A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
by The Rev. SUsanne Watson Epting
The Rev. Susanne Watson Epting is a member of the Anglican Communion Task Force on Theological Education, and as such was asked to respond to the four questions developed by the Primates. I am grateful to her for allowing me to share here responses here. Click here to access the Windsor Report. -- Louie Crew .
The Windsor Report
Questions for Consultation with the forty-four Churches of the Anglican Communion
as formulated by the Primates’ Standing Committee
18th October 2004
My responses to Sections A and B are more specific and lengthier because of the foundation I believe those sections build for the rest of the Report. My responses to the question about Sections C & D are by and large, woven into the latter part of my response to Question 1.
In Section A the section on Biblical foundations is consistent not only with my understanding but I suspect, with the understanding of many Christians of many denominations around the world. Likewise in the section addressing the practical consequences of a healthy communion, a fairly expansive understanding of the Communion is described, particularly in paragraphs 7 and 8.
However, as the document progresses, the definition of the Anglican Communion, I believe, becomes narrower, heavily dominated by the place and importance of the Instruments of Unity, more constrictive, less discerning, more authoritarian, more about the exercise of both authority and power. The inclusive, expansive and creative spirit in the description of our life together and our aspirations notably diminish. I understand that this is because of the “current crisis” we face. However, as the consultative bodies, companion dioceses, projects of common mission, engagement with ecumenical partners (paragraph 8) are left behind so too, I believe, are invaluable and vital parts of our life together that can aid in developing “a common mind about how this great Communion might actually function together in those situations in which mutual discernment is necessary to sustain the life of the body.” And any sense of an appreciative or positive approach to both problem-solving and discernment, graced by the Spirit in creativity and imagination, is either lost or only “squeezed” into legal and authoritative Instruments.
The section on recent mutual discernment within the Communion deals only with the ordination of women to the priesthood and subsequently to the episcopate. While there are clear examples of ways in which a consultative process was followed, there is little reflection of the honest and real pain that was felt by many parties. Indeed “Anglicans can understand from this story that decision-making on serious…issues…can be carried out without division, despite a measure of impairment.” (paragraph 21) However, I believe we need to acknowledge clearly that our work with this issue, and the issue of the place of women in the Communion in general, is far from over. That priests ordained by women bishops are not recognized in some parts of the Communion points to a less ideal picture than what we might want to paint. While the major point here is the emphasis on consultative process, it might still be helpful to provide additional examples of those processes that would serve to strengthen the precedent and further to understand how these consultative processes applied “over time,” might do more than avert the immediate threats.
The section on illness is set out clearly. It is also the section in which the emphasis on the Instruments of Unity begins to define the Communion in a more exclusive way than I understand it or experience it. The section talks exclusively about bishops and archbishops – a very small part of the Communion! And the “controversy about the way in which the Lambeth resolution on sexuality (1998) was arrived at and voted on,” is glossed over. The sexuality debate and vote was hardly representative of the Communion at its best. While the “current crisis” led to the establishment of the Lambeth Commission, clearly we were already experiencing a degree of crisis that was being addressed, in part, by the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. In a summary of a paper entitled “Tuning Up The Instruments of Unity,” The Rev. Dr. Philip Thomas writes, “I tried to illustrate how a better understanding of the roles of the instruments – which are distinct but not independent of each other, overlapping but not co-terminal, held together by bonds that are neither linear nor cumulative but, in the best sense of the word, charismatic. . . .It fantasized over a situation in which at Lambeth, instead of feeling obliged to pass decisive resolutions on every conceivable topic, the bishops had spent more time openly facing threats to their collegiality – and seriously listening to the best cases that could be put on both sides of the questions that divided them.” This points directly to my thoughts about the potentially over-simple statements in the section on the deeper symptoms of illness.
While it is worthwhile to explore the six underlying features of our common life, the story of what has happened points toward larger issues I feel are not addressed. Those issues are how we understand Anglicanism and how we understand culture. Both have dramatic impact on how we interpret both the challenges and the gifts that lie before us in our common life.
This is demonstrated further in paragraph 40: “The major cultural divisions in today’s world, not least between the rich nations of western Europe and North America and the poorer nations of the rest of the world, have left their ugly mark on our ecclesial life.” I believe that this statement and all its implications point more accurately to the crisis we face than the issues of sexuality, and the subsequent behavior and escalated crisis are connected to more than one issue--manifestations of something much deeper to be addressed than resolution and authority around any one issue.
