Sunday, March 18, 2007

On the Primatial Vicar Scheme

Not much news is coming out of Camp Allen, where the House of Bishops is sequestered. (I've been there, and they are sequestered; there's no place to stroll off to for diversion.) No one seems to be too concerned about that, since the Presiding Bishop made it clear some time ago that this meeting is for talking and the one six months from now is for deciding--namely, deciding how to respond to the unambiguous requests made by the Anglican Primates in Tanzania last month.

Most of the attention and energy of the Anglican blogsphere since the conclusion of the Primates' Meeting has been focused on the request for clarification of General Convention's response to the Windsor Report-- specifically that no more partnered gay candidates for the episcopate will receive the consent of the majority of bishops, and diocesan bishops will not permit the blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses. More or less slipping under the radar--since nothing has actually been requested of either house of General Convention on this--is the "scheme" for the creation of the Pastoral Council and the appointment of a Primatial Vicar, who will serve as a sort of para-primate for those dioceses and congregations that cannot in good conscience recognize and accept Dr Jefferts Schori in that role.

More lately, however, many on the Episcopal left are catching on that this may be the heavier of the two shoes that the primates dropped in Dar es Salaam. Their polemic against it is that it violates the polity of the Church-of-General- Convention; that there is no provision in the Constitution and Canons for any such arrangement. I'm not so sure that a skilled canon lawyer could not find a clear legal path from the status quo to the situation envisioned by the Primates (why are there no Anglican Jesuits?!), but I will grant that it represents a severe shock to the homeostasis of the system. Earlier today I spend considerable energy engaging a couple of interlocutors on the HoB/D listserv. In the interest of honoring the sacrifice of those brain cells that perished in the endeavor, I offer below a redacted version (so as not to run afoul of HoB/D listserv rules) of that exchange:

Q: Are the "Primatial Vicar Dioceses" just going to evolve into another Anglican province, a surrogate for the Church-of-General-Convention?

It's above my pay grade to answer that question definitively, but my sense is that it depends on what the HOB decides (not now, apparently, but in September) to do about the requests made by the Primates. If they can follow the lead of the Presiding Bishop and accede to those requests/demands, then the Primatial Vicar plan is provisional pending the ratification of an Anglican Covenant (for us, by GC in 2009). If they follow the lead of the some of the urban bishops and GC deputations who have already spoken out--then, yes, I can see the PV structure evolving into a replacement province, with its own synod, and its own seat at the primatial banquet table (with General Convention's PB missing).

Let me be clear here that this is not what I want personally. I hang with some people who do, but I have serious "words" with them in private. I want this all to hold together. But the PV plan is the only live option for making this happen. It's either that or another province six months from now. Hear me again: I want to remain connected in a formal way with the structures of General Convention. I'm trying to persuade other "conservatives" that this is a godly and worthwhile aspiration, espcially in light of today's (BCP) epistle reading from II Corinthians. Trust me, it's a tough sell, and it isn't made any easier by a rigid, slavish adherence to "polity." We need extra helpings of trust, imagination, and charity in order find the path I know God is trying to show us.

Q: Why do dioceses like San Joaquin want to even be Episcopalian if they can't abide by the constitution and canons of [the Church-of-General-Convention]?

A: This is hard to answer, because I am in many ways a voice crying in the wilderness here for even wanting to keep any connection. (Yes, there's Remain Episcopal/Via Media, but they look at the Church-of-General-Convention through rose-colored glasses, whereas I have a more realistic view.) A good many of our congregations have already bought the paint to change their signs from "Episcopal" to "Anglican" at a moment's notice. They see "Episcopal" as pretty much an albatross when it comes to evangelism, church growth, and relations with most other Christian churches. This is not my view, but it's the world I live in. At the last convention, I proposed inserting the phrase "in organic continuity with the life of the [PECUSA]" in our proposed new Article II. That motion when down like the Hindenburg. But in my ideal world, the PV dioceses would be a "church within a church," maintaining the familiar network of relationships and shared ministries as much as possible, but also able to establish some "distance" from the actions of the Church-of- General-Convention and its Presiding Bishop when that appears necessary. Yeah, it's a "have the cake and eat it too" scenario. As the Brits would say, "Not bloody likely."


Anonymous said...

Dan, I just wanted to thank you for hanging in there and continuing to engage with the folks on the HOD/B. It is often an irrationally hostile environment for discussion, and I appreciate reading your posts and being able to say to myself "Good! I'm not crazy after all! Or at least if I am, I'm in good company."

I also appreciate your continued attempts to maintain dialouge and to cling to the hope (as do I) that the church will find a way to hold together.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I, too, very much appreciate your contributions to the HoB/D list and to TEC, though I very often disagree with your conclusions, while still praising your efforts toward moderation. You're a good soul, I believe, and so I encourage folks to read you as a link from my parish blog --

As a person in the church who's passionate about finding a broadly acceptable way forward, I was struck by your notion of "in organic continuity w/ TEC." I appreciate that this raises the possibility of diversity within the One Body, but I wonder if it doesn't also underscore the recognition that the Body's constituent parts are necessarily changed by this "organic continuity."

As a person who's more than ready to run headstrong ahead re: glbt persons' dignity and rightful place in the Church, I recognize in myself a new tendency to take pause b/c, I believe, if a conclusion is too easy and comfortable for me, I can only assume it isn't the fullness of God's conclusion on the matter. I count this "smoothing" of my edges as a great gift from the Church -- though it often drives some of my friends and colleagues nuts and I find myself more often identified as a "conservative." I prefer "comprehensive."

Anyway, enough about me and what God's doing in my life. What about you and others who are so clear in your positions as to tec's infidelity to the gospel? How are you learning to take pause when you find your conclusions on matters of faith, scriptural authority, ecclesiastical order, and sexual ethics to be too easy and comfortable?

I had a basketball coach in junior high who taught us the basis for being good competitors -- gracious winners on some occasions and gracious losers on others. The trick? Respect the skill and integrity of the other team. You certainly have mine, and I trust I -- and others who believe like me -- have yours.

Grace & Peace to you!

Daniel Martins said...

Paul, your questions merit a blog post of their own. Stay tuned!

Marshall Scott said...

You know, Dan much of this revolves around a clarification that no one seems to be addressing: for which Primate(s) is the Primatial Vicar vicarious? I think it makes a great deal of difference whether the person is vicar for the Presiding Bishop, and so General Convention, (as was originally proposed, and rejected by at least a few Network bishops); or for the Primates as a whole (which seems to be the point of the Primates' Pastoral Council, although the Communique is somewhat ambivalent on the point); or for Canterbury specifically (which no one has explicitly said, but which some might want).

I think the decision of the House of Bishops reflected the second interpretation (although I expect they would have rejected the third as well). Last fall that "few Network bishops" rejected the first interpretation. But I don't know that we've come, really, to clarity that really allows clear decision.