LETTER FROM AMERICA

From the City of Brotherly Love

FIRST, SOME background :

At the '98 Lambeth Conference the Bishops present voted by a large majority to reaffirm Anglican and Catholic traditional teaching about marriage and sexual morality. This was in direct response to the declared espousal by many bishops in ECUSA in the USA of teachings and practices which ran clean contrary to that teaching.

Many of those present at Lambeth, especially Anglican bishops from Africa and Asia, hoped that the vote would, by itself, serve to moderate the attitude of their American colleagues. However, despite the most explicit warnings of the consequences if they decided to ignore the vote, many of them chose to do so, some adding insult to injury by voting in favour of the affirmation but following it up by a letter to their own dioceses publicly "apologising" to anyone whose feelings they might have hurt by voting in favour of the Lambeth resolution.

Actions have consequences. In this case two meetings took place called by Bishop Maurice Sinclair of the Southern Cone in South America, the first in Kampala, the second in Nassau to consider what response should be made to their colleagues' explicit rejections of a decision which had been passed by an overwhelming majority at Lambeth.

As you may know, between Kampala and Nassau, two bishops who had been present at Kampala decided to anticipate the second meeting in Nassau. Bishops Tay of Singapore and Kolini of Rwanda consecrated the American priests John Rogers and Chuck Murphy as their missionary bishops in America in what was to become known as the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA). I hope to write more informedly about the significance of this in February's New Directions after attending AMIA's first get-together in Pawley's Island, North Carolina, in January 2001.

Meanwhile, at Rosemont. Bishop Sinclair himself had, with a number of his fellow-primates, planned a strategy, in response to the "pastoral emergency" in the diocese of Pennsylvania. There the diocesan Bishop, Charles Bennison, who is an outspoken advocate of ordaining practising homosexuals, and has gone on record to the effect that since the Church wrote the Bible, she was at liberty to re-write it. In the light of this Sinclair decided that he, and a number of other non-American Anglican Primates would conduct a service of Confirmation in the Parish of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, in Bishop Bennison's diocese, regardless of whether the latter gave permission for it or not. This event, at which I was present, took place on Sunday 26 November.

Wisely, Bennison decided not to risk a confrontation, but issued an official invitation to Sinclair and his colleagues to conduct this confirmation in his diocese. He attended the Confirmation in person, sitting amongst the congregation in the Good Shepherd church which was already full to overcrowding an hour before the service was due to begin. Fr Moyer, who is both the Vicar of Good Shepherd and the President of Forward in Faith North America had effectively outfaced Bennison in view of the pastoral emergency that Sinclair and others recognized as justifying this extreme measure.

More than seventy candidates from several parishes were confirmed. The three confirming bishops were Maurice Sinclair of Southern Cone, Patrice Njojo, Archbishop of the Congo (who also preached the sermon - in French !) and Ray Smith, representing Bishop Goodhew of Sydney. Also present were Bishops Njenga (Mount Kenya South, representing the Province of Kenya), Ssekkadde (of Namirembe, representing the Province of Uganda), Macburney (formerly of Quincy), Herbert Groce (Archbishop of the Anglican Rite Synod of America, one of the Continuing Churches), and Fr Cantrell representing Iker of Fort Worth. The traditions which they represented were as different as the countries from which they had come.

Everyone was aware that history was being made by this service. It represented an unmistakable challenge not only to the beliefs and practices of bishops like Bennison but also to the much vaunted Anglican Episcopal principle of diocesan inviolability which decrees that, no matter how far astray a bishop may go, his colleagues will not intrude into his diocese without his permission. Bennison's invitation might have been seen as his attempt to spike the guns which had been mounted against him; but it was quite apparent to everyone present that such a massive invasion of bishops from outside the diocese was not only unique in the annals of Anglicanism, but an earnest of the seriousness with which Sinclair and others view the situation which has been allowed to develop more or less unchecked in ECUSA over the past forty or more years.

So what are the likely outcomes of Rosemont, 2000? Given that this article is being written less than an hour after the event in order for it to be included in December's New Directions, and before the dust has therefore had any chance to settle, it's foolish to try and answer that question in anything but the most tentative terms. For what they are worth, however, these are my thoughts as I look back on this evening's remarkable events.

