Friday, October 30, 2009

Diocese and Covenant


Reflections on Dallas, its History and Future
The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas

Every Diocese is an independent and sovereign state, held in the unity of the Catholic Church by its Episcopate, according to the rule of St. Cyprian.” With these words, Bishop Alexander Charles Garrett – our first Bishop and,be it noted, once the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church - addressed the organizing Convention of the Diocese of Dallas in 1895. “The Diocese thus becomes the ecclesiastical unit, a full and perfect integer sufficient of itself for all purposes of growth and development.”

It was for the privilege of so organizing and of taking the key next step, that of a selection of Bishop, that the body was convened, he said.

Bishop Garrett looked back on the twenty-one years of the existence of the then Missionary District of North Texas, and the principles upon which he had led them. And then he turned to look at the state of the Church as it then existed so that the future could be embraced and the people of the new Diocese would understand what opportunities and challenges awaited them. Thus they stood at a crossroads.

The business of that organizing Convention, the Primary Convention as it is called in the Journal, lasted through two very long days and nights. The business was restricted. The Convention sat, almost through the whole of it, as a Committee of the Whole. And the business that was done centered on the writing of a Constitution. The members of Convention spoke to each other directly – lay and clergy alike. The work of various other committees was submitted to them and they debated and discussed the drafts of the Constitution. But this was no pro-forma exercise. There were 22 lay delegates and twenty clergy in attendance. This afforded each the opportunity to be heard and to have input into the final product of that Convention.

I wonder if that relatively small group could have anticipated that their labors would grow as they have. The Missionary District of Northern Texas, which was created by the General Convention in 1874, included all of the territory that now comprises three distinct dioceses: our own, the Diocese of Northwest Texas (organized in 1958), and the Diocese of Fort Worth (which was organized in 1982), and parts of a fourth, the Diocese of Oklahoma. Bishop Garrett reported to that Convention that there were 2123 communicants in 13 parishes and 28 organized missions, with 1297 Sunday school children and 180 teachers. The Endowment fund for the support of the Episcopate totaled $37,800. How things have changed.

I recall this first Convention to your attention for two reasons, both of them relevant to our meeting here.


First, that first convention serves as a model for us. I have this year yearned for the opportunity for you as the leaders of your congregations and this Diocese as a whole to be able, like our forebears, to speak to one another. Three years ago, I travelled with some assistants, to every parish and mission and mission station to ask you some questions and to hear where you are. I came away with a renewed affection and respect for the work each of you is doing in your different contexts. How transforming it might be, I thought, if this could be done on a larger scale – if there were the time and space for permitting us to speak to one another about our challenges, our joys, our disappointments, our values. With the completion of the last General Convention, it seemed to me to be useful for this idea to be given concrete shape.

I have already been called upon to visit with a number of Vestries, and to hear from them their concerns over the actions of that Convention. Some of our parishes have lost members because of those actions. On the other hand, some of our congregations – some of you – will have rejoiced at the very actions that have offended or dismayed others. We are not a monochrome Diocese.

At the same time, we have been fairly clear over the last many years, indeed since before I came to be your Bishop some 17 years ago, that we take seriously our apostolic tradition and communion and that we value our place among Anglicans worldwide. We have affirmed, for example, various statements and resolutions emanating from the Irenaeus Fellowship of Bishops, the Lambeth Conferences, the Primates Meetings, the Windsor Report, and so forth. We have cherished our missionary engagement in various places around the world and have welcomed numerous bishops and archbishops from abroad who have come to share their work in our world. I believe many of us have been longing for and waiting patiently, I might add, for the development of the Anglican Covenant we have heard so much about.

So, it seemed to me, the time for suspending “business as usual” and spending some time in conversation about where we are and how we see our future would be especially helpful. It is to that work I call you at this Convention.

We have planned this Convention around a series of three talks concerned with the Anglican Covenant. I ask you to sit, not with the delegates of your parish, but at tables with those of other congregations. I ask you to listen to the talks, and then to speak to one another about what you have heard and what it means or might mean to you and the brothers and sisters in Christ whom you represent.

The point of these times together is not to decide anything. I have asked that we hold all resolutions of any substance to another time when we can engage in our customary format of debate. For this time we have together, we are to share with one another our thoughts, questions, feelings as appropriate, and concerns. We are not here to argue or to persuade. If anything, we are here to appreciate: literally, as the dictionary puts it, “to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of something; to recognize with gratitude; to judge with heightened perception or understanding.” In our case, I would hope that we grasp the nature, worth and significance of who we are, who we are to one another and where we stand; that we recognize with gratitude the ministry we share together; and that we grow in the perception and understanding of the character of our Diocese and the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Again, we are not here to do something in particular, to take some proposed action. In this connection, during your conversations, I would hope that you stick with “I” statements: that you speak with one another about your own perceptions, feelings, and reflections on what we discuss. I ask you to listen respectfully to what others say, and respond both honestly and respectfully as well. As St. Paul exhorts us, “Speak the truth in love.” (Eph 4.15) Or again, “love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom 12.10)

There will be three talks. I will give you some light on how this Diocese came to be organized, and what at that time and since has been the classic understanding of the polity of the Episcopal Church and the place of the Diocese. Mr. Mark McCall will again address some of the specific issues of Episcopal Polity and how we might approach the Anglican Covenant if and when that is our desire. The Rev. Dr. Philip Turner will give you some understanding of the shaping of the proposed Anglican Covenant and its theological underpinnings, and its relation and possible effects in the Anglican Communion.

Admittedly, our Diocesan Convention is a good deal larger than that first organizing Convention. The size complicates our ability to converse with each other, offering us some difficulties they did not have to deal with. But I believe we can overcome those difficulties and make fruitful use of this time if we truly desire to do so and determine to offer ourselves fully to this process. It is my fervent prayer that we will go away from this time with new insights into one another, our diocese, and the possibilities of a meaningful Covenant that will renew and strengthen our life and that of the Anglican Communion as a whole.


I mentioned two reasons for recalling Bishop Garrett’s words at the first Convention. Let me now turn to the second reason. That second reason has to do with the very nature and character of Dioceses in the Episcopal Church, and our Diocese in particular.

