Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book .  Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:

Do justice

A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

What's In a Name? On the Matter of the Archbishop of Canterbury naming, suggesting or otherwise initiating the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes

What's In a Name?

On the Matter of the Archbishop of Canterbury
naming, suggesting or otherwise initiating
the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes

By The Rev. Mark Harris

[Canon Harris has corrected/updated this posting below; and the Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed in, descrbiing the limits to his initial suggestion of the term network -- lc]

Two weeks ago I wrote the [bishops-deputies discussion] list asking for information regarding the widely stated proposition that the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes was set up at the suggestion of, given its name by, or was the idea of, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I received a number of replies, for which I thank HoB/D list readers.

What follows is my effort to untangle the various strands of this history. It is unfortunately a bit long, so be forewarned! It is too long for a single posting to the HoB/D list, so I am sending it in two parts.

Now is a good time to stop unless this bit of historical detective work is of interest. I hope it helps to set out the issues in some coherent way.

The claim in recent days:

This claim that the ABC is the source of the idea of the Network continues to find its way into the record. The Living Church in its June 27, 2004 issue, in an article by Sarah Tippit-Johnson, repeats the claim, where she writes,

".national leaders from the American Anglican Council (AAC) and from the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (the official name for the CAN) stopped short of calling for a full-out separation --- even though they acknowledged that the ACN, a network of ecclesial bodies set up on the suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is structured exactly like a province." (p. 5)

Bishop Robert Duncan restated this claim in his response to Bishop Parsley on May 13, 2004. "The Archbishop of Canterbury first recommended formation of a network of "confessing" dioceses and congregations."

Neither attribution is a direct quote, and neither states that the ABC actually suggested the form and structure of the network that happened under AAC guidance. "Suggestion" and "recommendation" allows for a variety of interpretations as regards detail, etc. But the recital of the phrase "network of confessing dioceses and congregations" would lead one to believe that the ABC gave prior approval to the Network as it came to be formed, even though its name is The Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, rather than The Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.

So there continues to be the claim made, or the claim reported, that the Archbishop of Canterbury made the specific suggestion for the name or for the idea of setting up the Network.

And the truth of the matter? It is hard to say. However, here is what has come to light:

The argument for such a suggestion:

  1. Anglican Mainstream, reported on the AAC preparations for realignment on October 24, 2003, and in that report quotes Canon David Anderson, "A first component of the new realignment is the establishment of a "Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes," which is actually a name given to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury." So Canon Anderson claims the name is given by the ABC, although the name used differs - "confessing" being replaced by "Anglican Communion."

  2. George Conger reported by email to the HoB/D group, "Yes, the Archbishop of Canterbury made the statements sited by Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh in support of the formation of the Network. He made them on October 15 at Lambeth Palace to four bishops and David Anderson and Martyn Minns. I have questioned Lambeth Palace on this point and have received confirmation of the veracity of Bishop Duncan's claims." Mr. Conger does not tell us the nature of that confirmation (letter, email, conversation?) nor its source. His source concerns the idea of forming a network.

  3. Bishop Duncan, in response to Bishop Parsley on May 13, 2004 says, "The Archbishop of Canterbury first recommended formation of a network of 'confessing' dioceses and congregations. In response to that call the Anglican Communion Network is developing as a biblically-based missionary movement dedicated to upholding a faithful expression of Anglicanism in North America." (See source) Bishop Duncan attributes to the ABC the recommendation that a network be formed.

Problems with the affirmative answer:

Anderson and Anglican Mainstream make no mention of the occasion on which the Archbishop might have given this name or made this suggestion. Anderson's remarks followed an ACC special board meeting on October 22-23, 2003, so we know that if made it was before that date. The Anglican Mainstream article references a meeting between the ABC and four ACC bishops and two clergy leaders on October 17, 2003. The Anglican Communion News Service, in an article by James Solheim, mentions only this meeting of the ACC leadership and the ABC. That article makes no reference to an earlier meeting.

So does George Conger know of another meeting held before the Primates Meeting by anyone who could have picked up on the ABC's idea and taken that to the AAC leadership?

When would that meeting have to have been held? Conger supposes October 15, 2003, but as has been pointed out by others (L. Deimel and J.R. Gundersen) Bishop Duncan already used the title, "Network of Confessing Diocese and Parishes" at the Plano Meeting on October 8, 2003.

Bishop Duncan must too have been making reference to some statement by the ABC prior to October 8, 2003, otherwise it is he and the AAC and not the ABC who gave rise to the idea and name to the effort.

