This is a week of historic significance in the Anglican Communion. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) released a statement on Tuesday responding to a request from the leaders of the 38 worldwide Anglican provinces to:
- Clarify that they would not ordain any more noncelibate homosexual bishops
- Stop blessing same-sex unions
- Put in place a way for conservative episcopal parishes to place themselves under the primatial authority of a "pastoral council" made up partly of bishops from more conservative provinces
- Stop lawsuits against those parishes who have left TEC
In response, the Bishops issued a statement last Tuesday (9/25) that they would "excercise restraint" in ordaining noncelibate homosexual bishops, refrain from authorizing an official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions, and allow Episcopal parishes who asked for alternative oversight to place themselves under one of a few pre-selected Episcopal bishops.
You don't have to read between the lines to see that this is not exactly what they were asked to do. And it is going to cause quite a ruckus in the communion. It seems probable to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is not going to be withdrawing any invitations to next years Lambeth Conference, a gathering of all the world's Anglican bishops. Which means at least that many of the African and South American provinces will not be attending, and might mean schism. Some are already downplaying the importance of Canterbury to Anglican identity.
But right on the heels of that meeting came another one, the Common Cause meeting of several conservative Anglican groups: Episcopal bishops as well as churches that have broken away from TEC in the past and some Canadian groups. And out of that meeting came an incredible statement - a pledge to form a unified Anglican body with (hopeful) ties to Canterbury. They have scheduled meetings every 6 months toward accomplishing this goal.
I was very hopeful that something like this would happen, but I expected it to be top-down - that is, for the Primates to create a new non-geographic province, or allow us to operate permanently under the jurisdiction of another Primate. But that would be a very slow process. There will most likely be a meeting of the Primates to evalue TEC's response (though as far as I know it's not scheduled yet) and then more meetings, talks, wait-and-see.
The Common Cause partnership is much more ecumenical and grass-roots: a bunch of different Anglican groups getting together and more or less asking Canterbury to bless it after the fact.
I can't describe how exciting this is. Schism is a lot like sin: It's always easier the second time - and the third, and the fourth. And putting the pieces back together, even with substantial doctrinal agreement, is never as easy as one would thinkg it ought to be. The fact that so many Anglican groups are committed to reconcilation and reunion is amazing.
Even more amazing is that the Reformed Episcopal Church is a Common Cause member. The REC left the Episcopal Church not over women's ordination but more than 100 years ago in protest over the more Catholic elements being incorporated into it. They seem to have resolved their differences, however.
One name I was sorry to not see on the list was the Anglican Catholic Church. St. Mary Magdalene, in Orange, is an ACC parish that was formed when Blessed Sacrament underwent a church split in the 70's over the Episcopal Church's ordination of women. I can't describe how much I would like to see that division healed.
Nevertheless, great things are happening in the communion. Change is in the air, and the spirit of unity. I don't know what worldwide Anglicanism will look like when the dust settles, but I see a lot of reasons for hope.