I mentioned that other events were happening, and that other events could affect the process of brainstorming. New information and new events can create new possibilities.
I think one of those happened today. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference for the Anglican Communion has today issued its report and recommendations regarding differences between the Diocese of Florida and the Church of the Redeemer in Jacksonville. I encourage it be read in full. (Thanks to dailyepiscopalian for this.)
I think the most important aspect of this report is the set of recommendations in paragraphs 35 through 37. In all essentials, the recommendations accept the plan of Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) as described by the House of Bishops in its March 2004 report "Caring for all the Churches." This plan was subsequently endorsed in the Windsor Report. The Panel’s report calls for a “neighbour” bishop, one who lives “in reasonable geographic proximity.” Communication would be reestablished between diocese and congregation, including reinstatement of clergy. The clergy and congregation would be expected to participate in the life of the diocese, including participation in the diocesan convention, and contributing financially to support of diocesan programs (taking advantage of an option already provided by the diocese that no money from the congregation go to national programs of the Episcopal Church). The authority of the bishop of Florida is established, and the “neighbour” bishop “would have an oversight extended to him or her from the diocesan bishop, which would include effective and necessary sharing of decisions with regard to clergy appointments for the parish and ordination process.” On the other hand, “participation of the ‘neighbour’ bishop in ordination process and clergy appointments for the Parish would be such that decisions relating to these would require the signature of the ‘neighbour’ bishop together with that of the diocesan bishop.” Finally, the oversight of the Madi/West Nile Diocese of the Province of Uganda would end.
From this outcome has come another idea for the brainstorming process. I have suggested already that House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church could establish a “primatial vicar” model for oversight on its own. They could even, I think, do so immediately, at least provisionally, with plans to seek confirmation by General Convention in 2009.
Having prepared a model, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, or Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop, could present an appeal to the Panel of Reference. The appeal could certainly be prepared well before the September deadline in the Tanzania Communique. The appeal could emphasize the Episcopal Church’s “primatial vicar” plan as an extension of DEPO, already recognized by the Windsor Report and by the Panel of Reference. The appeal could embrace those dioceses that have requested “alternative” oversight. I think this would have some interesting advantages.
- The Panel of Reference has established a history of recognizing the institutional, provincial integrity of the Episcopal Church.
- The DEPO program has the institutional imprimatur now of recognition both in the Windsor Report and by the Panel. Presenting a “primatial vicar” plan, established and executed solely on American initiative, as an extension of this framework extends that imprimatur.
- The Panel has established a pattern, in what few results we have from them, of preferring a return to established institutional boundaries while efforts at reconciliation are pursued. This pattern, expressed explicitly in this report, would strongly encourage maintaining within the Episcopal Church those dioceses and congregations that have sought to leave, at least until the Panel responds.
- The Panel has also established a pattern of withholding consideration while issues are being pursued in civil courts. With their preference for maintenance of the status quo ante, this would maintain real property within institutions of the Episcopal Church, again at least until recommendations were received. Both dioceses and congregations would save a lot of money in the meantime. Once recommendations were received, both dioceses and congregations would have some better guidance on how to negotiate reconciliation or separation.
- As the Panel is a creature of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he could hardly ignore the Panel’s recommendations. Neither, I think, could he issue any sort of “peremptory judgment” while the Panel consideration was in process (including excluding American bishops from Lambeth).
All in all, this seems to have a lot to say for it.
We can all be appreciative of the Panel of Reference. They make efforts to be thorough in their process and equitable in their considerations. In light of all the heat generated by passionate statements, I think we might meaningfully try ourselves working with folks who seem to pursue a reasonable process.