The question is, then, is there a source prior to October 8th for any statement by the Archbishop in which he might have said something like: "I think it would be important to establish a network of confessing dioceses and parishes," or "Here's an idea: why don't you set up a network of confessing dioceses and parishes," or even more ambiguously, "Some kind of network of dioceses and parishes would make sense; why don't you take up that effort."

References to meetings between the ABC and AAC leadership after October 8, 2003, are not relevant to the issue as to whether or not the ABC suggested the name or the idea of the Network.

One suggestion (by Joan Gundersen) is that there might have been some sort of conversation at the CAPA meeting the first week of October. See Virtuosity Digest 2003, #84, referenced by Joan Gundersen, which has the only reference I can find to a meeting between Episcopal Church bishops and CAPA Primates in early October.

In order for this to be of interest it would need to be shown that the Archbishop of Canterbury initiated the idea there himself, or caused that idea to be floated by someone representing him, and that someone from the AAC was there to receive it. It does not serve the interest of the claim to have one of the American bishops or AAC leaders provide the name or idea for discussion, for if the idea is to be the ABC's it must come from him.

Barring further revelations (or at least citations) I see no convincing basis for the claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested the name, or even the idea, of the Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.

Arguments against the ABC naming or suggesting the Network:

The question of encouragement: The wider background for the claim arises in the context of also claiming that "With the Archbishop of Canterbury's encouragement, the AAC Bishop's Committee on Adequate Episcopal Oversight is coordinating requests for oversight." (see Anglican Mainstream news sited above.) It is in the larger context of "encouragement" that much of the claim for the ABC's initiation is paced. Encouragement of a general "networking" effort is not the same as either naming the network itself or endorsing the specifics of this particular networks actions.

Bishop Duncan, in the Anglican Communion News Service article of 23 December, 2003 is quoted as saying that the ABC "has encouraged the formation of such a network in private dialogue with members of the orthodox caucus." This statement is clearly more cautious than that made by Canon Anderson two months before. Encouraging the formation of "such a network" is quite different from naming the network, or even initiating the idea. Bishop Duncan does not specify the date of that meeting. This is of course somewhat different from Bishop Duncan's own statement of May 13, 2004.

Bishop John Howe identifies only the one meeting between the AAC leadership and the ABC: October 17, 2003. While Bishop Howe does say that he remembers the ABC encourage a network, he later understood that the ABC "has made it clear that he believes any provision for Episcopal oversight must be worked out within ECUSA itself, and that he will not be personally involved." (press release 12.19.03)"

One other meeting, the December meeting of AAC leadership in London, is sometimes mentioned in relation to the question of the ABC's initiation of the idea. The AAC web page report of the meeting in London to draft a Memorandum of Agreement, reported on December 18, 2003, and the press release related to that make no mention of the claim of ABC initiation, and no mention of meeting with the ABC at that time.

Given the various opportunities for the ABC or his office to acknowledge the claim or for the AAC in later publications to state it as clearly as Canon Anderson had initially, the silence seems to step back from the bold assertion that the "Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes," . is actually a name given to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury."

We are still left with two questions:

  1. What of the "private dialogue" and whether or not it took place before October 8th, when the name is first used at the Plano conference? It becomes clear that whatever was said and to whom, the ABC in December did not claim ownership of the idea and/ or engagement with the details of negotiation. The matter of response to the issues of oversight was clearly understood to be something that needed to be worked out within the Episcopal Church.
  2. What of the notion of being in sympathy with the efforts of the AAC and Network? On 9 February 2004, at the Church of England General Synod the Archbishop of Canterbury said, "I've been following sympathetically the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America engaged in negotiating some of these questions of episcopal oversight." This clearly indicates some real interest by the ABC in the development of the Network, but the lack of any suggestion of providing leadership - by idea, suggestion, or engagement - is telling. "Following sympathetically," is as supportive as he wishes to be.

On 2/10/2004 the AAC wrote commending the ABC for "the sympathetic reaction that the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes received from the Archbishop of Canterbury." The commendation goes on to state that "This acknowledgement of work with representatives of the Network and the American Anglican Council.clearly refutes statements from ECUSA leaders implying no such discussions have occurred."

But question is not be about there being discussions, but rather about whether or not the ABC indeed named the Network or initiated the idea. For that to be true there must be an event prior to October 8, 2003 in which to place the specifics of that discussion.