At least somebody has done something. In the past, especially in the USA, those upholding the faith have invariably tended to shy away from confrontation. Rosemont 2000 was nothing of the kind. The Confirmation took place in the presence of a full church; since at least six non-American Primates of widely differing traditions performed or assisted in a sacramental act regardless of whether permission would be given by the diocesan bishop (though, in the event, it was) the principle of diocesan territorial inviolability, that Sacred Anglican Cow, so beloved by bishops was openly breached. This means that an important precedent has been set, and the question raised: if such a thing can happen in a diocese like Philadelphia, then why shouldn't it happen in others in future?

The next meeting of Anglican Primates in March at Kanuga, North Carolina will take place in the knowledge that Sinclair and his colleagues were perfectly serious in their threats to treat the whole of the USA as a potential case of "pastoral emergency". In the past, threats like these have not been carried through, confrontation has been eschewed by the Traditionalists and the majority of Anglican Primates has settled back in its comfortable belief that "they'd never do it" (whatever "it" might be). Moreover Sinclair and his colleagues will be producing a collection of essays for Kanuga entitled To Mend the Net which lays down a number of possible solutions to the problems generated by the seemingly irreconcilable rifts within the Anglican Communion not least of discerning how a fair deal can be available to people like Fr Moyer and his congregation. In other words the traditional Evangelical and Catholic Anglicans "Esteemed Place" in the communion, so often talked about but so seldom honoured, would be secured and guaranteed, perhaps by means of a Free Province, Flying Bishops, or the intervention of a Pastoral Emergency Squad as happened at Rosemont. The proposals put forward in this book are not yet public knowledge, but I understood from Bishop Sinclair that they will seek to ensure that those who uphold the Catholic Faith will not be held at the mercy of those who see the way forward consisting in adapting that faith to harmonize with the views of today's secular society, as they are at present.

In an imperfect world it is sometimes wrong to wait for a perfect solution to present itself before acting. No doubt it would have been preferable if the Church of England had waited to see how a Permanent Diaconate, open to men and women, actually worked out in practice before going ahead with the ordination of women priests (and inevitably bishops) with all the dubious concepts of Periods of Reception, Degrees of Provisionality, and the suspension of Canon A4 which that entailed. However, once it was decided to press ahead, it was essential to fight every inch of the way for alternative episcopal oversight. In America, by contrast, the initiative was largely lost by adopting a wait-and-see policy.

Priests like Fr Moyer and Bishops like Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Texas, and their families have had to endure hardships and opprobrium which most of us in England find it hard even to imagine. It's therefore our duty, whose position is relatively secure (note the emphasis) to be continually supporting them, in our prayers, our writings and not least by offers of hospitality when they come over to England.

There is a phenomenon in the USA similar to one which exists in certain traditionally Catholic dioceses in England. Over there it's called Fort Worth Syndrome. It says in effect We're all right. Our bishop/vicar is thoroughly orthodox so let's not worry too much. Let's just get on with the serious business of preaching the Gospel. It ignores, however the fact that Our Bishop/Our Vicar will only remain sound (a) until he dies, retires or moves elsewhere and (b) for as long as he knows he has the support of his fellow-believers. When that support begins to wane, or turn into complacency then the dreaded affliction of Father Fatigue will begin to take hold of him. There is only just so much aggro that the human being can stand, the more so if he is married and has a young family to bring up and support.

Having said all this, it's important to add that merely "being nice" to the enemies of the faith is not enough. Courteous - yes, of course, always. Lapses in courtesy are always regrettable whether they take the form of ill-concealed contempt for our opponents or an ill-timed public remark. These are the weapons employed by those who don't have a theological or rational leg to stand on. Such remarks and attitudes only tend to alienate uncommitted yet potentially useful support. But being nice, taking their friendly fašade as a sign that they really are on our side (as many of them still profess to be) should not blind us to the fact that they are complicitors, witting of otherwise, to an agenda which, if successful, would end for ever any claim of the Anglican Communion to be a legitimate guardian of the Faith once delivered to the saints.

It was enormously gratifying that Rosemont included supporters of all traditions. There were evangelical, charismatic and catholic parishes presenting candidates for confirmation, and both Orthodox and Continuing churches were represented amongst the clergy present and the bishops who confirmed the candidates represented traditions quite different from that which prevails at Rosemont. Somehow the mutual antipathy between Catholics and Evangelicals which is still prevalent in England seems to be a thing of the past in the USA. Would that the same could be said with such confidence in the Church of England!

As Winston Churchill might have said, Rosemont is not the End. It is not even the Beginning of the End. Just possibly it may be the End of the Beginning. If so, its importance for the future will be hard to exaggerate.

 

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Opening Page