbishop of Canterbury, high churchman that he is, was quite clear that he wants to see the strengthening of a global church - that in fact, the Anglican Communion is the Church. This caused quite a stir amongst the American Episcopalians at Lambeth when he clarified this vision to the press. In Rowan's effort to institute the Anglican Communion as the Church (which is one way to attempt to manage chaos from the top down), it's imperative that he get the primates' blessing to do this. Cue ducks.

He's created a new coalition to do this. And who has been left out in the cold?

When the primates turn their attention to building a global church (and the Anglican Covenant is an ingredient in this endeavor, but not the only one - perhaps not even the primary one as we saw at Lambeth - for the primates' profile is raised as well, shrewd indeed) they will be presented with the implied choice of dramatically intervening in the American problem or take important but less intrusive steps in institutionalizing the global church. One will cause deep stress for them, but the other causes stress for - you guessed it, the Americans.

All of us.

Yes, all of us. Those on the inside and those on the outside of The Episcopal Church's formal structure. Those who sue and those who are sued. Those who are orthodox and those who are progressive. Those that are gay and those who are not. Those who are Republicans and those who are Democrats. Those who are Common Cause Partners and those who are Communion Partners. Those who went to EDS and those who went to TESM. Those who went to Nashotah House and those who went to VTS. We are all left out in the cold.

On one hand, there's no immediate recognition for a parallel province (bummer), and then on the other hand, the primates align together to form a global church, alienating the TEC primatial representative - knowing full well that The Episcopal Church forcefully and publicly rejects the notion of the Anglican Communion as "the Church." In fact, Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Episcopal Church bishops have made it quite clear that they think it's the other way around. "The Communion" is in fact "The Episcopal Church." That's a loss of both provincial recognition and provincial autonomy for the price of managing the global chaos caused by the Americans.

Now the attention shifts - The Episcopal Church continues to have to deal domestically with a lay-led rebellion against the theological innovations imposed on it by the institutional leadership (and those court costs are adding up in these financially-troubled times) - as well as frustration from the progressive-base who are adamant that the global community quit interfering in their internal - if not also quite prophetic - affairs. At the same time, The Episcopal Church has to deal internationally with the movement to make the Anglican Communion the Church. Their provincial autonomy is at risk.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Church in North America has to focus on its own internal challenges of pulling together the multiple entities that make up Common Cause and forming it into one diverse but unified church. How long do we remain in our lifeboats when we see land ahoy? Provincial recognition is at risk.

What the primates - led by Rowan Williams - appear to be seeking innovative solutions for "the American problem." Suddenly, in an ironic twist, Bob Duncan and Katharine Jefferts Schori find themselves strange allies in the same flotilla.

They are still both Americans.

Outside the remote chance that Bishop Schori will provocatively opt-out of the primates meeting all together and send an emissary instead (which we learned the primates can in fact do) and choose for example the current real face of The Episcopal Church, the Bishop of New Hampshire and then watch what happens - those of us back home in the States may discover we all have far more to gain by sitting down for peace talks now rather that later.

While the primates meet in Alexandria haggling over what to do with us, imagine if our factions meet together and declare a cease fire? That would change the leverage. It would also blow the mitres off of those gathered Alexandria and Rowan Williams himself, for who would get credit for that? It would also cause the Global Church to lose it's sense of equilibrium. Just who is really leading? If the Americans are talking peace, what's the sense in a global church? The system, charged up as it is, actually works after all.

As for us all here in the United States, in the end it may matter more that we are Americans than Anglicans.We may find surprising agreement with one another in the notion that if we all really wanted to join a Global Church, we might as well all go to Rome.

And if that's not an option, than perhaps we have finally found a place to agree. And that's not a bad place to start talking peace.


Pageantmaster said...

I hope you won't mind me making a comment on tone here. I have read both this piece and Fr Harris' piece.

I am put in mind that from the conservative side that a great many African churches with deep proplems domestically have yet spent a great deal of effort, at no small cost to themselves in order to come to the aid of orthodox Anglicans in North America. They have done so generously and uncomplainingly.

Similarly, Fr Harris is jumping up and down about the Communion instruments and what signals they are or are not sending. The reality is that the intransigence of the US church has taken up an enourmous amount of time and energy in the Communion and we seen little or no thanks to the ABC and instruments for their good faith efforts with TEC.

So yes - I think the solution to these problems always has and will lie in North America. But perhaps a bit more generosity of spirit for those outside the US who have tried to help would be in order.

The idea that Americans of all stripes are being frozen out is so far from the truth of the efforts that so many have made - but perhaps things look different in the US.

Anonymous said...

The truth is, most of the AC is just fed up with all of you. The world does not revolve around you, as Americans are prone to think. You've lost all credibility - both of you are running off doing exactly what you want without any regard for the rest of the Communion. Try acting like adults and sort it out! What kind of Christian example are you to the rest of the world. The AC should lock +Duncan and +Schori in a room and not let them out until they've cut a deal. Grow up, for (literally) God's sake!

1662 BCP said...

Credibility/Incredibility, it will all appear to be the same to the nation this week. Like it or lump it, Gene Robinson will be, for them, the face of Anglicanism/Episcopalianism in America that they will all remember. I am not entirely certain how seriously people, in general, are taking the upcoming Constitutional Congress of the ACNA this Summer? There may, yet, prove to be an element of people who will not want to become part of ACNA, but who are not part of TEC; who see themselves as still being Anglican in some sense. The think-tank people and the oligarch-want-to-be people had better really be sure. Because for them, like the Flight of the Phoenix, they may only have one, last shot at this.

Allen said...

While Vickie Gene may be the "face" of North American Anglicanism, he isn't a voice...apparently his non-Christian prayer was edited out by technical (divine intervention) troubles during the Coronation Concert today. Gotta love how God won't be mocked by such a little mind.

Observer said...

"cut a deal" is not what the bible teaches us to do re how to deal with false teaching and divisions in the church....... 1 Corinthians 5-6...... we got into this mess by ignoring the bible and cutting deals, coexisting, turning a blind eye.....i.e. following the wisdom of the world in the church...perhaps time to return to the teaching of the apostles re church order, discipline and doctrine.

BB - beware of "peace talks"....they will be a political trap in order to get further delay out of the Primates.....because TEC's aim is to stay in the AC but be unconstrained nevertheless....don't fall for delaying tactic...... 1 Cor 5-6 is pretty clear on what needs to be done with a situation very similar to TECUSA in the AC