We have heard a great deal about our unique polity in the Episcopal Church over the last several years. Polity is just a fancy word for how we do things – what rules and principles govern our corporate actions, and what structures are involved in governing. Perhaps more pointedly, the Greek word from which we get our English term connotes the rights and obligations inherent in being part of a larger body. St. Paul uses this very term when he describes the Gentile Christians. Once, he said, we were excluded from citizenship (politeia) in Israel, excluded from the covenants of promise which God had made to them. But now, in Christ, we are made fellow citizens (sumpolitai), fellow members of God’s household.

So what characterizes this “unique polity”? Bishop Garrett understood this polity, this citizenship, in a particular way. “Every Diocese is an independent and sovereign state.”

It is evident that Bishop Garrett did not see this striking statement as something new. Indeed, he looked back to the founding of the Church by her Lord and its spread as the basis for the statement. “Responsibility,” he said, “involves power.” It would have been a vain thing if Jesus had commanded his Apostles to go into all the world and to proclaim the Gospel, if at the same time he did not commit to them the necessary authority to do so. He gave them the right and the power “to teach, ordain, confirm, place, support and [discipline]” within their places of responsibility. This was the mode of operations in the earliest Church – a community of men and women carrying out the work of their Lord in each location, but joined in their common sense of mission.

Sovereignty, the power or authority to work and order a common life in a territory, was based both upon the mission of the Church and in turn the practical necessities of the Church. The mission was to proclaim Christ and to make his saving work known. This precious, life-giving task required a common message, a common language, and an authoritative center. That center was found “in the Apostles, and after them the Bishops,” wrote Garrett. The practical necessity of growth in and toward the Lord was provided by the laity and clergy in union with their bishop. We catch this dual sense in our own day when, at the ordination of Bishops we declare that the Bishop is to be one with the Apostles in proclaiming the resurrection and interpreting the Gospel; and in our baptism when we promise to “continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship”.

Sovereignty as Bishop Garrett uses it means being a “perfect integer” – the whole of the Church in a given place. His frequent references to the “primitive Church” reflects both the Catholic and the Anglican understanding that the diocese, not the parish, is the local Church, and that within its borders it is competent and equipped to do all that the risen Christ might ask of it. And, I think, this learned and eloquent shepherd had his perspective on the early Church right: when we look at, for example, the Acts of the Apostles, what we find are Christians carrying out their mission in each place with integrity and autonomy – in this sense sovereignty – but with a concern as well for the work of the whole. When the Gospel is first carried to Samaria, Jerusalem sends out no less that Peter and John to “inspect” the work begun there by Philip. But having done so, they leave that work to carry on. In Antioch, Christians first began to reach out to Gentiles in a systematic way. So great is the success of this witness, that Jerusalem again sends out an inspector, Barnabas. But he does not reign in these enthusiastic missionaries – rather, he supports them and calls upon Paul to assist him in that work. When controversies are introduced into the community, the community itself sends Paul and Barnabas to consult with Jerusalem. And the Church in Jerusalem confirms and upholds the work of mission among the Gentiles, addressing the Church there as “brothers.”

These instances demonstrate what sovereignty means. In the customary understanding of “hierarchy,” power flows from the top down. There is a supreme authority – be it a person or a curia or some combination of these – that exercises power over all subordinate units. In the New Testament, however, we do not see either James, the Lord’s Brother, or the assembly of apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem acting as a pope and curia. What we see are communities acting with independence in their own spheres or territories, but with mutual concern and counsel over matters of larger than local concern. This is what Bishop Garrett calls “the confirmatory action of conciliar ratification.”

And this, in turn, is how our first Bishop understood our polity in the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Dallas was moving from being a creation the General Convention – a Missionary District – into a new status – a sovereign Diocese of the Episcopal Church. It was a move from childhood to maturity as the Bishop saw it.

But the Bishop was not alone in this understanding. Hudson Stuck, the first Dean of our Cathedral, preached the sermon at that Primary Convention Eucharist. Stuck was a remarkable man of learning and spirituality in his own right. He was a clarion voice in calling the Church to address the needs of the community around it. He would go on to become an estimable missionary of extraordinary commitment and competence in Alaska, and in fact would be the first man to put together a successful assault on Mount Denali as he called it, Mount McKinley, the highest peak on the North American Continent.

But his sermon at that convention reached remarkable heights of its own. With a clarity of vision and a comprehensive grasp of Church history, he put our Diocese and its new status on the same foundation that Bishop Garrett had. “For consider that every organized diocese is essentially an independent autonomous portion of the church, having all that is necessary for a church,” Stuck declaimed. “By itself it may subsist and grow and flourish, self-governed and self-contained. The diocese is the true unit—complete, valid, authentic.” It was then an act of self-creation – the dignity and nobility of which was not lost on those who sat down to make a constitution and elect a bishop of their own choosing.

Once again, Stuck, like Garrett made it clear that autonomy – sovereignty in the sense they were using it – did not mean go-it-alone. The Lambeth Conference of Bishops was still relatively a new thing when this Diocese created itself. But the lessons of Church history were clear: “The fullness of the apostolic power, to which I have referred again and again as the great deposit of authority, resides not in each individual bishop, but in the complete apostolic college. It resides in the whole body of bishops.” Bishops were the focus of unity not only within the Diocese, but among the dioceses as well. This was the conciliar approach that Garrett had emphasized.

We hear much today about the “autonomy” of the provinces, and therefore also the necessary and rightful autonomy of the Episcopal Church. But within our own province, we hear a different sort of thought: that the province is the supreme authority over every diocese because dioceses are created by the General Church. Our own history shows this not to be the case, however.

In 1874, about 100,000 square miles of north Texas (and including a little bit of the Oklahoma territory) was split off from the Diocese of Texas and made a Missionary District, as we have seen. In the Canons, this was called an “unorganized” territory. A Missionary Bishop was assigned to this “unorganized” territory. Under the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, the organization of a Diocese originates with a Convocation of Clergy and Laity called together by the designated bishop “for that purpose.” (Art V, Sec 1) The writing of a Constitution and Canons is the sign and instrument of organization. It is this event that creates the legal entity.[i] The Constitution of the Episcopal Church requires that an “unqualified accession” be made by the new Diocese. When that is done, the General Convention gives its consent, a certified copy of the Diocesan Constitution and Canons is given to the Secretary of the General Convention, and the Executive Council gives its approval. Thereupon the Diocese is “admitted” to union with the General Convention. (See also Title I, Canon 10.4)

Precisely this process was followed when this Diocese organized itself. Nothing in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church speaks of General Convention creating or erecting dioceses. Furthermore, where they speak, they make clear that the organization and integrity of the Diocese is a purely local matter, aside, of course, from the act of admission. That is to say, the Diocese organizes itself and sets out for itself the procedures which will carry out its work – including, most notably, the process by which it elects its bishops. This approach was true for the organization of dioceses back in 1895 and continues, for the most part unchanged, up to this present day.

