Our Future in Question
The Bishop of Fort Worth explained his request for Alternate Primatial Oversight to the Living Church Foundation.
e are grateful to Archbishop Rowan Williams for his recent reminder to the church that ‘as has often been forgotten, the Lambeth Conference did resolve that, for the time being those churches that did ordain women as priests and bishops and those that did not had an equal place within the Anglican spectrum.’ The Anglican concept of an open process of reception holds that the verdict is still out on this one, until the whole Catholic Church comes to a consensus, on one side or the other of this contentious issue.
Since the introduction of the ordination of women to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church (TEC), first illegally, and then legally after the 1976 General Convention, the Diocese of Fort Worth has declared its opposition to this innovation. We then opposed the first ordination of a woman to the episcopate in 1989, in the same way and on the same grounds – as a matter of conviction and conscience. With the election of the first female Presiding Bishop in TEC, it is important to restate those grounds.
We believe these innovations, which affect ourkoinonia and communio in sacris both among Anglicans worldwide and with our senior ecumenical partners in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and ancient Oriental Orthodox churches, have insufficient warrant in Scripture, and no warrant or requirement in the apostolic tradition of the church, to justify such a change in the historic practice of the Church. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that fellow Anglicans abroad and fellow Episcopalians here sincerely believe otherwise.
While maintaining our own conviction about the sacramental validity of such ordinations, we have accepted the fact that women have met the canonical requirements in order to be ordained as priests and bishops in TEC. Parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth that require the ministry of ordained women, in consequence, have been able to do so through an arrangement with our neighboring Diocese of Dallas. As Bishop of Fort Worth, I have long experienced an impaired relationship with the House of Bishops of TEC, unable to share fully in eucharistic fellowship with all its members. Nevertheless, we have attempted to remain in the ‘highest possible degree of communion’ with other dioceses of TEC and with all those provinces in the Anglican Communion that have ordained women.
We now face acutely the question of our future in this church. It has long seemed clear to us that the respect we have shown for the opinions and actions of others has not been reciprocated. In 1997, the General Convention adopted canons making the ordination of women mandatory in every diocese of this church. The General Convention of 2000 created a task force charged with bringing into compliance the three remaining dioceses where women are not ordained or licensed as priests.
The task force entered this diocese and conducted interviews with those opposed to the official position of the diocese, without my permission as bishop, and indeed, even over my objections, at a time when I was out of the country on other business. We have long feared that the election in Fort Worth of a bishop opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood would not gain the required consents of the other dioceses of The Episcopal Church to allow the consecration to take place. For this reason, we made an appeal to the Archbishop’s Panel of Reference in July of 2005. That appeal is still pending.
We now face the prospect of a chief consecrator who is a woman at the consecration of the next bishop of this diocese. That clearly is unacceptable to us. A relationship of collegiality and shared apostolic ministry is seriously impaired when the Presiding Bishop is one whose orders we cannot in conscience accept.
The election of a woman as Presiding Bishop comes at a critical time in the life of the Church of England, as it has approved the initial steps to the issue of female bishops at General Synod this summer. We recall the sentiments of the Archbishop of Canterbury in a different context – the appointment of Jeffrey John to the See of Reading – when he said, ‘there is an obvious problem in the consecration of a bishop whose ministry will not be readily received by a significant proportion of Christians in England and elsewhere.’
An instrument of unity
The office of the Presiding Bishop is a symbol and principal instrument of unity in TEC. By the election of a woman to that office, dioceses and congregations that cannot in conscience receive her ministry are placed in an increasingly impaired relationship with the larger church in this country, which is not of their own choosing. Her election is naturally seen as a further imposition of the will of the majority on the three dioceses which are regarded as ‘non-compliant’ and obstructions to progress, rather than honored partners in ministry.
If the Diocese of Fort Worth and the dioceses of TEC which have accepted the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate are to live together in accordance with Resolution III.2 of the Lambeth Conference 1998, there needs to be a way forward which acknowledges the difficulties created by the election of a woman as Presiding Bishop.
We look to the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury for a solution to our dilemma, which will allow Resolution III.2 to have effect in The Episcopal Church and which will permanently allow this diocese that distinct theological integrity which Lambeth 1998 has assured to us, and which other Anglican dioceses and provinces presently enjoy.
We realize that the Archbishop of Canterbury has a limited sphere in which to maneuver. We do not seek the impossible. We ask for some pastoral strategy whereby we might come under his primatial oversight and pastoral care (or that of another appointed by him) until such time as the primates’ meeting and the other instruments of unity of the Communion are enabled to consider our predicament and offer us help and protection.
We cannot believe that because we are in a minority in this church we can be required to receive and endorse, in the person of the Presiding Bishop, a ministry which we have heretofore consistently, courteously and legitimately refused, and which is neither legitimate nor welcome in the greater part of the Communion.
We can live with variant practices and mutual respect on the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion Network. Why is this denied us in The Episcopal Church?
