As bishops of the Episcopal Church prepared for a late September meeting in New Orleans that was to include Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, three more bishops were consecrated outside the American church to minister to dissidents in the United States.
On Sept. 2, Rev. John Guernsey was made a bishop in southwestern Uganda in the Ugandan Anglican Church, but will serve 26 U.S. congregations that are conservative on the issue of homosexuality and have asked the Ugandan church for “ecclesiastical oversight.”
On Aug. 30 in Nairobi, Kenya’s archbishop, Benjamin Nzimbi, consecrated Rev. William Murdoch and Rev. Bill Atwood as bishops in the Anglican Church in Kenya.
Mr. Murdoch is from Massachusetts and Mr. Atwood is from Texas.
“The gospel … must take precedence over culture. Homosexual practice violates the order of life given by God in Holy Scripture,” said Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies at the ceremony.
However, a majority of members of the Episcopal Church – which approved the election of a gay bishop in 2003 – strongly disagree with that viewpoint. The church’s bishops were to wrestle with a request from the last meeting of the world’s primates, or national archbishops, that the U.S. not allow further consecrations of gay bishops or agree to blessing ceremonies for gay couples. The bishops were asked to make their views known by Sept. 30 or risk possible action to expel the U.S. church from the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Just which entity would have the power to expel a province from the communion is the subject of a document Episcopal Church policymakers are currently examining and which is expected to be part of the bishops’ discussions at their Sept. 20-25 meeting. It was written last April by Canon Robert Brooks, a priest in the diocese of Connecticut and former director of government relations with the Episcopal Church.
Mr. Brooks noted that the only international body in the Anglican Communion with a written constitution is the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), which was formed in 1969. That constitution “makes it clear that neither the primates nor the Archbishop of Canterbury acting alone can legally ‘alter the schedule’ of provinces of the communion listed in the ACC constitution,” wrote Mr. Brooks.
The council’s membership consists of lay, clergy and episcopal (bishops) members from all 38 Anglican provinces, which contain one or more national churches. It meets roughly every three years and will next meet in 2009.
Mr. Brooks concluded that it would take an amendment to the council’s constitution subsequently ratified by two-thirds of the general synods or general conventions of the 38 provinces to expel a member province.
In a commentary posted at the Episcopal Majority Web site (episcopalmajority.blogspot.com), a former Canadian primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, called Mr. Brooks’ analysis “lucid and admirable.” He noted that in the past, a change in the list of provinces came from individual primates, rather than from the primates’ meeting.
The ACC, Archbishop Peers wrote, “is the only Communion-wide ‘instrument (of unity)’ with representation from orders other than episcopal (and) was designed to have the greatest authority. I pray that it may have the freedom and grace to use that authority wisely.” The primates’ meeting has its place, he wrote, adding, “I pray that it may have the grace to use its leadership humbly.”
Another event that could be on the American bishops’ minds in New Orleans is the nomination of a lesbian priest as one of five candidates for bishop of the diocese of Chicago. Dean Tracey Lind, of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, who is in a relationship with a female partner, is on the ballot for the Nov. 10 election. Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his male partner, is so far the only openly gay bishop in the American church.
Opinions vary on Dean Lind’s candidacy. “Discernment has trumped discrimination in the diocese of Chicago,” said Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an Anglican gay-support group. “Chicago’s action is simply flying in the face of the desire of the Anglican Communion,” said Bishop Peter Beckwith of the diocese of Springfield (Ill.). “It’s a slap in the face.”
Archbishop Williams’ sessions with the U.S. bishops, to take place Sept. 21 and 21, were not scheduled to be open to the public, nor were the bishops’ deliberations set for Sept. 24 and 25. A large ecumenical service was also scheduled in New Orleans on Sept. 20.
The Anglican Journal will report from the Sept. 20-25 meeting of Episcopal Church bishops. Please visit anglicanjournal.com for the latest news.