While I realize that the Lambeth Commission was called together because of particular events in our common life, I believe that to reinforce current structures and instruments and suggest specific actions to be taken without deeply and intentionally examining other root causes of our crisis, may be only temporarily effective and so pointed inward that while the bishops of our Communion may be more at peace, the witness of our collective life to a broken world will continue to be hampered by those cultural divides that our “Anglican Way,” could so helpfully address. I will say more about the importance of this “Anglican Way,” in subsequent paragraphs.
Section B does indeed begin to address the fundamental principles of the Communion we share. However, I believe that consistent with what is stated above, how we understand ourselves as Anglicans is a critical piece that is missing in the grounding of either Section A or B and were it present, would serve to strengthen the already hopeful and helpful section on Diversity in Communion.
To say simply that the Anglican Communion would describe itself as that “part of the Body of Christ which shares an inheritance through the Anglican tradition, that is, from the Church of England, whose history encompasses the ancient Celtic and Saxon churches of the British Isles, and which was given fresh expression during the period of the Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” (paragraph 47) at this point in history may at best assume too much or too little about our common understanding, and at worst ignore the importance of what might be termed (at the risk of sounding somewhat confessional) a sort of “Anglican Way.” There is not time here to elaborate on all the potential that a more formal embrace of an expanded but common understanding of “Anglican” might invite, but I am convinced that it is critical to contemporary discussions and attempts at consensus-building.
Paragraph 41 in Section A does touch on this and I would strongly affirm the suggestion for more mutual exploration and explanation of our theological beliefs, our understanding of the Bible and our common life and witness. I believe this is every bit as important as the emphasis on the Instruments of Unity in constructively moving forward – perhaps more so – and would suggest this be incorporated as part of a solution. Without something like this the idea of a Covenant, I believe, is premature.
This becomes even more important when we consider the place of local expression in our tradition and points toward the importance of a shared acknowledgement of the importance and place of culture in the context of worldwide communion. Illustrated differently, I would suggest that we may not honestly know whether our current crisis is simply made worse by some of our cultural misunderstandings, or whether it came directly out of those differences. We may never know, but the important thing is that we cannot ignore the place of culture in forming who we are as Christians and as Anglicans.
While current divisions in American political life (as suggested in paragraph 40) may be exacerbating our lack of trust, it is also important to note historical influences that may not yet have been analyzed in their impact on our common life. A brief review of the evolution of the British Empire and what it brought with it, in addition to the church, or a look at the unfortunate abuse of First Nations peoples in Canada, or the misappropriation of the church’s power in other parts of the world, asks us (as reflected in the work of the Anglican Way subgroup mentioned above) to be aware of “Anglicanism’s past and present failures and its susceptibility to particular kinds of abuse (aspects of colonial heritage, excessive association with power and privilege, hierarchical authoritarianism, clericalism at the expense of the ministry of women and laity, its identification with Englishness).” Even now for some of us the monarchical emphasis implicit in the episcopate, with three of the four official Instruments of Unity reinforcing that over and over, is not reflective of the real life of the Communion.
Divisions between North and South, between richer nations and poorer nations are rooted from seeds broadcast in the fields of imperialism, colonialism, and materialism.
I believe it is important that we proceed with caution in using this current crisis as the primary frame of reference for developing ongoing means of discernment and reconciliation. This risks resulting in temporary solutions and simply defusing the current crisis while the “presenting issue” may only be the tip of the iceberg.
We know that the ways in which bishops are selected vary in different parts of the Communion. We know that the ways in which bishops are able to exercise ecclesiastical power (and sometimes other power as well) is different in various parts of the world. Given the differences in ecclesiastical polity, investing primarily in what we are currently calling the official Instruments of Unity, makes for a very bishop-heavy measure of unity.
It may unintentionally imply a kind of conformity in the role and power of bishops that is not reflected universally in the Communion, and it certainly points toward how we value lay people, deacons and priests as a potential afterthought. In an Anglican context where the most recent Instruments of Unity have come into being only in the last 40 years, might we not consider the addition of other Instruments, perhaps some of those we now call “unofficial?”
If we truly value a three-fold order of ministry might the Anglican Consultative Council not be expanded to ensure that not only lay people, but all three orders of ministry be represented in each delegation? Our emphasis on the Instruments of Unity seems also an emphasis on a monarchical model and with bishops being the overwhelming number represented and at every level, it seems a super-monarchy at that! Indeed how might the Instruments of Communion reflect the vitality and vibrancy, the suffering and the hope of the entire laos?