In fact, it was characteristic of the founding principles laid down for the Episcopal Church by the Rev. William White, who later became one of our first bishops. In a booklet issued in August of 1782, entitled The Case for the Episcopal Church in the United States Considered, he advocated for a course of action by the churches that traced their heritage to the Church of England just weeks after the war for Independence had been, to all intents and purposes, won.[ii] He believed that immediate and decisive action by these churches would be the only thing that would preserve them in the tradition of their worship and spiritual mission.

White sketched a framework in which the continuation of the life of the Church could be assured: that the churches organize themselves into a voluntary association, that the local churches would be equal, that they would be represented in small districts (he did not yet use the word diocese), which in turn would send representatives to larger bodies. The underlying principle of these larger bodies was that they would only decide on matters, for example Canons and Prayer Book, which served to make the communion one and which, significantly, could not be effected at the lowest possible level. As he put it: “One natural consequence of this distinction, will be to retain in each church every power that need not be delegated for the good of the whole.” With respect to what would come to be called the General Convention, he wrote: “The use of this and the preceding representative bodies is to make such regulations, and receive appeals in such matters only, as shall be judged necessary for their continuing one religious communion.”

In fact, the organization of “districts” or dioceses preceded the formation of the General Convention. From the 1760s, local gatherings of clergy and often laity, called either convocations or conventions, developed. One such convention in Maryland in 1780 provides us with the first clear instance of the use The Protestant Episcopal Church as the name that would be eventually adopted for our branch of the Church. White himself called for and presided over a meeting of state representatives in May 1784 to consider what his plan set forth. A Convention of as many states as possible was set for October. In the latter part of that same month, White presided over a Convention of the churches in Pennsylvania. That Convention adopted the following principles:

1. The Church is independent of all foreign or domestic civil authority.

2. The Church is competent to regulate its own affairs.

3. The Church’s liturgy should conform as close as possible to that of England.

4. Ministry should consist of three orders: Bishops, priests, deacons.

5. Canons should be made by both clergy and laity.

6. No powers should be delegated to a general ecclesiastical government except such as could not be conveniently exercised by State conventions.

The larger Convention planned in May did indeed take place in October. That Convention ratified the principles adopted by Pennsylvania as their own, and then planned the First General Convention for September 1785.

The formation of the Episcopal Church is striking. It appears that the only model for such a process as was in fact followed was that presented by the recent history of the colonies themselves. It was John Adams who, in the spring of 1776, had suggested that the “The Colonies should all assume the Powers of Government in all its branches first.”[iii] Then they should confederate with each other and “define the Powers of Congress next.” Only after all the pieces of government were in place, Adams argued, should Independence be declared. The assembly of the colonial representatives in fact adopted a resolution calling for the creation by each colony of its own constitution. This was the only part of Adams’ plan that was carried out before Independence was declared. But it worked.

White’s proposals seemed to follow that example. We often hear it said that the framers of our Church Constitution were the same people who in large part framed the Constitution of the United States. But that is simply not true. In fact, before the tumultuous events that led to the framing of a Constitutional government for the United States in 1787 and 1788, the Episcopal Church was already coming together. Its framework reflected rather the Confederation of the States than what would become the United States. And the notion of a centralized authority was clearly unwanted and unneeded in both confederations.

As White wrote in his Case, “On the subject of government, whether civil or ecclesiastical, there is great truth and beauty in the following observation of the present Bishop of St. Asaph, ‘The great art of governing consists in not governing too much.’”

That was then, as the saying goes, this is now. But it is important to understand that the principle that “No powers should be delegated to a general ecclesiastical government except such as could not be conveniently exercised by State [or diocesan] conventions” has been a part of our basic self-understanding from the very beginning.

In the 1950s a number of books called the Church’s Teaching Series were published by the Episcopal Church. Powell Mills Dawley, an eminent Church historian at the time wrote about The Episcopal Church and Its Work. Recalling the organization of the Episcopal Church, he wrote, “The first dioceses existed separately from each other before they agreed to the union in 1789 into a national church. That union, like the original federation of our states, was one in which each diocese retained a large amount of autonomy, and today the dioceses still possess an independence far greater than that characteristic in most other Churches with episcopal polity.” Dawley then goes on to say, “Diocesan participation in any national program or effort, for example, must be voluntarily given; it cannot be forced. Again, while the bishop’s exercise of independent power within the diocese is restricted by the share in church government possessed by the Diocesan Convention and the Standing Committee, his independence in respect to the rest of the Church is almost complete.”[iv]

The latest revision of the authoritative commentary on the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, by Whyte and Dykman, describes the earliest history of our Church in these words: “At the close of the American Revolution, the leaders of the former Church of England in the colonies . . . organized the separate and scattered Anglican parishes into independent Churches in each of the new states.” It repeats this understanding when describing the Churches as “completely independent.” It then describes the national structure they created in Convention as “a federation of equal and independent Churches in the several states.”

And to conclude this review, as late as 1987, in an official document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the then Treasurer of the Episcopal Church wrote, “The Episcopal Church is comprised of 117 autonomous dioceses, 98 of which are domestic and 19 foreign.”[v]

The words independent, sovereign and autonomous as applied to dioceses seems strange to our modern, corporate ears. And yet, these are the precise words used to describe our “unique polity” since the beginning. And the reason is easy to find. William White, again in his Case for the Episcopal Churches, drew attention to the differences between the organization of the Church of England and the situation in the States. In the mother country, dioceses were preeminent and formed congregations. Here the very opposite situation existed. The congregations who formed dioceses cherished their independence and demanded that their dioceses be largely self-governing. Arguing that the Episcopate would be both desirable and traditional among the former Anglicans, he nevertheless took pains to assure his readers that “this government will not be attended with the danger of tyranny, either temporal or spiritual.” Speaking again of tyranny, he opined that had the Church at Rome been ruled by a presbytery instead of a pope, given its riches and sense of “dominion,” this corporate body would have been as powerful as any single individual. What would White think today of his Episcopal Church, where the claim is made that the General Convention is the “supreme” authority in this Church?

