The Confession of St. Peter and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, and the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As I was reflecting on today’s lessons for our midweek service, I was struck by the irony of our praying for Christian Unity in the context of the gospel lesson that is used as the basis for papal supremacy. Indeed, the founders of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity believed that Christian unity could best be achieved by other Christians “returning” to Roman Catholicism, as they themselves ultimately did. Even though the Roman Catholics participate in this week-long event (and I’ve linked to Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks below), their official understanding of ecumenism is much the same.

I’ve said before that I’m not a big supporter of grand gestures or institutions that promote ecumenism. I understand the importance of the agreements made between Episcopalians and Lutherans, for example, and for the dialogue that takes place among the traditions, but I think ecumenism is best expressed and experienced on the local level, not in an effort at merging churches, necessarily, but in cooperation, fellowship, and growing understanding of the differences as well as similarities among the traditions.

From Beliefnet, background and commentary on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Pope Benedict’s remarks today.

News from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland offers another perspective on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was announced today that agreement was reached between the diocese and a Baltimore parish that had voted to become Roman Catholic. Here’s Bishop Sutton’s statement. Here’s the diocesan statement about the property settlement. I find noteworthy several items:

1) That with the help of a mediator, agreement about the property was made among the various parties involved. The diocese, rightly so, will receive a monetary settlement.

2) The congregation voted to make this move, acting democratically. As Bishop Sutton points out, that’s how we do things in the Episcopal Church. By expressing their franchise, these members also voted to give up their democratic rights as the Roman Catholic Church operates according to different rules.

3) Two paragraphs from Bishop Sutton’s letter stand out:

Episcopalians and Anglicans throughout the world, along with our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers worldwide, see ourselves as fully part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We know our roots. Theologically and liturgically the Roman, Anglican and Orthodox traditions hold much more in common than there are differences. Our polities, or the way we govern ourselves, differ. We are all still seeking the Kingdom of God that Jesus told his disciples is here. Together we are members of the Body of Christ here on earth.

 

Our brothers and sisters at Mount Calvary have not “converted” to Roman Catholicism. They have chosen to walk with different friends in the same one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of which they have always been a part. Let us pray for them on their journey. Let us hope that their work in the future will continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to respect the dignity of every human being, and help build up the Kingdom of God here on earth.

 

It seems to me that whatever the irony of this statement being published today, what it shows is the way property disputes in the Episcopal Church ought to be settled, whether the departing congregations are becoming Roman Catholic, or are joining one of the disgruntled Anglican offshoots.

 

“It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

I had started a post about the Ordinariate a few days ago, but didn’t finish it because I’m never quite sure how many people are really interested in matters Anglican and Episcopalian. Then a parishioner caught me at coffee hour, asked me about the Ordinariate, and said, “It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

He had read the article in The New York Times and wanted my take on it. Unfortunately, about the time I got wound up in my response I was asked about something else by someone else and couldn’t complete my brilliant ad lib response.

The article he mentioned can be read here. The Washington Post also covered the story, quoting friend Tom Ferguson, who offered thoughts about this development on his blog, Crusty Old Dean. Ferguson offers background, including the significance of the change from the “Pastoral Provision” which allowed for conversions of priests and whole congregations on a case-by-case basis, and the Ordinariate, which is a nation-wide structure.

Ferguson also addresses the “spin” being put on this development by some as “the fruit of decades of Roman Catholic/Anglican dialogue. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. Ferguson points out two issues–1) it is not ecumenical at all, in the sense that it was a one-sided declaration with no dialogue among the parties; and 2) that the Roman Catholic Church assumes ecumenism is incorporation into the Roman Catholic Church. Ferguson writes passionately from the perspective of a decade-long involvement in ecumenical relations.

But there is also the reality on the ground, and a pastoral response in particular situations. Several bishops have commented about the Ordinariate.

Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas has some useful things to say about this. Most important, perhaps is this:

I have no anxiety and I hope that the Ordinariate will be a place where some who feel spiritually homeless may find a dwelling place; and a place where others may come to a better understanding of their own Anglican heritage.

Here’s the Bishop of the Rio Grande, Michael Vono’s take. He is the successor of Jeffrey Steenson, who resigned as Episcopal Bishop to become Roman Catholic and has been named to lead the new Ordinariate.

Is it a declaration of war? I’m not so sure. To provide a place for those who no longer feel welcome or part of the Episcopal Church seems to me a generous act. To do it without consultation with the Episcopal Church (as the Ordinariate in England was announced without notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury) seems churlish. Most commentators agree that the overwhelming number of congregations and clergy that will enter the ordinariate are not part of the Episcopal Church, but rather belong to one or another of the splinter groups that have broken off since the 1960s.

Furthermore, as the recent experience of the AMiA bears out, many of these latter groups may be led by men who would prefer being big fish in small ponds, and chafe at coming under the control of other authorities. We will see how all of this develops.

The other thing to point out is that it is impossible to determine how many people are moving the other way, from the Roman Catholic church to the Episcopal Church. Priests move that way regularly, and lay people do as well, although in many cases, the latter have been estranged from the Roman church for years or even decades.

In sum, another sordid episode in the history of ecumenical relations.

Goings-on in Anglican-land

The last few days have seen several developments related to matters Anglican and Episcopal. On this side of the pond, the Diocese of South Carolina has acted to remain in the Episcopal Church, but not of it (or vice versa, precisely what they are trying to do remains unclear). On the other side of the pond, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, Kenneth Kearon, has disinvited representatives from the Southern Cone from attending certain meetings because of that church’s boundary-crossing and intervention in North America (no word on Rwanda or Nigeria). And an Anglo-Catholic Bishop has announced his intent to join the Ordinariate being set up by the Roman Catholic Church for disaffected clergy in the Church of England (in other words, he’s swimming the Tiber). In addition, the Diocese of Sidney is going ahead with its long-announced plans to introduce Eucharistic celebration by deacons.

There is plenty of comment on all of these developments and usual, you can follow the hullabaloo at Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans. For the latter’s coverage of the Ordinariate, click here. For its article on the letter from Kearon, go here.

With the regard to the actions of the Diocese of South Carolina, Bishop Mark Lawrence’s vitriolic letter against the Presiding Bishop is available on-line. So too is a response from Bishop James Mathes of the Diocese of San Diego. A number of commentators, including Bishop Mathes, draw a parallel between this development and the events leading up to the Civil War. I have no idea what precisely is taking place. I know little about that diocese except through encounters with students I had while teaching at Furman. I know they were warned by their clergy about those liberal Episcopalians in the upstate–a warning that amused me to no end.

It is clear to me that realignment of some sort, or perhaps several sorts is underway in the US church, but across the world as well. One thing that has struck me while reading those who fulminate against the Diocese of South Carolina’s actions, is their commitment to the diocese as the basic unit of the church. Granted it has been that for over a thousand years, but it is not necessarily a biblical notion, nor one practiced in the earliest church. In fact, the diocese as such is borrowed from the imperial restructuring that the Emperor Diocletian undertook in the late third and early fourth centuries.

Readers of this blog know I am interested in how Christianity is being affected by contemporary cultural changes, and how those changes will lead to restructuring.  It seems to me that all of these developments are contributing to that restructuring in the Anglican world, and that what will emerge down the line is something very different than the Anglican Communion we have had for the last few decades