Written for RUACH, journal of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus
Moving Toward Columbus
I have been pondering the concept of productive waiting.
It is a concept with which most women will be familiar. God knows women and our male allies working for change in our church have had to learn patient and productive waiting or go mad in the process. We have learned that productive waiting is as action-filled a process as it is a reflective one. It allows us time to think before we act, an increasing rarity in these days of instantaneous Internet hyperbole.
Our church is now moving through what many describe as a time of turmoil. There are those who are working hard to keep things as stirred up as possible in the wake of the prophetic actions of General Convention 2003. One tool they are using to great effect is the Windsor Report. They make loud and repeated demands that The Episcopal Church “submit” to it and use disinformation to stir up as much anxiety as possible.
It is at times like these that The Women’s Caucus’ gift of being a calm presence is most valuable. This has been especially true at recent General Conventions, when the hysteria of a few privileged white males threatened to infect usually calmer folks.
So how to turn the remaining time until General Convention 2006 into a time of productive waiting instead of a time of anxiety, name-calling and fear? Information is our best weapon against the fog of words being put out by those threatening schism.
Here are facts some are trying mightily to obscure:
* The Anglican Communion is not a church. It is a fellowship of highly autonomous provinces.
* Lambeth has no legislative power. In “The Study of Anglicanism,” John Booty and Stephen Sykes wrote, “The Lambeth Conference has remained a deliberating body convened solely at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whatever the respect according to its deliberations, it has no canonical or constitutional status.”
* The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting were first grouped in the 1997 Virginia Report which preceded Lambeth 1998. In that report these entities were called “World-Wide Instruments of Communion” in a chapter discussing ideas that the bishops at Lambeth might choose to explore. The authors of the Windsor Report introduced the term “Instruments of Unity” for the first time in 2004.
* The Primates have met regularly only since 1979. At that first meeting, the Primates themselves defined the meeting’s purpose as “not being a higher synod but a clearing house for ideas and experience through free expression, the fruits of which the Primates might convey to their churches.”
* Who decides who is a member of the Anglican Communion and who is not? We might look for an answer in the Canons of the Church of England. Rule 54(5) of the Church Representative Rules provides that “if any question arises whether a Church is in communion with the Church of England, it shall be conclusively determined for the purposes of these rules by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.”
And as for the Windsor Report itself, it is a flawed document that focuses so tightly on Institutional Preservation that it leaves no room for the workings of the Holy Spirit.
It does recognize that The Episcopal Church and the Canadian Church acted within the bounds of their Canons and Constitution, but after that, it goes downhill.
The WR is not a piece of legislation, it is a report that seeks to start a discussion, not end one. It contains a laughably inaccurate account of the history of the ordination of women and its reception in the Communion, and skates very lightly indeed over the way the Communion historically has dealt with anyone other than white males.
Worse, it proposes a completely un-Anglican confessional document and calls for a highly centralized non-elected authority of clerics to run the Anglican Communion. It also calls for a convoluted process by which all Episcopal elections anywhere – and one assumes appointments in the places where bishops are appointed, not elected – would have to be approved by the entire Communion, as would other controversial matters. One assumes this unelected Curia would get to decide what is “controversial” and what it not.
It calls on The Episcopal Church to impose indefinite moratoria on the episcopal election of any more gay people living in committed relationships and on same-sex unions, quite offensively placing the entire burden on one small of group of our sisters and brothers in Christ.
The General Convention is the only body in The Episcopal Church with the authority to respond to the Windsor Report, so no matter how much sturm und drang the Schismatic Gang tries to arouse, nothing can happen with the WR until General Convention meets.
But events are overtaking the WR, and by Convention the whole thing may be moot. Many Primates already are dismissing it as inadequate and ignoring its request that Primates not interfere with the business of Provinces not their own. Meetings in Cairo and Pittsburgh are making clear that many already have decided to split from The Episcopal Church no matter what.
In the midst of all this, Caucus members may find it helpful to remain focused on our vision – that of a church that honors and rejoices in the ministries of all women. We know that such a church will honor and rejoice in the ministries of all people.
We will not sacrifice our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on the altar of false unity in a centralized communion that handcuffs the Holy Spirit in the interest of institutional preservation.