27 March 2007

A Little Further Ahead.

The Rev'd Dr. Ephraim Radner continues the line of thought begun below:
It is a maddening time within American Anglicanism. Even in the last few days, there is a new restlessness born of the energies of sorrow and hope both, as they seek some resolved path ahead. A few days ago, I wrote about the need to take this time seriously indeed. I wrote in terms of conservative presence within the Episcopal Church, and its now apparent incongruity with the official structures of our leadership. “Normative Christianity” (as one friend has put it) has been demoted and even banished: the Episcopal Church has declared independence. We must take our stands.
Thus, we are no longer in a position to avoid making conscious and determined choices regarding our vocation as Anglican Christians within the Episcopal Church. From one perspective, that has always been the case. The faithful are called to know what they are about, to “count the cost” of their following of our Lord. But at least from the perspective of the larger church of which we are a part – the Anglican Communion – some of those choices have remained provisional, in large part because, although the stakes have been clear enough, the paths offered for acting responsibly and in concert with brothers and sisters within the larger church have not been practically articulated. Many individuals and congregations have therefore been in a position of choosing their way in a fashion that has, by the nature of the moment, been more or less idiosyncratic. This time of obvious provisionality is now past.
We must now choose our way with respect to the Communion, and choose it in a manner that can be evaluated rather clearly according to the Communion’s own calling. This is so because the Communion has moved through very important, articulated and clear phases of reflection and action, especially most recently at Dar es Salaam. For that we are profoundly grateful.
The key now is to work with the Communion in as focused and effective a way possible. In this case, “the Communion” has offered a way, and they have done so in as clear and unified a fashion possible. All Primates agreed to the Communiqué, both African, Western, Northern and Southern. They may in fact go home to play another tune – we know that this happens all the time with meetings. Nonetheless, the agreement stands, and it represents in fact a rather surprising unanimity on matters concrete and disciplinary within this varied gathering of churches. The agreement stands, and it is up to the Primates to hold accountable their colleagues. It is also up to people like us, simple laborers in the vineyard, to hold up to our leaders the shape of that calling they themselves have voiced, and to do what we can to further its accomplishment. It is past time to claim technical difficulties or polity constraints – after all, the communiqué was not a debating piece, but rather offered a way forward for a part of the family all had agreed had acted preemptively, if not also in clear contradiction to the faith and teaching as received in this church.
It is clear that the official structures of TEC have rejected the plea made to them, or have begun to do so in respect of what was, if we be honest, a critical effort at peace-making: the Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar scheme. Will the Bishops by 30 September agree to other requests made of them or are we seeing the handwriting on the wall? I fear the answer to that seems virtually foregone.
To this degree, then, we now stand apart from them, and our work stands apart from theirs. If this puts us in conflict with these structures and their representatives, so be it. How one chooses to respond to this conflict represents the options I listed earlier: one can understand its reality in one’s heart, yet choose to avoid it, by retiring to a protected space within the battle; one can seek a place apart from the center of the conflict, by transferring one’s structural allegiance to a group outside TEC and (one hopes) thereby avoiding direct confrontations with the Communion-recalcitrant of the Episcopal Church; one can, on the basis of a judgment that the conflict itself is without evangelical or perhaps more personally, emotional merit, discern the life of the Church as calling one into another tradition altogether. As I wrote, each of these choices, made in the face of now open conflict with the official structures – in this case, the very “mind” of our bishops gathered – has things to recommend as well as to criticize it. But the choice, to repeat, is about what is now an open conflict with the structures of TEC as they stand apart from the communion in Christ we understand to order our ministries.
As I wrote earlier, my own sense of this moment – one I share with many colleagues – is one that remains consistent with long-standing commitments:
a. As an Anglican Christian, I continue to wish to give myself to the vocation of Anglicanism within the larger Church, one of embodying a faithful Scriptural and ministry to Christ Jesus within the difficult yet glorious discipleship of “communion”. I continue to believe that this is an imperative gift to offer the larger Church in a time of wrenching human confusion and uncertainty in the trust of the Gospel within the world. I remain an Anglican, because I believe that God continues to give us work to do.
b. Because the Primates – as those asked to respond to the threats against this Anglican vocation – have offered together a way forward, I believe it is best to follow this way as far as one can from within the position God has placed us – in this case, Americans within TEC. How do this, if TEC’s own bishops as a group have rejected this way?
i. Those bishops who do not in fact share the “mind” of the House of Bishops, must say so openly and separate themselves from that mind; they must have a different mind, a mind that is at one with the larger church’s.
ii. They must respond positively to the Primates’ request, by publicly acceding to their recommendations, both in word and deed: clarifying their own commitments on matters under dispute, and following through with the request to gather and nominate a Primatial Vicar to a Pastoral Council – now seemingly capable of being made up only of 3 persons, given TEC’s refusal to participate. What the Council does with this rests in their hands; but “communion-minded” American bishops must at least do their part.
iii. Individual congregations and clergy and laity within TEC should encourage Communion-minded bishops to this work, by urging them forward and committing themselves to the Pastoral Scheme as it unfolds under the direction of the Communion and the Communion-minded. Such a commitment could be given in a number of ways, but it should be done openly and clearly.
iv. Communion-minded bishops and their supporters may indeed face sanctions from the official structures of the TEC – other bishops, the legal offices of 815 and the Executive Council. This will represent the practical side of the conflict now upon us. But be of good cheer – He has overcome the world.
v. We must in all things act together, and not apart. Shall there perhaps be a moment on October 1st when we shall stand as one mind and one heart? But if this is to happen, the choices we make today must move in this direction and not another.
Some have wondered if I am counseling us to “leave” the Episcopal Church. There are certainly ways to do this that are unambiguous, and I am not in a position to judge those who take such an unambiguous path. However, for those like myself who are committed to the Communion path outlined above, “leaving” is not as clear as it may seem. We have not moved; last week, our bishops as a House have moved.
In such a situation, the readjusting of relationships will, as I have said, engage an inevitable conflict. This could well “feel” like leaving to some, I have no doubt. It will certainly be filled with anguish, as I feel every day. But steadfastness in this course is not flight or abandonment of anyone. We can respect the choices of our House of Bishops as choices made openly and honestly.
But our own choices can likewise be made with integrity, precisely as they remain consistent with the vows we have all taken to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” and the “heritage” of the Great Church God would have rise up again the sight of all the world.
–The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner is rector of Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, Colorado, and a fellow of the Anglican Communion Institute. Dr Radner wishes to thank Christopher Seitz and Philip Turner for their input on this piece.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home