The section on “Scripture and interpretation” can further be strengthened by how we acknowledge this tension. On the one hand we read that “the message of scripture . . . must be preached and taught in all possible and appropriate ways. It is the responsibility of the whole Church…” (paragraph 57) And yet paragraph 58 leads us to conclude that at the end of the day, only bishops are the real, authoritative teachers of scripture.
The section on Diversity in Communion is a helpful tool and teaching on which we might all reflect. I believe that combined with additional consensus and teaching on the “Anglican Way,” aforementioned, this could be commended for study at every level of the church.
In addressing more specifically the proposals made in Section C on “Our Future Life Together” I need not reiterate my concern about the exclusive emphasis on the present Instruments of Unity. As to the recommendation on Canon Law and Covenant, I can agree that in theory a Covenant might be a way forward and should be seriously considered. However until we have an articulated common understanding of the “Anglican” part of Anglican Communion, one that nudges us to use the tools and the processes inherent in the best of our tradition, I believe a Covenant may be premature. While it may be something we can aspire to, something we work toward, I believe that the best of what might be known as the “Anglican Way,” along with the scriptural grounding of Communion, will help provide true covenantal language.
Finally on the section entitled “The Maintenance of Communion,” it becomes increasingly difficult for me to comment. I understand and affirm that the work of the Commission has been in response to a specific mandate. It has been hard work carried out faithfully. But while the Commission’s task was not to engage in the current debate about sexuality, it has been the constant point of reference. Whose issue is this really? What voices are being heard? There is no question that pain has been experienced on all sides of this issue. And finally, as it relates to the maintenance of Communion, I believe that the Commission has commented precisely on what it said was not its mandate, albeit by virtue of its recommendations rather than a published stand on issues of sexuality.
It is not as simple as, “The process was not consultative enough,” rather it is “Because this man is a gay man consultation was critical. Had you consulted, you would have known that a significant number of Primates in the Communion are unready or unwilling to accept this.” And then? If ECUSA had moved forward in the same way? Would there then have been more reason, especially with the presence of a covenant, more reason and more credibility to ask ECUSA to leave the Communion?
Asking for a moratorium on the ordination of people in committed same-sex relationships is a commentary. Asking for a moratorium on the pastoral presence of the community with its gay and lesbian members through support of fidelity in their relationships is a commentary.
I believe that sins of commission and sins of omission both require forgiveness. I believe the American Church omitted an important part of the process expected and owed as part of the Anglican Communion. The consultative process is important – critical. Forgiveness and repentance for hurts unnoticed or unknown or unanticipated is part of God’s invitation to us and God’s invitation through the church to us. All of us.
But reception and discernment can only have meaning if we are open to receiving and if we are discerners. Where is provision for that in maintenance or covenant?
I often wonder if people around the world have any idea how wrenching this is for some of us in ECUSA? I am not speaking of those who did not support the approval of the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire. I am speaking of those faithful people who, having said their prayers, decided that while this was not the best of all worlds – the way this came before the people in ECUSA, that after nearly 35 years of dialogue about the place of gay and lesbian people in our midst, we were being asked to cast a vote. I wonder if there is any level of openness or trust of the people of God who have been reading scripture and saying their prayers about this for decades.
It also becomes more and more difficult to comment on the maintenance of Communion when “…the greatest tragedy of our current difficulties is the negative consequence it could have on the mission of the Church to a suffering and bewildered world.” Indeed the longer our energies are diverted to one single issue, the more self-fulfilling the prophecy. Where do the other critical issues facing our world fit on the spectrum? Does this issue trump them all?
What about the seeming never-ending violence against women? Or the deep divisions around distribution of wealth and resources? Around care of the earth? Around religious, racial or ethnic discrimination or oppression? Around genocide? Unjust war?
How can we possibly say that because of this “impasse” we will simply set aside the glorious possibilities that God can bring forth in the witness of faithful people? We will walk apart? How can we dismiss each other, any of us, no matter where we are in relation to this “presenting issue?” How can we watch, in our minds’ eyes, the Servant Christ, kneel not only to wash the feet of his faithful disciples, but of his betrayer, and say “there is no room for you.”
While we analyze the “systems” that can both lead to or help us avoid institutional dysfunction, who is listening to the voices of our sisters in Africa dying of AIDS? Does our anguish, our preoccupation with the “bonds of affection” strained by decisions that could have been better-made cloud our vision and dull our passion because our institutional life has such power over us? Does it now preclude people of different minds standing together in the midst of suffering?
