Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Canterbury's Attempted Clarification

After the confusing letter to Bp. Howe, Dr. Williams' press officer, the Rev. Jonathan Jennings, offered a clarification. Here's part of it:

..."The primary point was that -- theologically and sacramentally speaking -- a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses," he added. "The diocese is more than a 'local branch' of a national organization. Dr. Williams is clear that, whatever the frustration with the national church, priests should think very carefully about leaving the fellowship of a diocese. The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr. Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church."
Um, that clear now? The theological priority is the diocese, but the province is "significant," for administrative and other "practical" reasons.

Can we then allow that thinking to ripple outward? Might the province be of more theological significance than the Communion, which is really only useful for administrative and other more practical matters?

I think I know what Dr. Williams and his spokesperson are trying to say, but it seems to be unnecessarily muddled, and so more open to interpretation by those currently grabbing at straws to justify schismatic acts. When one is so desperate that "any straw will do," one bearing the signature of Canterbury is indeed a very fine piece of straw.

"Where the bishop is, there is the church." That quote from Ignatius of Antioch is the basis by which we recognize that the diocese is the fundamental unit of the church. Priests represent the bishop. The deacon serves at the will of the bishop. The bishop is the chief pastor of every congregation of the diocese. That is as it should be. It keeps us from the danger of "congregationalism" (my parish is all that matters) and draws us into a vision of God's mission that moves beyond our local concerns.

So far, so good.

Yet, this vision does not end with the diocesan bishop. It is through our bishop that we are connected with the House of Bishops, represented by a Presiding Bishop. This keeps us from the temptation to fall into the faulty thinking that "my diocese is all that matters," which is actually just a slight variation of congregationalism.

There's a big temptation to adopt that mindset right now, on both sides of the current unpleasantness. I am blessed to be in a diocese that will be fine, regardless of what happens within the larger Communion. I also serve under the authority of a bishop whom I trust, making it much easier to accept his guidance. It would make life much simpler if I felt I didn't need to be concerned about what is going on in Fort Worth, or San Joaquin or Pittsburgh. But, God's mission is not limited to the boundaries of my diocese. If other fields are God's concern, then they must be my concern as well.

It is through the Episcopal Church that I am connected with a global mission, through the Anglican Communion. The spirit of the living God flows throughout the world. That seems to imply that, if I want it to be so or not, what happens in Tanganyika, or in Brazil, has to be part of our mission.

This is one of the primary reasons that I am an Episcopalian; we are engaged in a mission that encompasses the entire globe. That is the significant value of being a part of the Anglican Communion. Personally, it is for me the only value added.

I understand that Dr. Williams was making a point that he hoped would stop some clergy in Florida from breaking away from the diocese. My concern is that it gives the impression that the diocese should be our greatest concern. I find that notion quite troubling.

God is moving among us; in our congregations, our diocese and throughout the world. We do not exist for the sake of our congregations, our diocese, or the Episcopal Church. We exist for the sake of the world. If we lose that vision, all our efforts will be as straw.

On a lighter note, I believe Andrew has come up with the best solution to all this confusion. Do go take a look.


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