What are we to make of this review?

There is a dignity to being a Diocese of this Church. The word “integer” used by both Bishop Garrett and Dean Stuck means “whole.” The Diocese is the whole Church gathered in a given location. This does not mean that it is ALL of the Church, for surely that is not true. But it is whole in that it possesses the fullest expression of the ministry possible – laity, bishops, priests and deacons gathered for the worship of God and the proclamation of the Gospel. We are not, as I have said in many places over the last few years, merely the local franchise of a great American Corporation. That was not how our forebears thought of themselves. It is not how we should think of ourselves here, today, either.

On its day of organization, Bishop Garrett brimmed with excitement and bright hope. He said that the people of this newly formed Diocese were the equals of any in the Church and across the nation. They had the vitality, the intelligence, the grit and the faithfulness to carry forward the mission of God. “For all these reasons, and many others which might be mentioned, I was anxious that you should have full right” of a Diocese, he proclaimed.

Dean Stuck virtually sang in the poetry of his sermon: “no wonder that we who are assembled here to-day, with joy and gladness and thankful hearts, to put once for all our ecclesiastical government in the old mold in the ancient diocesan form . . . Now shall we take rank with Antioch and Jerusalem and Rome and Canterbury, as autonomous, as complete, as self-governing; in the ancient mold and form of the original spiritual principalities of the church.”

These are not the voices of either subservience or party spirit. They see the link that united them with their spiritual forebears, just as we should. And they were ready to undertake all that it meant to be the Church in their situation, just as we should.

This leads me to my next point. The emphasis on both the dignity and autonomy of the Diocese was firmly rooted in a sense of mission. From the outset, William White understood as urgent the need to get on with the mission of the Church – in his terms, “that the worship of God and the instruction and reformation of the people are the principal objects of ecclesiastical discipline.” This sense of mission underlay his proposal for the structure of the Episcopal Church as a whole. It also underlay the creation of this Diocese.

All mission is ultimately local. This is so even when we reach out from where we live to places in the farthest parts of the world. The Church’s mission can be put in no better terms, I think, than that of Archbishop William Temple: “Evangelism is the presentation of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in such ways that persons may be led to believe in him as Savior and follow him as Lord within the fellowship of his Church.” It is always persons engaging persons, disciples making disciples – or at least opening the way to discipleship. And the larger dimension of this mission embraces not just individuals, but communities, societies and the world as a whole. Christians have always seen that, as William Reed Huntington put it, “this single Gospel has a two-fold outlook”, namely the transformation of individuals and society as a whole.[vi] But the first impulse is not out there, but right here, in the place where God has put us.

From the time of the apostles, communities were formed to work together in reaching out to their neighbors. I think this basic mode of operation can be traced back to the rudimentary form of organziation which Jesus himself instituted among his followers. At any rate, it came to form the basic structure of the Church that has persisted throughout the centuries. The frontline of the work of the Church is the Diocese and always has been – a community fully equipped to support and extend its work of proclaiming the Gospel in the particularities of the culture in which it lives.

The danger, of course, is that the diocese, like the parishes that make it up, can forget that while it is autonomous and fully able to to carry the whole of the Gospel into action in its context, it may also lose touch with the fullness of the message and the largeness of the purpose for which it was sent. Dioceses must, as we have already seen, act in conciliar ways. The Diocese reminds all its parts- clergy and congregations - that they do not exist for themselves. So the dioceses together serve the same function for each diocese. We cannot go-it-alone. The mission of the Church is too compelling, too urgent for a go-it-alone mentality. This conciliar mode is the genius, I think, of the Anglican Way.

And that brings me to the third thing I think we can learn from our past.

The very nature of the Church is covenantal. We should know this without having to make it explicit. Everytime we celebrate the Eucharist, we hear the words of our Lord, “take, drink, this is my blood of the new covenant.” Indeed, the calling of the People of Israel and the calling of the Body of Christ represent God’s gracious gift of a covenantal relationship that supports and steers and saves us.

A covenant is something higher and better than a code. It was a significant accomplishment for the founders of the Episcopal Church in these States to forge a Constitution and Prayer Book and preserve their heritage by these means for future generations – including us. But it was even more significant that they were able to establish trust and commitment and carry out this work on the basis of a covenant that respected the differences, the dignities and the missional imperatives of one another.

A covenant is nothing other than the expression of the expectations as well as the obligations that people have of each other. How odd to hear some people protest that we do not need a covenant now – that indeed, a covenant is unAnglican. For over a generation, several Archbishops of Canterbury have asked Anglicans what it means to be a communion, and have done more than ask – have urged Anglican leaders to give serious consideration and careful reflection to how we live with each other. Serious efforts have been made in the series of Lambeth Conferences and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council to do this. Fundamental to these efforts is the recognition that we do indeed have a covenantal relationship. The question is not whether we need a covenant, but what the nature of the covenant is that we already have – that already in some sense underlies being an Anglican.

And this question has become more urgent precisely because the bonds of communion have been stretched to the breaking point. It might be all well and good to live in a covenant that never needs to be made clear. But in times of crisis, where trust is strained, where expectations and obligations go unmet, where in fact actions are taken that adversely affect one’s brothers and sisters in covenant, then it is time to look carefully to the ties that bind us and ask what they are and what they require of us.

This is why we are dealing with the proposed Anglican Covenant here. The proposed covenant is not something external to us – something being imposed upon us – something foreign to being an Anglican, or an Episcopalian within the the Anglican Communion. Far from it. It is simply the attempt in this time of crisis to spell out in frank terms what the ground of our communion, our fellowship, our being related to one another is. The question before this body is really pretty simple: is what you read in the covenant an expression of the faith and commitment you hold?

Another odd thing I hear has to do with autonomy. There are voices who firecely champion the autonomy of the Episcopal Church with respect to the rest of the Communion. By “autonomy” they mean, it appears, “no one can tell us what to do.” At the same time, however, these same voices will tell us that only the Provinces can adopt or ratify the covenant, and that dioceses cannot. But in our peculiar polity, as we have seen, dioceses have the same if not even a greater claim to autonomy than our particular province. In fact, I have seen time and time again bishops and dioceses rise up to declare that they will not be bound by resolutions of the General Convention that did not go their way. (Just think back to the so-called “moratoria” voted on in the Convention of 2006!)

