|Monday, July 3, 2006|
The Meaning of Alternative Primatial Oversight
by Canon John
In his latest statement following the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, “’Challenge and hope’ for the Anglican Communion,” Archbishop Rowan Williams has defined the Anglican meaning of Communion:
“The reason Anglicanism is worth bothering with,” he states, “is because it has triedto find a way of being a Church that is neither tightly centralized nor just a loose federation of essentially independent bodies - a Church that is seeking to be a coherent family of communities meeting to hear the Bible read, to break bread and share wine as guests of Jesus Christ, and to celebrate a unity in worldwide mission and ministry. That,” he says, “is what the word 'Communion' means for Anglicans, and it is a vision that has taken clearer shape in many of our ecumenical dialogues.” In other words, Communion is both biblical and sacramental.
By the actions of our latest General Convention, this biblical and sacramental basis of Communion has not just been impaired but broken. The convention broke Communion biblically by refusing to vote on the resolution affirming the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and by encouraging same-sex partnerships. It broke Communion sacramentally by choosing a Presiding Bishop whose Orders cannot be accepted by many Episcopalians, including those in the Diocese of Fort Worth, nor by the majority of Anglican provinces worldwide, nor by our chief ecumenical partners – the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Both aspects of this Broken Communion are embodied in our new Presiding Bishop-elect. By her actions as Bishop of Nevada, in her statements during General Convention, and in her first sermon after her election, she has made it pointedly clear that she intends to pursue an agenda that patently ignores the authority of Scripture, is contrary to its plain teaching regarding overt homosexual relationships, and affronts the church’s Trinitarian doctrine and biblical witness by turning Our Lord into “Mother Jesus.”
As a bishop whose Orders several of us in the Episcopal Church and throughout the world cannot accept, she breaks the unity of the world-wide episcopate which she is supposed to represent and destroys that interchangeability of ministers essential for the sacramental unity of any particular community of Christians. In spite of her election as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, she cannot be chief pastor to those who believe she is neither obedient to scripture nor an apostolic bishop. For them some sort of alternative arrangement is now necessary.
In the Diocese of Fort Worth, the bishop and standing committee have therefore appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for “alternative primatial oversight and pastoral care.” As of now at least five other dioceses have followed suit. These appeals in no way affect our membership in The Episcopal Church, but simply recognize that someone who is instrumental in breaking the Communion of its bishops, both biblically and sacramentally, cannot be our chief pastor. We have therefore had to look elsewhere.
Alternative primatial oversight and pastoral care will not affect our legal relationship to the rest of The Episcopal Church nor the juridical authority of its future Presiding Bishop as granted her by our constitution and canons. But it will enable those bishops and dioceses who uphold the biblical and sacramental understanding of communion to appeal to a designated primate or chief pastor in sympathy with their position for pastoral guidance and leadership in mission. Also, through an alternative primatial oversight, the relationship between a particular bishop and his diocese with the rest of the Anglican Communion will be enhanced and solidified.
Finally, it is hoped that priests and parishes in unsympathetic dioceses may also benefit from alternative primatial oversight by affiliating with those dioceses where such oversight has been granted.
The Rev Canon John H Heidt,. SSC, D.Phil. (Oxon)