And while we strengthen the Instruments of Unity, who is carrying on the work of the church? Who is carrying out the mission? Who is binding wounds and stroking foreheads? Who is holding dying children, shooing flies, praying with dying grandmothers? Who is delivering relief to victims of the Tsunami? Surely it is not just bishops and archbishops and the archbishop of Canterbury. It is surely other faithful women and men from the length and breadth of this worldwide communion. Does their Christ-like compassion, their devotion to the Gospel life not count as an instrument of unity? Do instruments of unity have only to do with doctrine and the exercise of power and authority?
I know even from one small part of the institutional power structure how difficult it is even to make space for diaconal voices, for those who have been charged with holding Christ’s call to service before the church. While we say we believe in a three-fold order, we seldom see all three orders. This, simply to say that I understand first-hand how we can on the one hand say that mission and discipleship and Christ-like service are important to us and yet, on the other, preoccupy ourselves with the maintenance of the institution. And if it is difficult to make space even for all the ministers of the church, how can we ensure that there is space for those who cry for what we think we understand – the hope and the promise of God in Christ?
All this is to say not that apologies and repentance are not important, but that in any attempt at maintenance, any way forward, any claim to who we are must actually be measured against the wailing of the children, the violation of our women, the thirst of those who have no clean water, the misuse and abuse of power, the oppression of the innocent and that they, they especially deserve our apologies, our efforts, our faithfulness, our witness, our very hope in Christ Jesus.
Susanne Watson Epting, Deacon
Theological Education for the Anglican Communion Task Force
Executive Director, North American Association for the Diaconate
The Episcopal Church, USA
TARGET GROUP: "THE ANGLICAN
Questions and issues to be explored by the Target Group:
1. Linked to Anglicanism as a whole
and describing our unique ethos and contribution to the wider Church; defining
the Anglican Way:
a. The Anglican Way, though rooted in its history and historical formularies, nevertheless is not fixed but continues to be shaped by its multiform cultural settings. The Anglican Way is a particular expression of the Christian Way (Acts 9:2).
b. Understanding and describing a distinctive theological method incorporating, for example, ‘contemplative pragmatism’, ‘inhabiting doctrine’, doing theology by preaching, liturgy, hymnody, artistic creativity, etc.
c. Scripture, tradition and reason: Reading the Bible together, corporately and individually, with a keen and critical sense of the past, a vigorous engagement with the present context, and with patient hope for the future.
d. Awareness and critical assessment of other defining characteristics commonly associated with Anglican identity – for example, spirituality nurtured by Word and Sacrament, Lambeth Quadrilateral, Book of Common Prayer, distinctive polity, comprehensiveness, unity in diversity, Via media, bridge between denominations, balance of freedom and order, balance of pastoral, mission and prophetic, exercise of ministry, etc
e. The polity of the Anglican Way includes the threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon, intended to be united collegially with the laity in synod; and the interaction of provincial, diocesan and parish structures, governed by constitutions and canons.
f. An approach to mission which is holistic, incarnational and transformational and which shapes the engagement of the church with the world in each context.
g. Acknowledgement of provisionality, incompleteness and vulnerability as potential strengths.
h. The four formal instruments of unity (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conferences, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ meeting) offer cohesion to global Anglicanism, limit the centralisation of authority, rely on bonds of affection for effective functioning but are put under strain in situations of acute disagreement. Other emerging instruments of unity include Anglican networks, commissions and taskforces.
i. Awareness of Anglicanism’s past and present failures, and its susceptibility to particular kinds of abuse (for example, aspects of colonial heritage, excessive association with power and privilege, hierarchical authoritarianism, clericalism at the expense of the ministry of women and laity, its identification with Englishness, etc).
j. The Anglican Way encompasses communion (koinonia) with the united churches and other churches in full communion with the See of Canterbury. These relationships enrich our understanding and experience of koinonia.
k. The Anglican Way is deeply committed to building ecumenical relationships and strives to define itself through statements made in ecumenical dialogue.
2. Linked specifically to theological education
How to provide the general components of the Anglican Way in denominational and ecumenical education and formation:
a. Identify and assess existing resources on the Anglican Way, including printed resources, courses and research programmes, audio-visuals, web resources, individuals, study centres, translations, etc.
b. Analysis of current level of teaching on the Anglican Way across the Communion.
c. Assess the relative merits of different modes of communication of the Anglican Way, especially for each of the four Target Groups and for theological educators.
d. Identification of new resources needed.
e. Recommendations on delivery of existing new resources.
 In the recently appointed Theological Education for the Anglican Communion task force, significant work has been done on questions and issues that relate to our common but evolving identity. See attached “Target Group: ‘The Anglican Way’” submitted by the Anglican Way subgroup of the task force to the entire Theological Education for the Anglican Communion task force in the summer of 2004.
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