If the resolutions of General Convention cannot bind the dioceses to certain terms of communion life, they certainly cannot deter dioceses from committing to them.

But all of this begins to look like the squabbles children have with each other from time to time. Autonomy means simply “you’re not the boss of me!” But there is a grown-up world out there that demands a deeper and more thoughtful kind of engagement. What does it mean to be the Church of Christ? What is entailed in being an Anglican Christian?

We in the Diocese of Dallas are the Church. We have a goodly heritage that is at one and the same time Anglican, Episcopalian, and Texan. We have an urgent mission to fulfill. And we are doing this while responding to and working with other Christians in our communities, in our nation, in our denomination and in our world. We do not seek to divide or separate, but we seek greater unity and clarity and commitment in the cause of Christ.

We possess, furthermore, not only the authority to consider and respond to the proposed Anglican Covenant, but the moral and spiritual imperative to do so. For this covenant concerns us, individually and corporately, and it concerns our future.

[i] This matter is covered more extensively in a document entitled Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church, available at

[ii] The British at Yorktown, Virginia, under the command of Gen. Charles Cornwallis, surrendered on Oct 17, 1781. On Feb 27, 1782, the House of Commons voted against pursuing the war in America. King George was subsequently given authority to negotiate a peace. Peace talks began on April 12, 1782. The last engagement between American and British troops took place on August 27, 1782, in South Carolina.

[iii] Ellis, American Creation, p. 49 f.

[iv] Dawley, The Episcopal Church and Its Work, p.115 f.

[v] In a letter dated July 15, 1987; signed by Ellen F. Cooke; cited in legal briefing at:

[vi] Huntington, The Church Idea, p. 3.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dallas Morning News Article

Dallas Episcopal Bishop James Stanton (right) is responding to the scandal surrounding stockbroker-priest William Warnky with new rules for his clergy.

Effective immediately, priests are "barred from soliciting, providing or selling secular products or services to parishioners," a diocesan press release says. It quotes Stanton thusly: "This new policy is designed to eliminate any conflicts of interest, and we hope these changes will raise the level of confidence in our clergy and that of the people under their care."

Diocesan leaders previously told me that priests had long been prohibited from financial involvement with parishioners. But it turns out that the policy was pretty vague -- it read, according to the press release: "The relationship of members of the clergy with fellow clergy and with members of the laity must be of the highest moral and professional character."

Stanton recently suspended Warnky from the ministry after financial regulators barred him from selling securities. The regulators acted because Warnky failed to pay a former parishioner, D.R. Marshall, $50,000 for stock fraud.

RayJennison.JPGDiocesan leaders are now weighing whether to also suspend the Rev. Raymond Jennison (right). He runs First Canterbury Securities, a northeast Dallas firm where Warnky worked, and is priest in charge of St. David's Episcopal Church in Garland.

Another former member of Warnky's parish (Good Samaritan, near White Rock Lake) told diocesan officials this week that Jennison mistreated her when she complained to him, in late 2007, about Warnky.

The parishioner, Jeanette Prasifka, sought to close an account that Warnky had managed for her. She said Jennison "threatened me with serious tax consequences" even though "it was a simple IRA account; I had 60 days to reinvest the money with no tax consequences, and he knew it."

Prasifka said Jennison also:

* "boasted he had the money of churches all across the Dallas Diocese and even Fort Worth ... He offered that as a reason why I should trust him."
* made an unauthorized trade on her account.
* shouted at her after "I told him I wasn't leaving his office until he closed the account."

"Jennison's conduct was unbecoming of a stockbroker, much less a priest," Prasifka said.

Jennison declined to comment today.

Stanton told me last week that he doubted that any parishes had invested with First Canterbury. Now his top aide, Bishop Suffragan Paul Lambert, is telling me that issue is under investigation.

From here

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bishop Stanton Meets with the Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams held a private meeting September 2 with seven Episcopal Church bishops at Lambeth Palace, his London residence.

The bishops attending the meeting were Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, Gary Lillibridge of West Texas, Edward Little of Northern Indiana, Bill Love of Albany, Michael Smith of North Dakota, James Stanton of Dallas, and Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana.

A spokesperson in the Lambeth Palace press office confirmed that Williams had hosted the seven Episcopal bishops, but said that the meeting was private.

When asked for his reflections on the meeting, MacPherson told ENS that the bishops will have "something forthcoming soon."

The seven bishops are all signatories to the Anaheim Statement that reaffirms their commitment to requests from Anglican Communion leaders to the Episcopal Church for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of openly gay persons to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.

The statement, so-called because it was released in Anaheim on July 16 as General Convention was drawing to a close, said that while some bishops tried to modify the wording of some of the convention's actions, "it is apparent that a substantial majority of this convention believes that the Episcopal Church should move forward on matters of human sexuality."

"We recognize this reality and understand the clarity with which the majority has expressed itself," the bishops said. "We are grateful for those who have reached out to the minority, affirming our place in the church."

The signers said they were committed to membership in the communion and to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

The bishops who met with Williams also account for half of the Episcopal Church bishops who are members of the Communion Partners, which describes itself as a "relational fellowship" of primates, bishops and clergy who are committed to the unity of the church but also support the moratoria and the idea of an Anglican covenant, a set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion. Such a covenant has been proposed and a final draft has yet to be produced.

The Communion Partners have said that individual dioceses could sign onto a covenant whether or not the General Convention agreed to do so.

On July 27, Williams offered some reflections on General Convention and in particular the passage of two resolutions (D025 and C056) that focused on issues of human sexuality and the Episcopal Church's commitment to the Anglican Communion.

Resolution D025 affirms "that God has called and may call" gay and lesbian people "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church." Resolution C056 calls for the collection and development of theological resources for the blessing of same-gender blessings and allows bishops to provide "a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."

In his 26-part reflection, Williams, who was present for the first two days of the July 8-17 meeting in Anaheim, California, wrote that "a realistic assessment of what convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed."

