Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams calls for rejection of alternative primatial oversight

February 15th, 2007 posted by kendall at 3:53 am


More than 900 Episcopal clergy and laity have signed on to an open letter developed by a coalition of Episcopal peace and justice organizations and sent it to the Archbishop of Canterbury before he left England for the Primates Meeting in Tanzania.
The letter calls on Archbishop Rowan Williams to reject requests for alternative primatial oversight because they “would pose a grave danger to the Anglican Communion.”

According to information released with the letter, the effort originated from the Consultation Steering Committee, a network which includes representatives from Integrity, Episcopal Urban Caucus, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Union of Black Episcopalians, Episcopal Ecological Network, National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, Province VIII Indigenous Ministries, Episcopal Church Publishing Company, Episcopal Network for Economic Justice, Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Advocates, and Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission.

The effort to solicit signatures for the letter began in late 2006.

The dioceses of Pittsburgh, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, South Carolina, and Springfield asked Williams in writing for alternative primatial oversight on July 20, 2006. The Diocese of Quincy joined the appeal September 16.

Dallas Bishop James Stanton said in October that he had withdrawn his request for “direct primatial oversight” from Williams, saying that he had misgivings about the requests and because the terminology used was causing “confusion and some anxiety” in his diocese.

In late 2006, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and a group of bishops announced that they had proposed allowing a “primatial vicar” as an alternative to the requests. Williams gave that suggestion a cautious welcome, but Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker and American Anglican Council president David Anderson rejected it almost immediately.

On November 6, 2006, Duncan and his Standing Committee directed an expanded request to the Primates who represent the Global South. The request was posted on the diocese’s website January 29, partially in response to a civil court demand for the document.

Reminding Williams that Anglicans have historically “been willing to live together with a wide spectrum of theological perspectives,” the signers argue that “an important aspect of our Anglican identity is our comprehensiveness as a reformed and catholic church in which our unity is expressed in common prayer rather than adherence to a formal confession of faith other than the Creeds.”

The letter warns that honoring the request would set a bad precedent.

“Those seeking ‘alternative primatial oversight’ are in effect asking to walk away from the messiness and ambiguity of our current disputes about gays and lesbians in the church. In so doing, they give to these questions a doctrinal weight not in keeping with historic Anglican understandings,” the letter says. “Allowing dioceses to reject the oversight of the duly selected primate of The Episcopal Church because of disagreements about this matter would open the door for others, here and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, to reject pastoral and sacramental leadership on the basis of non-essential matters.”

The signers warn that such a situation “would lead to fragmentation of the Anglican Communion rather than deeper unity in Christ.”

The letter says that the signers “do not view the Windsor Report as an ultimatum dictating precise forms of response by The Episcopal Church” and reminds Williams of Archbishop Robin Eames’ statement in which he wrote that the report is “not a judgment” but instead “part of a process.”

“It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation,” Eames wrote.

The letter outlines the signers’ sense that the 75th General Convention responded adequately to the Windsor Report “in light of our understanding of Scripture, the polity of The Episcopal Church, and sensitivity to the cultural contexts of this Church.”

Noting that one of the dioceses, Pittsburgh, has suggested the creation of a 10th province, the signers remind Williams that such a province could only be created by General Convention and that “it is doubtful that the convention would approve the creation of a non-geographic province that is based on theological conviction.”

“Beginning in the earliest centuries of the Church, dioceses have been formed geographically, and non-geographic dioceses and other structures have been considered anomalous,” the letter says. “Allowing dioceses of The Episcopal Church to be overseen by primates from other regions would introduce the complexities and challenges of overlapping jurisdictions that historically have presented obstacles to effective mission.”

The letter notes that alternative primatial oversight would be further complicated because in each of the dioceses there are individuals and congregations who would understand themselves to remain fully within The Episcopal Church “under the oversight of our Presiding Bishop.”

“We anticipate that legal challenges would ensue, requiring significant expenditures of time and money that would be better spent on other essential matters of mission,” the letter says.

The signers remind Williams that the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church do not contain provisions allowing him to exercise jurisdiction within the Church. The letter also recalls paragraph 10 of a statement issued by the Primates after their last meeting in February 2005 in which they expressed concern about “any development which would seem to imply the creation of an international jurisdiction which could override our proper provincial autonomy.” The concern was made in reference to the Windsor Report’s suggestion in paragraph 112 that the Archbishop have a council of advice.

The letter also calls on Williams to “widen” the discussion on alternative primatial oversight.

“We believe that the discussions must widen to include other clergy and lay leaders, particularly the President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church, since our polity calls for full participation of laity as well as clergy other than bishops in decisions affecting our common life,” the letter says. “We ask that you encourage and support a process that includes representatives of the entire Episcopal Church in discussions and decisions about the requests for ‘alternative primatial oversight.’”

Some 913 people signed the letter, including 36 members of the clergy and laity from the Diocese of Central Florida, 34 from Fort Worth, 26 from Pittsburgh, six from South Carolina, one from Dallas.

The complete text of the letter, with the names of all its signers, is available here.


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