Independence Day Blog

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in Christ. I am writing you this report about General Convention 2024.  As with all conventions, some of its best moments were the koinonia of seeing old friends and colleagues on the street or the hotel lobby- the blog posts about meeting with Anthony Poggo, General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, and dinner with our old friends from Navajoland (who became a ‘missionary diocese’) are vivid examples of this ‘convention in the corridor.’  But what of the official part of the meeting?  GC81 had some surprisingly encouraging theological aspects, which I want to share with you. The House of Bishops had a spirit of friendship and collegiality throughout, even when we disagreed. As with the Congress imagined by the framers, it is surely the ‘cooling dish’ to the House of Deputies! And of course we elected a new Presiding Bishop (quite surprisingly on the first ballot!). To be sure, Michael Curry (a good friend to the Communion Partners, btw) is one tough act to follow!  He so admirably and distinctively lifted high the cause of racial reconciliation in Christ, and this could be seen at various points in the Convention’s proceedings. It will be an on-going legacy for him. At the same time I think Sean Rowe, the new Presiding Bishop, is the right person for a new season of tightening belts and reckoning with hard demographic realities.  He seems to be to be faithful, fair-minded, and pragmatic.  We pray that he may flourish in a challenging calling.

Quite frankly, the Communion Partners sought for years to avoid the insertion of the new, gender-neutral marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer. GC81, in a first reading (of two), voted to do just that, achieving what progressives have sought, namely ‘marriage equality.’ I was one of a few bishops who, quixotically, voted ‘no.’ But more needs to be said, for the larger context of legislation matters. This decision was part of a larger web of actions, one of whose purposes was to make a more stable kind of room for traditional Episcopalians.  At this point I want to extend some well-deserved kudos, first to leaders in our own diocese who founded, and led, the Communion-Across-Difference idea, and then taskforce: Fr. Matthew Olver, Fr. Jordan Hylden, and Christopher Wells. A word of appreciation is also in order to progressive friends who have shown leadership, most recently Bishop Dee-Dee Duncan Probe of Central New York.  The taskforce has sought mutuality, charity, and creativity, so that there might be a lasting place for a more traditional minority within the Episcopal Church, to offer its particular witness on behalf of the Church as a whole.  The wider Church still needs us, particularly in the areas of Scriptural emphasis, theology, evangelism, and connection to the global Church.

Let me describe specific outcomes at GC81 in response to three questions.

What was accomplished?

There has been considerable debate about the idea of defining the term ‘Book of Common Prayer’  in two ways, first as the collection (nowadays in the cloud) of  liturgies that have received two sequential approvals by GC. (GC81 did also affirm that they needed to go through a trial period), and, second, as the actual book you have before you in the pew.  The convention ‘memorialized’ the latter, commonly called ‘the 1979 BCP’, and defined ‘memorialize’ to mean authorized for all services in every diocese.  A parish can continue to use it, and insofar as it is in the bundle of all approved ‘cloud’ documents, it has equal status. Secondly, GC81 voted in a first reading to approve the new marriage rite alongside the received one, i.e. there will be, in 2027, two rites of equal status and authority in the book.  This is at once complex and irenic.  Thirdly, parts of the resolution from GC2018, called ‘B012,’ were actually embedded in the canons themselves. These moves, taken together, assure that our Church will continue to enjoy ‘communion-across-difference.’  We traditionals for our part are grateful for this outcome, and understand ourselves to be in shared communion with brothers and sisters with whom we disagree on this issue (though we agree on many others!).

It should be added that GC81 made several other decisions in the same spirit. It passed a resolution to ensure that deployment and ordination were accessible to all, including progressives in more traditional dioceses and traditional clergy in more progressive dioceses. (For what it’s worth, we in EDOD already have a canonical residence policy which is equal for all, an arrangement with the Diocese of Texas for aspirants from B012 parishes, and a standing offer to any searching parish to have a full search if they wish).  

Does this mean that there are now two teachings? 

Well, there will be in 2027 BCP two rites. To be sure, at GC81 the bishops approved, but the House of Deputies voted down a resolution affirming specifically that either teaching would never constitute a Title IV violation (though it seems clear from the debate that the delegates were not clear on what the resolution did and didn’t mean). GC81 also emended the BCP catechism so as, in 2027, to express the new teaching.  But on this point too, more needs to be said. The adage lex orandi lex credendi (‘the law of praying is the law of believing’) goes back to the Patristic era. In recent generations it has been deployed to affirm that what we believe can trustworthily be deduced from how we pray. In the two rites in the 2027 BCP will be found, by this logic, two teachings. Furthermore, the 1979 Book, memorialized, maintains the older catechism. We will have not only two rites but two catechisms, and in both two teachings. (I believe that this can best be understood in terms of the process of reception over a longer time-frame, about which you can see my blog ‘Is Christianity ‘Mere’?’, later in this newsletter).  At a common-sense level, one might respond, ‘of course we have had two teachings for awhile now!’ One might take the voting down of the relevant resolution to reflect the fact that the new teaching prevails among more Episcopalians in our time. The key thing is that, given the full range of authorized rites, a more traditional ordinand can take the oath of conformity without his or her fingers crossed!

Does this outcome have a wider significance?

The tensions over marriage have not been limited to our Church, to be sure! It has roiled the Anglican Communion as a whole, not least in this period since the Lambeth Conference 2022, and it has put the present Church of England into a crisis quite familiar to us. But this idea of a differentiated communion which makes room is being studied and advanced in the leadership of the Communion at the present. In some modest way we can offer an example. The space afforded us will allow us to be full members of our own Church even as we continue to be friends and partners in mission in the Global South of our Communion as well. 

This is of course not all that GC81 did (leaving aside its’ being a bit of a COVID super-spreader event!). We dealt with a dizzying number of resolutions. The mergers of Episcopal dioceses were a harbinger of things to come. The long debate on Israel and Gaza showed the earnest passion of delegates, albeit in different directions (though the question whether anyone outside the Church is listening to us on such a topic is a fair one).  We tried to improve Title IV, the disciplinary canon, though it mostly requires the prudence and wisdom of those required to implement it. 

The final word should be one of praise for our own patient and hard-working delegation, so ably led by Jolayne LaCour:  they did us proud.  May Almighty God preserve, and make use of, our modest Church, in this complicated time, and in ways we cannot ask or imagine,



Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.