Of particular note, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya announced that an American, formerly an Episcopal priest, would be ordained a bishop with responsibility for a new diocese of that province formed in the United States. This will take place soon, and reportedly more than one Primate will participate. Letters of support have been received from Nigeria, Uganda, and the Southern Cone. You can read it all at all the usual suspects.
Not surprisingly, this has caused a great deal of speculation and anxiety. Those criticizing the action have decried it as a new violation of Anglican provincial boundaries; but they have also suggested that it is evidence that these Global South efforts to invade Episcopal space are “fragmenting.” Those supporting the action have seen it as additional evidence of the commitment of virtuous Global South primates to the care of beleaguered conservative evangelical Episcopalians and ex-Episcopalians. The letters of support suggest that the various efforts, including this latest, are in fact coordinated.
Wednesday I made this comment in responding to the reports on Thinking Anglicans:
The association of separated congregations in the United States with the Province of Kenya is not new, if it has for some time been under the radar. According to an Anglican Mainstream news release, they have 25 congregations - all associated quietly while CANA has gotten all the press.
Much of the difference is because many if not most of these congregations have never been part of the Episcopal Church, although many of the clergy and parishioners have. I'm not aware of significant fights over property, for example. Another difference is that this has taken place in what many in the media consider "flyover" country - away from the major news centers of either American coast. The formative meetings have been taking place in Memphis, Tennessee, and these are small congregations scattered over the American Midsouth. Finally, they have not previously been centralized under one bishop. Instead, a number of Kenyan diocesans have accepted oversight of a few churches each.
Some time ago, Archbishop Williams spoke sadly of the Orthodox experience, with Greek, Russian, Serbian, and other traditions in communion with Constantinople having overlapping territories in the United States and elsewhere. He did not want that to happen in the Anglican Communion. In the United States, I fear it's a little late. Rwanda has long overseen AMiA. Nigeria has a bishop for Nigerian churches, and Kenya will soon have one for churches associated with various dioceses. Will Uganda be far behind?
Nor do I think of this as "splintering." For all the media attention of Archbishop Akinola, Archbishops Orombi, Mzimbi, and Kolini have not been idle. They may be quite happy for a while with a structure more like the Orthodox - not so unlike the Anglican Communion, but with a greater sense of common beliefs - and overlapping, mutually respectful jurisdictions within the "mission field" of the United States. I don't think we on the progressive side should expect them to fall to infighting too quickly, as long as they continue to have a "common enemy" (the Episcopal Church) and a belief that we have left this "mission field" open.
But in the face of this, what are we to do, we in the Episcopal Church? That’s been a question that’s been asked for some time, really. From the creation of AMiA in the Singapore ordinations to confirmations in Ohio to the “Hope and a Future Conference” to the ordination of Bishop Minns, someone has said, “Why doesn’t (Williams or Griswold or Jefferts Schori) prevent (Akinola or Orombi or Lyon from coming; or Duncan or Iker or Schofield from changing canons; or – well, you get the picture)?
But in fact there are real limits to what we can do. We may be annoyed and offended that foreign bishops might come to the United States to interfere in our churches, but we can do little to prevent them. After all, we don’t determine who gets a visa, or who makes it through Customs. In practical terms, there’s no more we can do to prevent Akinola visiting America to visit like-minded members of the Episcopal Church than if he were simply coming on vacation. Archbishop Williams could express an opinion. Indeed, he has, as have Bishops Griswold and Jefferts Schori, and all have been at best ignored and at worst ridiculed. And none of them has juridical authority to stop it. We value our Episcopal perspective on autonomy in the Anglican Communion, but there are times it cuts both ways. So, there’s little that can be done that way. Violating and attempting to displace the Episcopal Church may be bad ecclesiology, but it’s not unlawful in a way the folks in Immigration and Customs Enforcement will notice.
More might have been done to challenge and inhibit (in both general and technical senses) the Episcopal clergy who facilitated and participated in these events. But even that has its limits. If the cleric is involved is prepared to walk away from the Episcopal Church, there’s little for a bishop or diocese to do. Our most severe punishment is “deposition” – the loss of the job and of the status as cleric within the Episcopal Church. We don’t claim to remove the “indelible mark” received in ordination; and if some new community is prepared to acknowledge it and to license the bearer, loss of our license seems to be a small issue. In a way, that’s highlighted by the new Kenyan diocese in America, and by the longer efforts of AMiA. Most of those congregations have never been Episcopal per se, even if most of their clergy and parishioners once were. “Individuals can leave the Church, but congregations and dioceses can’t.” True as it is, it doesn’t prevent those individuals who have left from reforming as new entities and making new ecclesial connections. That’s what we witnessed in the 1970’s and 1980’s over the related concerns of the ordination of women and Prayer Book revision. It’s what we’re witnessing now over concerns of authority, interpretation of scripture, and participation of GLBT persons in the life of the Episcopal Church. We can decry it. We can point out to the current folks how little the previous schismatics accomplished. But we can’t just put a stop to it.
On this I think the statement from the Executive Council is right: what we have to offer is who we are, as we are. As much as some might wish it, both within and without the Episcopal Church, we have made a stand that we value both our international Anglican relations and our internal commitment to a welcome so profound as to result in inclusion for all God’s children in this Church. We have said we will support what we can, pursue what we can; but that we will not be driven and we will not be panicked. We will work with those who will work with us, and will pray that those who won’t might change their mind. Bishop Jefferts Schori has suggested the Episcopal Church has a special vocation within the Anglican tradition, to model living together in the midst of difference. Several of us in the blogosphere have made similar suggestions, if in different images. We will continue to pursue our special vocation, and see what the fruits are.
And in the meantime, I fear we will have to live with this “balkanization” of the Anglican tradition in North America, and perhaps elsewhere. Today on Episcopal Café I commented again, saying in part,
I do think the Primates involved (Akinola, Mzimbi, and Kolini so far; and can Orombi be far behind?) have given up on a Canterbury-centered, much less Canterbury-mediated, result. I also think they're less anxious about the sort of "balkanization" we see among various Christian Orthodox traditions in the United States. In my metropolitan area we have Greek, Serbian, Antiochian, and Russian congregations (including both OCA and ROCOR). They don't do much together, but they don't bad-mouth each other, either, or at least not in public. We also have AMiA, Anglican Rite Catholic, Ugandan, and Anglican Church in America/TAC congregations. Along the same line, they don't seem to do anything together, but neither do they bad-mouth each other. For all Archbishop Williams' decrying of it, that sort of "Orthodox-style" overlapping of jurisdictions is already functional here. The Primates involved are, I think, less anxious about that, as long as there are enough disaffected Episcopalians to start a congregation and then to reach out into what they clearly see as an open mission field. They're praying hard for laborers to go out and harvest; and they've discounted us from being coworkers in the field to being at best wheat to be saved, and at worst tares to be burned.
Perhaps it’s time to accept the facts before us, and commit ourselves to being who we are, living out our vocation. Perhaps in time we will be able to relate to these new entities from the Anglican tradition, and they to us, politely, if not too often, recognizing in one another a common faith growing from common roots.