Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Anglican Bishops and Light Bulbs

There have been announcements of yet more Americans elected or received to serve as bishops for American congregations under the jurisdiction of Anglican provinces in Africa. The Rev. Bill Murdoch has been elected by the Province of Kenya to work with the Bishop-elect Bill Atwood in caring for American congregations. (One has to wonder how this will affect his current position as a parish rector in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.) In addition, the Rt. Rev. Andrew Fairfield, retired bishop of North Dakota, has resigned from the Episcopal House of Bishops and has been received into the House of Bishops of the Church of the Province of Uganda. (Again, one hopes that, like Bishop Bena when he retired from Albany and was translated to Nigeria for CANA, Bishop Fairfield will ask for an appropriate letter dimissory.) Both events have been noted on Thinking Anglicans.

The same post also cites a post at Anglican Mainstream. The text is short, consisting primarily of the names of American men elected and/or received to serve ministries of various African provinces. The post notes that the number is now eleven, and closes with the statement, “The Province of Wales has six bishops, the Scottish Episcopal Church has seven.”

The import of the statement is pretty clear: if we have more bishops than either of these Provinces, shouldn’t we be our own province? Just how many bishops does it take to make a province?

Not that many, really. There are a number of Anglican provinces with many fewer bishops than the large Houses of the Church of England or the Episcopal Church or the Church of Nigeria (Anglican). Bangladesh has three. Burundi has six, as does South East Asia. Papua New Guinea has seven. Indeed, Rwanda has only fourteen, and that’s including the five bishops of AMiA. (Numbers gleaned from the Anglican Communion web site.) Clearly, organizing as a Province of the Anglican Communion is not about numbers of dioceses or of bishops.

Nor, strictly speaking, is it about geography, although the Episcopal Church with its jurisdictions literally around the world is the exception and not the rule. On the other hand, jurisdictions of four different provinces coincide in Europe (the English Diocese in Europe, the American Churches in Europe of the Episcopal Church, the Lusitanian (Portuguese) Church, and the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain).

Nor is it about commonality of culture or language. At this point the Episcopal Church may appear exceptional once again; and yet I’m not so sure. Are North Americans and Micronesians and Ecuadorians more varied than the various peoples of South East Asia or of West Africa? I won’t pretend I’m an expert, but I think the various communities of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East represent distinctly different cultures.

And neither is it roots directly in the Church of England. While that’s true of many provinces, Mexico, Central America, and the Philippines at least have their roots in the Episcopal Church

No, while I think all these characteristics may play some role in the formation of a Province, the critical issue is recognition. These other factors may aid in receiving recognition, and especially historical roots in another Anglican province. However, the critical piece is recognition – critically by Canterbury, and then also by other Provinces of the Communion.

Now, with all that there is something attention-getting about the numbers. For those who would wish to see the Episcopal Church displaced by a new “orthodox Anglican” province within the United States, eleven bishops is perhaps a good start. Add in another twenty-odd from the Common Cause partners (setting aside for the moment that these are relationships that have yet to be defined), and you’ve got quite a collection.

But at heart this is not about numbers – not numbers of bishops, nor numbers of parishioners. It’s about “being right,” and “being recognized as right” (in quotations because, of course, anyone still actively involved in the argument is convicted of the rightness of his or her position, and of the arguments he or she uses to support it). This has been, all too often, been about “Daddy (or Family), I love you. Show me you love me best.” It has been about Canterbury, and whom Canterbury would recognize; and now that Rwanda has interpreted Canterbury’s invitations to Episcopal bishops as Canterbury “taking sides,” they see little reason to wait on, much less work with, “Daddy” any longer. Of course, they haven’t put it quite that way. But Lambeth is Daddy’s – excuse me, Canterbury’s – biggest party, and not unlike the older brother of the Prodigal Son, they don’t want a party held.

And so some, including by implication posters for Anglican Mainstream, are ready to argue for a new province, justified by theological position, but somehow critically strengthened by “more bishops than thou.” “If Daddy won’t recognize us (and un-recognize those others), we’ll look for a new family.” Many of us thought this was coming. I guess now they feel they have enough bishops to turn on the light.

UPDATED July 5:

Mark Harris of Preludium lists "thirteen or so," and has pictures. Read his post and the comments.

1 comment:

aaronorear said...

From an unabashed liberal viewpoint, this is good news. At this rate there soon will be nobody in the pews of breakaway parishes...because they'll all be crowded into the cathedra.