Interestingly, of course, the ABC's statement of 2/9/2004 names no parties or individuals as regards work done. I assume that when he speaks of "the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church." he is indeed speaking of the AAC efforts. I also assume that when the ABC says, "I have been involved in working with several parties there towards some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible," he is referring to contacts with the Presiding Bishop's office as well as with AAC leadership and others. But none of this is stated clearly.

What is most interesting about the AAC commendation letter of 2/10/2004 is that it does not reiterate the claim that the ABC is the source of the idea of forming the Network, much less the person who named the network.

In Summation:

  1. As yet there is no source confirmed for any meeting prior to October 8, 2003 in which the Archbishop of Canterbury or his spokesperson floated the idea of "A Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes."
  2. That title was used at the Plano Conference by Bishop Duncan thereby making any subsequent mention of the name derivative.
  3. The ABC did meet with four bishops and two clergy on October 17, following the Primates Meeting. The ABC no doubt listened attentively and sympathetically to the concerns of the AAC. There is some memory that at that meeting he used the term "Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes." But because that term was already in use he can not have then invented it. He might well have referred to the idea and perhaps may have been sympathetic to its goals as they were spelled out at the time.
  4. Later references to the notion that the ABC had initiated the idea and named the group seem to be references back to the initial claim of Canon Anderson, with the exception of Bishop Duncan, who in the letter to Bishop Parsley restates the claim. I wonder if the Duncan statement is written by ACC staff persons who by that time had accepted the earlier Anderson claim. If not, of course, Bishop Duncan has memory of another source. It would be very helpful if he would share that source, the time and date, etc.

Were there discussions with the ABC in which the idea of a Network was floated? No doubt.

Was the ABC the source of the idea, the name, or any sort of recommendation for something not already in the works? I have considerable doubts.

Does any of this matter at all?

Only to the extent that historical memory is a product of those in contention remembering what they want to remember as well as what actually took place, and the extent to which such memories lend credence to the efforts of those in contention.

If the ABC had indeed suggested the idea, named the group, etc, it would raise issues of the extent to which the ABC or his office were attempting to set the course of Episcopal Church development and intervene in the internal affairs of an autonomous church. But it would be a sign of encouragement to the AAC from one of the "instruments of Unity."

If he has not done so it would raise issues of the spin by the AAC put on otherwise less promising meetings and would confirm the sense by some of us that the AAC overstates its case considerably.

Unless clear and verifiable information is brought out, the claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury first gave name to the Network, or initiated the idea of its formation remains clouded in the memories of a few.

I gather that efforts to get a definitive statement from the ABC's office have gone unanswered, with the exception of that offered by Mr. Conger. The supposed meeting of October 15, 2003, reported by him, seems immaterial given the address by Bishop Duncan on October 8, 2003 which specifically speaks of the Network by name.

So we are left with the probability that the Archbishop of Canterbury may be sympathetic, supportive, interested, attentive, etc to an idea proposed by others and that something like the network was in the works and the words bandied about for some time. But sympathy is a long way from endorsing or encouraging, much less commissioning the specifics of the Network.

I continue to be amazed by the presumption of calling the "Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes" the "Anglican Communion Network" thereby giving it the supposed status of being THE real connection among member churches in the Anglican Communion.

I stand ready to be corrected on any or all parts of this.

Mark Harris, c Delaware.

Added at Canon Harris' request on September 17, 2004


I draw your attention to an article by Martyn Minns, titled "Is the Anglican Communion Network the best way forward" -- posted by Dr. Kendall Harmon.

In that article Fr. Minns states,

"The Network was formed last year to support and encourage the life and ministry of those alienated by the actions of General Convention. The original suggestion came from a meeting that David Anderson, President of the AAC, and I had with Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace on September 18th, 2003. We had been invited to give a first hand report on the state of the Episcopal Church after Minneapolis. We shared something of our struggles and it was at that conversation that he suggested the need for a Network. He called it a Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes. He wanted to be sure that we used a positive name and not be identified as dissenters. He was also very deliberate in using the word "Confessing" because that would connect it with the "Confessing Christian" movement that stood for the orthodox faith in Germany at a time when the official Christian bodies were being manipulated and co-opted by the government of Nazi Germany. The name subsequently became the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (or Anglican Communion Network or ACN)."

Some months ago I wrote a longish note to the HoB/D list [above] asking if anyone knew of a reference to a meeting in which the Archbishop of Canterbury gave name to the Network or suggested the formation of such a network. I indicated that such a reference had to be to a meeting PRIOR to October 8, 2003 when Bishop Duncan used that phrase. I indicated at the close of my note that I stood read to be corrected on any or all parts of the note.

