And Then There Were Two - Newsletter Summer 2008 - by Father Bryant Bechtold
With the departure of orthodox bishop The Rt. Revd. John-David Schofield and most of the Diocese of San Joaquin from The Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) through their affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone, there are now only two sitting diocesan bishops, The Rt. Revd. Jack L. Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth (my former diocese) and The Rt. Revd. Keith Ackerman of the Diocese of Quincy, who do not ordain women to the priesthood or license women priests to exercise sacerdotal ministry in their dioceses. At their upcoming Diocesan Convention in November, the Fort Worth Diocese will vote for a second time to disassociate from TEC, and by next year, there will be only one Anglo-Catholic diocese left. Furthermore, a growing number of parishes in other dioceses have aligned themselves with primates from other parts of the Anglican Communion. Many of these parishes are both large and wealthy, and so their dioceses are left with substantial financial shortfalls. Battles loom over retention of property, and it is expected that millions of pounds will be spent in legal fees, taking away valuable resources of both time and money to carry on the mission and ministry of the Church. This is certainly no public relations coup, and efforts to evangelize will be seriously affected by this nightmare scenario.
In September, 1988, when Barbara Harris was elected as the first female bishop in the Anglican communion (as the suffragen bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts), she made the comment that a new wind (presumably the Holy Spirit) was blowing through the Church, and she promptly invited those who could not accept this new innovation to leave. Imagine a `so-called’ future bishop of the Church asking people to leave! It is my understanding that a bishop is to be the focus of unity, not disunity, in the Church. Sadly, more and more of the orthodox and traditionalists in TEC reached crisis proportions with the election on 7th June 2003 and consecration on 7th March 2004 of V. Eugene Robinson as the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. In order to find some measure of collegiality and a way to stay within TEC, the Network of Anglican Dioceses and Parishes (The Network) was founded by a group of bishops to bring the orthodox together, so that those who do not follow TEC’s course of self-destruction could find some measure of safe haven.
Having now been the Priest-in-Charge of the Wainfleet Group of Parishes for a little over a year, my observation has been that while the Church of England has perhaps been more subtle in its undermining of the traditionalist position than TEC, at the same time it has at least tried to offer accommodation, unlike TEC which has been outright blatant in their marginalisation of traditionalists. I used to enjoy standing up and introducing myself as the rector of Christ the King parish in Fort Worth when I found myself visiting a church while on holiday, just so people could see that I didn’t have horns and a tail! From the outset, no real, substantial provision was put in place to allow those opposed to women’s ordination to exercise their conscience. In fact, several years ago the Ministry Canons of TEC were changed, stating that no one could be denied the ordination process based solely on gender. The more liberal element in TEC was interpreting these canons as saying this precluded someone from holding any form of leadership position in TEC should he or she be an opponent of women’s ordination. Although it has been adopted as official policy that opposition to women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate is both a recognised and also `valid’ theological position within the framework of TEC, a continual erosion of this stated policy has led to those who hold such a view becoming increasingly unwelcome within TEC. I used to chuckle to myself when I would hear female priests moan because they were not welcome in three dioceses of TEC; as a traditionalist, I was not welcome in well over a hundred dioceses!
Unlike the Church of England which put in place Provincial Episcopal Visitors soon after women’s ordination was approved in 1992, no such provision was put in place in TEC; agreements had to be made between parishes and their diocesan bishop for alternative oversight, and the diocesan bishop could renege on the agreement at any time. There is now a provision entitled Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) that allows for alternative episcopal oversight for parishes who cannot in good conscience accept their diocesan bishop’s ministry. However, DEPO is a rather convoluted process in which the diocesan bishop still has full control; he/she appoints a bishop of his/her choice, and all too often power struggles and perceived threats to authority win the day, which become a stumbling block to implementation of the process. Some bishops apparently worry more about the threat to their jurisdictional authority than they do about the spiritual wellbeing of those under their care. Many a parish in the United States would applaud and welcome implementation of some form of Resolution C status.
As appealing as the Network has been, unfortunately there is one big white elephant in the room. All who belong are conservative and orthodox in their thinking, but not all reject women in the sacerdotal ministry. Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Network, himself ordains women. Although at the present time the two sides on the issue have agreed to disagree over women’s ordination, it does not negate the fact that impaired communion exists even within the Network. With the advent of female bishops, FiF North America has attempted to keep a roster of priests who are `safe’, since those ordained by a female bishop are not considered to have valid orders, and this issue is only going to become more confused over time. Sooner or later, tough decisions are going to have to be made to resolve the problem.
When I began this article, I was prepared to say that it appears as if the Church of England has been more generous and charitable with their approach to traditionalists who oppose the innovation of women being ordained to the priesthood and episcopate. Most of us, I think, would agree that the recently released Manchester Report offered real hope to the traditionalists. But the recent meeting of bishops at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire is a rather disturbing development. Following debate (according to Jonathan Wynne-Jones of the Telegraph newspaper) the bishops apparently decided to endorse legislation - which will now be voted on at the General Synod – that would end special arrangements for clergy who are not prepared to accept female priests, including the well-established `flying’ bishops provision. Sadly, we all know that in certain quarters of the Church, manufactured tolerance, i.e. safeguards, must be put in place if traditionalists are to be allowed to offer much-needed ministry without impediment and prejudice. As someone coming from a rather dire situation in TEC, I can only say that the Church of England, and its bishops in particular, might be better served to look at the situation in TEC and learn from it. Surely, it doesn’t take a genius to see that TEC, and perhaps the Church of England as well (if they continue on their ominous trajectory), will be impoverished in many different ways with the exodus of those who have maintained the apostolic faith and catholic order of the Church.