Perhaps there is a tiny part of me that is autistic. Friends will attest that I'm not fond of surprises, and last minute changes in plan elevate my anxiety in not-too-pleasant ways. When a course has been laid, I'm for staying the course. Yes, circumstances change, and sometimes flexibility is a necessary virtue. But, just as often, I see people going into a panic when a well-conceived plan encounters turbulence. Peter Senge, one of the gurus of the "science" of leadership and institutional behavior, in his 1990 seminal work The Fifth Discipline, talks about the principle of "delay." Feedback from any particular behavior may not be immediate; it is usually delayed. Hence, individuals and organizations often persist in harmful behavior because negative feedback is not readily forthcoming, or desist from beneficial behavior because positive feedback does not immediately ensue. Sometimes doing the right thing is counterintuitive, and requires great patience and tenacity.
Last summer, some seven dioceses of the Episcopal Church requested, in one way or another, a formal relationship with a primate--and therefore an alternate visible connection with the rest of the Anglican Communion--other than the Presiding Bishop. (My diocese--San Joaquin--was one of them.) This request was made specifically to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and generally to the Primates collectively.
In early autumn, the Bishop of Texas convened and hosted a group of twenty or so diocesan bishops who were willing to commit themselves to the principles of the Windsor Report as the best way forward for the unity of the Anglican Communion. The bishops of the seven dioceses that had earlier requested "alternate primatial oversight" comprised a subset of this group.
Then, two months ago, the Primates met in Dar es Salaam. After an agonizing few days--filled with sweat and tears, if not blood--they issued a statement bringing the principles of the Windsor Report to bear on the crisis that has beset the Episcopal Church, a crisis into which the rest of the Communion has been dragged. All of the primates who were present "signed on" (whether literally or figuratively) to this statement, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
The seven 'APO dioceses' had been patiently waiting for this event. The news that came out of Tanzania at the last minute on that final day of the meeting was, by most accounts, worth the wait. The Primates set forth a surgically precise plan which provided the 'APO dioceses' with the degree of insulation they required, while preserving the essential institutional integrity of TEC while the Anglican Covenant process plays itself out.
Regretably, a solid majority of the House of Bishops, when they met in March, opted for short-sighted provincialism masked as "self-differentiation." They summarily spurned the Primates' carefully crafted plan for a Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar. The odd thing in this, of course, was that the bishops were presuming to answer a question that had never been put to them in the first place. The PC/PV requires no assent or cooperation from the HOB to be implemented. It does require the cooperation of the Presiding Bishop in two ways: Consenting to the candidate for Primatial Vicar and delegating to the PV certain of her duties with respect to the APO dioceses. (She is also invited to name two members of the Pastoral Council, but the plan can still go forward without this aspect of her cooperation.)
Unfortunately, and, I presume, much as they hoped and intended, the actions of the HOB have had a chilling effect on much of the initial enthusiasm among "orthodox" American Anglicans for the PC/PV proposal. Many have declared it dead in the water. Nonetheless, I hope not, and I pray not. In this hope and prayer I am joined, at least, by the other members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin, as our letter of earlier this week indicates.
For APO dioceses, the Primates' plan is still the only viable option on the table--at least, if complete ecclesial anarchy is to be avoided, including the de facto dissolution of the worldwide Anglican Communion. We asked Canterbury and the Primates for help. They listened to our plea and considered what we needed. Then, in Tanzania, they spoke with a united voice. Unless we are to surrender to virtual lawlessness, this is the path on which we must persist, despite attempts at discouragement such as issued from the HOB in March. We must not allow ourselves to become victims of the principle of "delay" and quit doing the right thing just because initial feedback is not positive.
It will no doubt be tempting--and one already hears rumors--for some of the APO dioceses--which, one must remember, are only a little more than half of the 'Network' dioceses, which are, in turn, only about half of the 'Windsor' dioceses, which, in turn, are less than one-fifth of all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church--to rush ahead into a minimalist deal that can be made now rather than the more comprehensive and far-reaching deal that can be made a few months from now if some patience and humility are exercised. Better, in this case, to emulate crafty Jacob rather than hungry Esau.
But we can't do it alone. We need a little help from our friends--friends who may not at present be in the exact same place we are with respect to primatial oversight, but who are close enough to empathize, and realize that we may be blazing a trail that they will one day be reluctantly required to tread thesmelves. We need the Windsor (aka Camp Allen) Bishops to step up and do their part. The Primates, in their Dar es Salaam Communique, gave overt recognition to this group, and tasked them with the responsibility of nominating a candidate for Primatial Vicar to the Pastoral Council. My friends (and some of them are literally my friends): You have a duty to do. Please do it, and do it now. Yes, it will be costly. It will cost whatever "comity" may exist within the House of Bishops. That's a heavy price to pay. But the breakup of Anglicanism is a heavier one. The forces of fragmentation and atomization are powerful, and they cloak themselves in the high-sounding rhetoric of autonomy, democracy, and inclusiveness. Resist them, firm in your faith. Take a deep breath, summon your guts, get yourselves together and name a Primatial Vicar. You'll feel better in the morning.