Fr. Minns' statement, posted September 5, 2004, finally states the time of the meeting, September 18, 2003, the place, Lambeth Palace, and the content - (i) The ABC called for a network; (ii)he gave it a name (the one Bishop Duncan then uses on October 8, 2003) and (iii)the ABC wanted the word "confessing" precisely as a reference to the German confessing Church.

I have no reason to doubt Fr. Minns' statement, and therefore stand corrected, there now being a clear reference for the claim that the Archbishop was initiator of the notion of the Network. I will ask that those places where my initial enquiry was posted attach this note and its reference to Fr. Minns' remarks. I thank Dr. Harmon for posting Fr. Minns statement.

Several persons, notably Dr. Harmon, found my having raised the issue to have been guided by suspicion, and worse, "the hermeneutics of suspicion." My HoB/D piece was considered "unfortunate and unnecessary." (See his note following the article.) Yet in a small way I hope that finding confirmation as to just when and where the Archbishop spoke to the matter of the Network will serve the historical tracing of events following the General Convention of 2003.

Contrary to Dr. Harmon's suggestion, such questions are not "unnecessary." Getting an answer, and in particular this answer, puts several matters into new perspective and serves the better writing of a history of the matter.

Assuming the truth of Fr. Minns' testimony to the September 18, 2003 date, time and initiating efforts of the ABC, it becomes clear that the Archbishop quickly and actively interjected his opinions into, and interfered with, ecclesial matters within this Province of the Anglican Communion, adding to and helping to shape a response to the decisions of the General Convention by those who did not carry the vote on several matters. Remembering that the General Convention's deliberations were finished on August 8, 2003, it was only six weeks later that the meeting was held where the Archbishop invited persons opposed to the actions of Convention and encouraged them to develop a Network. That is quick turn around time for response by the Archbishop! I am unaware the extent to which the Archbishop might have envisioned the eventual form the Network has taken, whose purpose may be alternately viewed as a voice "within" the Episcopal Church or viewed as the beginning sounds of what is hoped will eventually be recognized as the "true voice" of Anglicanism in the U.S., that is the Church in the US invited to the Anglican Communion table fellowship. Either way, and given the truth of the statement made by Fr. Minns, the Archbishop must be understood to have taken an active and initiating part in the internal ecclesial struggles of this Province, seeking with others to negate the effects of decisions made by the General Convention, and barring that to set a new course for an "orthodox" Anglican Church in the US. This sort of action by an Archbishop of Canterbury is not anticipated, agreed to, condoned or contracted for in the Constitution or Canons of the Episcopal Church.

I had rather hoped that no reference for the Archbishop's initiating remarks could be found, for then we would only be dealing with the excesses in reportage of the Episcopal Church's own rather rowdy community. We all get excessive at times and hopefully are forgiven for it. But now that we have a date and time and content for the meeting we must deal with the very real possibility that the Archbishop of Canterbury has indeed taken a part in determining the course of matters internal to this Province and its decision making processes, in which he has no more standing than that of a "foreign bishop," save the respect due him and his office. That respect remains high, for it is not an office to be wished on any, but one from which we expect much. Still, there needs to be some care in mucking about in other people's gardens, for the respect due is not without its limits.

Mark Harris, c. Delaware

The Archbishop of Canterbury Describes the Limits to His Initial Suggestion of the Term Network


Statement from Lambeth Palace on the 'network' stories

> The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Rowan Williams, has had a wide range of meetings and conversations with many groups and individuals on all sides in relation to the current concerns in the Anglican Communion. These meetings remain private and confidential.

Amongst those with whom the archbishop met last autumn were those dissenting from the impending consecration of Gene Robinson; those involved wished to discuss the shape that might be taken by groups dissenting from the decision of General Convention but remaining within the structures of ECUSA.

The term 'network' was suggested as offering one appropriate model to provide support for those dissenting from the resolution but intending to remain within ECUSA's structures. The Archbishop felt that this might prove a suitable working concept, but no proposals as to its potential form, structure or outworking were advanced.

In relation to the discussion of the term 'confessing church'; this concept indicated, in accordance with traditional Protestant usage - that the dissent was understood to be on a matter of conscience that, for the dissenter, touched on the integrity of the church itself. No narrower example or more specific comparison, for instance to the church in Germany in the 1930s, was intended.

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


Please sign my guestbook and view it.

My site has been accessed times since February 14, 1996.

Statistics courtesy of WebCounter.