--From Episcopal News Service

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Diocesan Convention

Look for a quite different Diocesan Convention when we gather at Southfork Ranch on October 16-18. The centerpiece of the convention will be conversation--table conversations and plenary (the whole group) conversations.
The theme is "One Great Fellowship." Our convention delegates will be speaking and listen to each other. We will be engaging who we are as a diocese, as part of The Episcopal Church, and as part of the Anglican Communion. Speakers will relate each of these ways living our common life to being in covenant with one another.
One major change this year is that we won't be sitting at tables with our individual congregations this year. We will be seated at discussion tables the whole time--again, One Great Fellowship. Come looking forward to meeting and conversing with people you may not have met before. Each table will have a trained facilitator.
Two other events to look forward to: first we will welcome St.Paul's, Prosper as a mission. Look for something interesting from Fr. Michael Gilton. Second, we will have dancers from India as a special treat as well.
Bishop Stanton called this an "Unconventional Convention." It should be quite interesting as we focus on conversation rather than legislation as we celebrate our common life in convention.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright on Unpacking Rowan Williams' Statement

Once we penetrate the complex language, the ABC is also eventually clear that the great majority at GenCon voted, in effect if not in so many words, against the two relevant moratoria. ‘The repeated request for moratoria . . . has clearly not found universal favour’ is a roundabout but ultimately unambiguous way of saying ‘the majority voted against the moratoria’. This puts in a different light the reference in the first paragraph to ‘an insistence at the highest level’ (i.e. a letter from the Presiding Bishop) that the relevant resolutions ‘do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria’. That may be true in a strict legal sense, though many will see this as an example of typical TEC behaviour, a grandmother’s-footsteps game of creeping forwards without being noticed. But the resolutions that were passed clearly had the effect (a) of reminding people that the way was in fact open all along to the episcopal appointment of non-celibate homosexuals, and (b) of reminding people that rites for public same-sex blessings could indeed be developed. The ABC is now clearly if tacitly saying, throughout the document, that there is no reasonable likelihood, at any point in many years to come, that TEC will in fact turn round and embrace the moratoria ex animo, still less the theology which underlies the Communion’s constant and often-repeated stance on sexual behaviour. Nor is there any reasonable likelihood that TEC will in fact be able to embrace the Covenant when it attains its final form a few months from now. That is the reality with which the Reflections deal. continue here

Where is the Good Samaritan

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I have just returned from General Convention 2009 and have been in the process of emotionally unpacking the two week experience. Part of the process has been to reflect on readings from the Holy Scriptures and the Parable of the Good Samaritan edged its way into my heart and mind. I couldn't discern why until I read and prayed about it for thirty minutes or so then it came to me. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is fitting for the state of the Episcopal Church.

As I reflected upon this it occurred to me that over the past thirty years the self-righteous on both sides of the issues which have divided the Episcopal Church during this time continue on their way leaving the Church to languish on the side of the rode. Oh, to be sure, they have their reasons, just ask them, but the reality is the church has been beaten and battered by cries for justice on the one hand, and cries for religious purity on the other. Each has been guilty of , to use a term from Walter Brueggemann, exclusionary absolutism. Where is our Good Samaritan?

I do not have a right answer for this question but I do hope and pray that God will send his servant to us to help us to be healed and restored to wholeness and newness of life. It is clear, given the decline in the Episcopal Church's ASA, membership, and financial resources, what we are doing isn't working and to believe it to be working is a recipe for disaster.

We need a Good Samaritan, the one who will show mercy and what it truly means to love one another.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury Responds to GC 2009

Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future

Monday 27 July 2009

Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion.


1. No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion. Their generous welcome to guests from elsewhere, including myself, the manifest engagement with the crushing problems of the developing world and even the wording of one of the more controversial resolutions all make plain the fact that the Episcopal Church does not wish to cut its moorings from other parts of the Anglican family. There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully. There is a clear commitment to seek counsel from elsewhere in the Communion about certain issues and an eloquent resolution in support of the 'Covenant for a Communion in Mission' as commended by ACC13. All of this merits grateful acknowledgement. The relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion is a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement.

2. However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties.

3. There are two points which I believe need to be reiterated and thought through further, and it seems to fall to the Archbishop of Canterbury to try and articulate them. To some extent they echo part of what I wrote after the last General Convention, as well as things said at the Lambeth Conference and the ACC, but they still have some pertinence.


4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.

5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion's life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.

7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)

10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.


11. The second issue is the broader one of how a local church makes up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matter. It is of the greatest importance to remember this aspect of the matter, so as not to be completely trapped in the particularly bitter and unpleasant atmosphere of the debate over sexuality, in which unexamined prejudice is still so much in evidence and accusations of bad faith and bigotry are so readily thrown around.

12. When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.

13. This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle. On some issues, there emerges a recognition that a particular new development is not of such significance that a high level of global agreement is desirable; in the language used by the Doctrinal Commission of the Communion, there is a recognition that in 'intensity, substance and extent' it is not of fundamental importance. But such a recognition cannot be wished into being by one local church alone. It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally.

14. Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century. But this should not lead us to ignore or minimise the opposite danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment.

15. There have never been universal and straightforward rules about this, and no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion. In an age of vastly improved communication, we must make the best use we can of the means available for consultation and try to build into our decision-making processes ways of checking whether a new local development would have the effect of isolating a local church or making it less recognisable to others. This again has an ecumenical dimension when a global Christian body is involved in partnerships and discussions with other churches who will quite reasonably want to know who now speaks for the body they are relating to when a controversial local change occurs. The results of our ecumenical discussions are themselves important elements in shaping the theological vision within which we seek to resolve our own difficulties.

16. In recent years, local pastoral needs have been cited as the grounds for changes in the sacramental practice of particular local churches within the Communion, and theological rationales have been locally developed to defend and promote such changes. Lay presidency at the Holy Communion is one well-known instance. Another is the regular admission of the unbaptised to Holy Communion as a matter of public policy. Neither of these practices has been given straightforward official sanction as yet by any Anglican authorities at diocesan or provincial level, but the innovative practices concerned have a high degree of public support in some localities.

17. Clearly there are significant arguments to be had about such matters on the shared and agreed basis of Scripture, Tradition and reason. But it should be clear that an acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition, such that it would be a fair question as to whether the new practice was in any way continuous with the old. Hence the question of 'recognisability' once again arises.

18. To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'.


19. As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. There is nothing foolish or incoherent about this approach. But it is not the approach that has generally shaped the self-understanding of our Communion – less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation.

20. The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local.

21. They have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out – rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships.

22. It is possible that some will not choose this way of intensifying relationships, though I pray that it will be persuasive. It would be a mistake to act or speak now as if those decisions had already been made – and of course approval of the final Covenant text is still awaited. For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.

