Yes, it's a little risky using hurricane imagery to talk about a meeting that is taking place in New Orleans. I certainly don't want to trivialize the unspeakable suffering that continues to be endured by the people of that great city (which I love from firsthand experience) and the entire gulf coast. But the metaphor is simply too apt to pass up. The eye of a hurricane is a place of eerie stillness following the first onslaught of winds and preceding the arrival of the other side of the storm, with winds blowing in the opposite direction.
Last week, the House of Bishops convened and met for a day and a half with the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with some members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. Only the bishops, of course, are privy to the full substance of what was said in that encounter, but between official press briefings and unofficial leaks we have enough information to know that there was an element of storminess--if not in the demeanor and language of the participants, at least in the sheer inherent angst of the situation. The fate of the Anglicanism itself--the third largest "brand-name" of Christian in the world today--pretty much hangs in the balance.
Tomorrow the bishops--Archbishop Williams now having flown home to Lambeth Palace--will get back down to work, trying to craft a response--a response to the rest of the Anglican world, a response to whatever Dr Williams put before them, but, most specifically, a response to the message that came when the Primates met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania some seven months ago. Will the House of Bishops agree to withhold consent to (we may as well put a real face on it) the election of Tracey Lind as Bishop of Chicago, should she indeed be elected by that diocese? Will they at least express a "mind of the house" that they will endeavor to suppress the practice of formal blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses, and demonstrate a willingness to hold one another accountable to that endeavor?
And in the event that their response will not be either simply Yes or simply No (and it's a pretty safe bet, IMHO, that it won't), then what will their response be? A couple of proposals--both emanating from the "conservative" side of the Great Divide--are getting a lot of play in the blogsphere, and have met with some cautious approval even from some on the "left." I am particularly drawn to an idea put forth by John Howe, the Bishop of Central Florida, which is itself a refinement of a plan articulated by Archbishop Williams himself more than a year ago in the wake of the 2006 General Convention. Those bishops who cannot in good conscience acquiesce to the mind of the larger Communion on human sexual morality, articulated in Lambeth I.10 (1998), would voluntarily withdraw from the councils of the Communion for an indeterminate time. Those bishops and dioceses that are able to abide by the constraints of the Windsor Report would continue in unimpaired good standing, but (and this is critical) remain within the structures of the Episcopal Church, albeit in a "partitioned" manner, creating a layer of necessary insulation. Moreover (and this, too, is critically important), those clergy and congregations that have come under the authority of offshore provinces would step away from those relationships and unite themselves with a Communion-affiliated diocese. The foreign Primates would relinquish their oversight of any American congregations and clergy.
In the event that something like this fails (and, sadly, I think there is a pretty good chance of that), then Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina has proposed an even bolder stroke: All American bishops (presumably including those recently consecrated by African jurisdictions) would agree to stay home from the 2008 Lambeth Conference, as a sacrificial offering for the good of the larger Communion. Failing the adoption of the Howe proposal, I hope the bishops give the Harmon alternative serious consideration.
In the meantime, however, on this Sunday evening, all is quiet. We're in the eye of the storm. The bishops spent yesterday in manual labor, helping with the reconstruction effort in Louisiana and Mississippi. Today they worshiped in various congregations in those two dioceses. They are being prayed for mightily all across this land and all over the world. If Anglican Christianity itself is to survive, they will need to find a way to color outside the lines. The entrenched positions of neither side will bear the freight that needs to be carried.
Today the Chicago Cubs, God's own team, reduced their Magic Number for clinching the National League Central Division title to four--there are thirteen remaining chances for either the Cubs to win or the Milwaukee Brewers to lose. Any combination of those events that totals four and the Cubs have it. If the kind of startling news I and many others are praying for comes out of New Orleans in a couple of days, I believe the Cubs will go all the way to the World Series, and even win it. Conversely, if the Cubs win the World Series, I will be optimistic for the future of Anglicanism. Hey, everybody has to pick their own tokens of hope. Those are mind. What are yours?