Bishop Jack Leo Iker
War of the Prophets
‘With Bishop Schori’s election, the church enters the twenty-first century world visibly representative of that world… The Holy Spirit does not label us, but calls us to witness to God’s love in ways that reach all people… The Holy Spirit stirs in this place.’ Thus spoke the Revd Junkin, St James, Laconia.
‘The Holy Spirit of God was operative (big time!) in the House of Bishops with the election of our new Presiding Bishop. Katherine Jefferts Schori is the very first woman Primate in history. The Episcopal Church has affirmed a place for all God’s people at every level. It only took 2006 years!’ Thus the Revd Bill Exner of St Matthew’s, Goffstown.
Foolish Church, for getting it so wrong for so many years! Such quotes are endless: suffice to say, this was felt to be a Spirit-filled event, with The Episcopal Church (TEC) leading the world as it followed a mysterious, invisible force that will one day enlighten the rest of us. But is this force the Holy Spirit, or something else altogether, our old friend the ‘Inner Light’ perhaps, or a darker entity altogether?
Fire on the mountain
Like the immoderate liberals, the traditionalist group stood out against obfuscation and gooey compromise. Like them again, they initiated something that had never been done before in the history of the Episcopal Church. Unlike their opposition, they were vastly outnumbered on the floor of the Convention, but allied with the consistent teaching of the Church and the overall consensus of Anglicans worldwide. These prophets were led by the diocesan delegation of Fort Worth, who stood alone amidst general rejoicing over the election of a new Presiding Bishop, to announce their request for immediate Alternate Primatial Oversight.
It was a singular moment; animated by the Spirit, both minor and major breeds of liberal had combined to bring clarity to the waters but the vote was out on whether traditionalists would be able to respond in kind. Only Fort Worth had the necessary cohesion to do so, and it should interest upholders of orthodoxy that this action was moved by Anglo-Catholics, by a force which any objective observer would consider well nigh spent. Still, Fort Worth appeared to be so outnumbered as to merit irrelevancy. Events post-Convention have proved otherwise.
So far, six dioceses have followed the Anglo-Catholic lead; CAPA and the Southern Cone have endorsed it, Nigeria has consecrated an American priest as a missionary bishop in the US, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged that serious and perhaps irreconcilable divisions exist within his polity. All this to say nothing of the continued drain of churches away from the inclusive TEC, not least several cardinal parishes, with membership in the thousands.
It appears that Fort Worth was not irrelevant but acted as a catalyst, being the prime mover in a necessary process of realignment. Bishop Nazir Ali of Rochester put it well in his sermon to the AAC at Columbus, ‘Fudge won’t do. Sometimes you have to recognize that there are two irreconcilable positions and you have to choose between them.’ The liberals too, both minor and major, realize as much.
Jim Naughton, of the Diocese of Washington D.C., speaks for them, ‘At some point we need to recognize, just for self-preservation, that meeting the needs of Rowan Williams’s diplomatic agenda could cost us evangelical opportunities in our own backyard. We have already alienated the people our actions were likely to alienate… Let’s not blow it by going all ‘wobbly’… I am so happy. So so happy. Those who want to go, have no reason to stay. God bless them.’
As the Bishop of Rochester reminds us, there comes a point when compromise does not work and it seems that this long overdue horizon has been reached in the US. There is no middle ground left, which leaves the prophets of either side locked in a face-off which promises to turn bloody. As Dr Virtue informs us, within less than a month after the close of Convention, three liberal bishops are about to present the bishop of San Joaquin, an Anglo-Catholic, because they ‘fear he will take his diocese out of The Episcopal Church.’ Whether they do or not, outspoken traditionalists should expect short shrift in mainstream TEC dioceses. And, to be fair, the same probably applies to their opposite number in the minority of dioceses controlled by FiFNA, or Network bishops. Battle lines have been drawn, whether for good or for ill.
Some, on both sides of the fence, will use this as an occasion for jingoism and an unchristian lack of charity, and we must remember that conflict in the Church is a tragedy, whether played out on the large stages of Conventions and Synods, or at the smaller, local and parochial level. Even so, we must discern the rights and wrongs of the opposing parties.
That the Holy Spirit is active in the Mystical Body of Christ is a given, that he was present at General Convention is also true; but whose side was he on? He cannot be on the liberal side because he is the Spirit of truth, which does not admit self-contradiction. But it is just this that the liberals are demanding us to accept, that the Spirit led the Church into grievous error for two millennia and then into truth in 2006, speaking, remarkably enough after all this time, to middle-class liberal protestants in Mid-West America. I suppose stranger things have happened at sea, but not by much.
Again, the Spirit is at unity in himself and brings this quality to the Church. As we have just seen, the liberals deny the former, and one would have to be blind indeed to say they encourage the latter. The Spirit they invoke must therefore be some other beast than the Person who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
This leaves the traditionalists led by the catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. As I recall, they did not presume upon the indwelling power of the Holy Ghost; they did stand for the Faith as received by all Christians, everywhere, from the days of the Apostles till now.
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