23. This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.

25. It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.


26. All of this is to do with becoming the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be a great mistake to see the present situation as no more than an unhappy set of tensions within a global family struggling to find a coherence that not all its members actually want. Rather, it is an opportunity for clarity, renewal and deeper relation with one another – and so also with Our Lord and his Father, in the power of the Spirit. To recognise different futures for different groups must involve mutual respect for deeply held theological convictions. Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.

+ Rowan Cantuar:

From Lambeth Palace, Monday 27 July 2009

© Rowan Williams 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Dallas

July 22, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Diocese of Dallas,

I write to you in response to the actions of the recent General Convention of The Episcopal Church meeting in Anaheim, California. Some in the diocese will be pleased with much that happened, while others will view with alarm some of the resolutions passed.

I feel compelled to speak a word to the Diocese of Dallas concerning three actions in particular. The first two gathered the most press attention and later comment. Members of our Diocese as well as Anglicans throughout the Communion are particularly concerned about these actions, which took the form of resolutions.

The Communion at large has been looking for a clear word from The Episcopal Church as to whether we will continue to honor the moratoria on developing rites for the blessing of same sex unions and consenting to the election to the episcopate of a person living in a same sex relationship. These moratoria were first suggested in the Windsor Report of October 2004 and were occasioned by the consecration of a bishop in The Episcopal Church living in a non‐celibate same‐sex relationship. A pledge, known as B033, to “exercise restraint” in giving further consents to such persons was adopted by the Convention of 2006. And while the 2006 Convention did not declare a moratorium on blessing rites for same‐sex unions, it nevertheless turned away several resolutions calling for development of such rites. The Primates of the Anglican Communion took note of these actions with gratitude at their meeting in 2007 (Dar es Salaam), but requested greater clarity. That clarity would come in 2009.

It is clear from the resolutions passed, as well as from the floor debate in both Houses, that it is the intention of the leadership of The Episcopal Church that the moratoria requested by the Communion are no longer binding. Although a number of commentators, among them bishops, have maintained that the moratoria themselves were not specifically addressed, it is clear that both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops view their previous pledge as cancelled. It was the stated desire of both Bishops and Deputies that this General Convention speak clearly to the Communion concerning “the reality of where this church is.”

Resolution D025 reads (in part): “That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call [gay and lesbian persons in lifelong committed relationships], to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church” and further declares that it is competent to deal with these calls in its own “discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.”

Resolution C056 reads (in part): “That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention”.

While it is true that neither of these resolutions deal explicitly with repudiations of either previous actions of the Convention or of specific requests made of our Church, it is also quite true that their intent is plain. The 2006 resolution had called for restraint on giving consent to the consecration of any bishop “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.” That concern is now completely absent in D025, and the only criteria in making such decisions are entirely internal. As for C056, the operative word is “develop.” The plain sense here is to “create,” “produce,” or “promote.”

C056 also resolves that bishops “may provide generous pastoral response” to meet the needs of same‐sex couples, and this, before providing any theological support for the rites themselves. This appears to give a “green light” to local, unilateral action, and is already being so interpreted by a number of bishops.

Taken together, this is de facto a repudiation of the repeated requests directed to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Communion, and the Anglican Consultative Council. It is also, I would argue, a repudiation of a previous actions of our own General Convention, in 1991, which mandated a “pan‐Anglican” and ecumenical consultation on these matters, because “these potentially divisive issues which should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.” (1991‐B020)

Although these resolutions deal specifically with matters concerning same‐sex relationships and persons living within them, I want to remind you of the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his paper following our 2006 General Convention (“The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today”):

“And, to make clear something that can get very much obscured in the rhetoric about 'inclusion', this is not and should never be a question about the contribution of gay and lesbian people as such to the Church of God and its ministry, about the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people. Instead it is a question, agonisingly difficult for many, as to what kinds of behaviour a Church that seeks to be loyal to the Bible can bless, and what kinds of behaviour it must warn against ‐ and so it is a question about how we make decisions corporately with other Christians, looking together for the mind of Christ as we share the study of the Scriptures.”

There are many gay and lesbian members of our congregations. Some long for the day when the Church will recognize and bless their relationships. Others among them do not. Add to these a number of people who are considering whether they can even remain in The Episcopal Church any longer. Ministry in these circumstances can be agonizing indeed. The churches of the Diocese of Dallas will, I trust, continue to be a place where all are welcome. We all kneel on level ground before the cross of Christ.

But the larger question is what it means for “the Church” to make these decisions: is it right or good, or even possible, for a congregation, a diocese, or even a province of the Universal Church to make its own way and claim to give “the Church’s blessing” – or God’s? Discerning the mind of Christ surely must mean doing this together. The Christian faith is something we receive, not legislate. Our own Book of Common Prayer recognizes that “the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And Holy Scripture commends it to be honored by all people.” (BCP, p. 423)

In the meantime, we need to be clear about where “we are” as a Diocese:
• The Diocese of Dallas will continue to hold up and proclaim the apostles’ teaching that is the ground of Christian fellowship, and the foundational promise of our Baptismal vows.
• We will continue to stand with the larger Church in affirming the primacy of Scripture, the sanctity of marriage and the call to holiness of life.
• We will not consent to the election of a bishop living in a same‐sex relationship, and we will not allow the blessings of same‐sex relationships in this diocese.
• We will continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, engage in mission at home and abroad, plant new congregations and make disciples of our Lord.

These commitments are in keeping with the historic teaching of the Holy Scriptures as held by the vast majority of the Anglican Communion, and, for that matter, the Church throughout the centuries.

I mentioned earlier a third significant resolution passed by the General Convention. Resolution D020 “invites” the dioceses and congregations of the Episcopal Church to study the proposed Anglican Covenant and “to consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion.” I commend this study to our churches and I intend to give a prominent place at our Diocesan Convention in October to such a consideration.

Bishop Lambert and I will be conferring with the Standing Committee and the Clergy of this Diocese on these matters. In the meantime, please know that we will continue to stand with the larger Communion and the historic Church in upholding the apostolic faith and fellowship.

It is imperative that we as a Diocese commit ourselves to one another and work together for the building up of God’s kingdom. At no time in the life of this Church has it been so critical for the community to stand together to carry the message of the Good News of Christ to a broken world. We cannot live in isolation from one another but must find ways to work with and support one another in our common mission and ministry. Now is not the time to “run for cover” but to step out in the name of Jesus Christ and continue to worship, work and witness for the glory of God.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Canon Neal Michell - Reflections on the Future of the Episcopal Church in Light of the Actions of the General Convention

As many in the Episcopal/Anglican world know, The Episcopal Church just completed its 76th General Convention in Anaheim, California. So, what are the medium-term prospects for the Episcopal Church in light of the decisions recently make by that General Convention?

Okay, let’s take a deep breath. Inhale deeply. . . exhale deeply. . . Here’s my take. First, the positives, and then the negatives.

1. Missions. First, on a positive note, it was evident that The Episcopal Church as a whole and as a sum of its parts is involved in lots of missionary endeavors throughout the world. All the resolutions concerning World Mission were considered with deep respect and generally found easy passage. This church has come a long way from the 1980’s and 1990’s when the World Mission Department of the Presiding Bishop’s office was in such disarray and serious attempts were made to cease sending missionaries from TEC to other parts of the world. Similarly, it is clear that those present at this General Convention value TEC’s membership and participation in the life of the Anglican Communion.

2. Diversity is a Value. The decisions of General Convention also evidence that TEC wants to be a church of more than the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant of the last two centuries in which men dominated the leadership ranks of the church. Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, homosexual persons, and women obviously played prominent roles at various levels of the church. On the positive side, it is a good thing to be in a church that attracts gay and lesbian persons. TEC is attempting to be more inclusive of people who formerly felt alienated from the church. (The downside of this is that as a whole, TEC churches offer acceptance only and not any sense of healing or deeper wholeness. A further downside of this desire to include in positions of leadership people from these formerly marginalized groups is that in several elections, candidates who were more experienced and had a more proven record of service to the church were cast aside in favor of these formerly marginalized people with less experience.)

3. Strategic Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries. One glance at the Strategic plan put forward by the Hispanic and Latino Ministries shows that they get it.

Well, that’s about it for the positives. The rest looks pretty grim—and, by the way, it’s not all about sex. Let’s get sex out of the way first, because TEC has more problems than just the conflict over sexuality.

1. Widening Gap Between TEC and the Anglican Communion. The most commented on actions coming out of the Anaheim General Convention has to do with the declarations that discernment for all levels of ordained ministry is open to gay and lesbian persons. Although many have and will argue—specifically, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies—that the moratorium on consenting to the election of a bishop in a same sex union has not been repealed, both the rationale given for the proposed legislation, and the floor debate accompanying said legislation (“D025”) reveals that the intent of the General Convention legislation was to hold the self-restraint as called for in 2006 (“B033”) as no longer binding on the bishops. It must be added that the abrogation of B033 was stated gently, respectfully, and graciously, but the intent of both houses of Deputies and Bishops was to abrogate B033. To interpret D025 otherwise stretches the bounds of credulity. The result at the Communion level will be that the rift between TEC and the vast majority of the Anglican Communion (save for Canada and a number of individual dioceses) has now widened even more considerably, and the likelihood of some form of Communion discipline of TEC is increased.

The Episcopal Church through General Convention also authorized the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same sex unions to be presented to the 2012 General Convention (C061). Those who want TEC to remain a “constituent member of the Anglican Communion” will argue that no official rites were thereby authorized; it is equally clear through the floor debate on C061 as well as the statement in C056 that “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.” Again, signal that TEC would move forward on the blessing of same sex unions wase given gently, respectfully, and graciously, but the intent was to move TEC beyond the constraints of the second moratorium requested by the primates in the Windsor Report family of requests. (There is one other problem facing TEC that comes from the sexuality decisions of General Convention in Anaheim. We will deal with that issue later in section 5 below.

However, the problems in TEC expressed through the decisions of General Convention in Anaheim run deeper than the sexuality issues.

2. Financial Shortfall. It was obvious to all those in attendance at the General Convention in Anaheim that The Episcopal Church as an organization is facing tremendous financial difficulties. Although the economy in general was publicly cited as the reason for the financial problems, it was clear through a review of the contributing dioceses the printed materials that the departure of four dioceses and the disaffection of a number of dioceses also contributed significantly to the shortfall. According to notes distributed to the Bishops and deputies, at least 68 out of 109 dioceses failed in 2008 to pay to TEC the amount requested for the support of the program and structure of TEC. Many good and positive ministries are being given less support or provided no support at all. When the budget was passed, it was also announced that some thirty jobs at “815” would be eliminated within the year.

3. Fair Cuts versus Strategic Cuts. The cuts proposed in the budget for TEC were intended to be “fair” and “across the board.” Sounds fair and reasonable, right? Ah, but that’s the problem. They were not strategic. Any organization experiencing decline should be strategic in its budget allocation. There was no talk of strategy—except a proposal to take money from the strategic planning line item and use it to provide a second part-time assistant for the President of the House of Deputies.

4. Lack of Overall Strategic Direction. Even apart from the lack of strategic allocation of resources in the triennial budget, it is clear that TEC also lacks strategic direction at the highest levels of leadership in TEC. Cuts in Communications were made without consultation of either the Standing Commission on Communications or the Board of Episcopal Life. In addition, the staff and organization of the Presiding Bishop has been in disarray for the past three years and continues to this day. Positions have been eliminated, some staff members have been reassigned, with the result that areas of responsibility have fallen through the cracks in a seemingly disorganized reorganization. Seemingly strategic staff positions of three years ago and even one year ago were eliminated with little dissent.

Clearly, a denominational structure that served 3.6 million members that now serves 2.2 million members has to be reorganized. However, the decisions made at General Convention fails to show whether the leadership is really acknowledging that changed reality.

5. Impact of Liberal vs. Conservative Balance of Power. Most votes concerning issues of sexuality generally passed by similar margins: 70% to 30% in favor of what would be labeled the liberal position. (The one exception was the resolution calling on people in The Episcopal Church to work for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act: it passed by only 55% to 45% in the House of Deputies and was defeated in the House of Bishops). TEC has lost 10% of its average Sunday attendance since 2003 (the year when the bishop of New Hampshire was consecrated). At a time when TEC is in significant decline due to conservatives leaving the denomination, the decisions to allow partnered gays to serve as bishops and to bless same sex unions—while it may bring some people into Episcopal churches—the overall effect will be to cause more theologically and culturally conservative people to leave TEC and will make TEC an even less attractive church for other theologically and culturally conservative people to consider joining.