Group ‘prepared to respond' if General Convention affirms Robinson, blessing rite
by Jan Nunley
(ENS) A group of 62 Anglicans and Episcopalians, including some primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion, held a press conference July 23 to announce that they are "prepared to respond" if the Episcopal Church's General Convention either confirms the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire or directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare blessing rites for couples living in committed relationships outside marriage. The convention begins July 30 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The group gathered in secret at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia, for two days to craft their statement. "The proposed actions by General Convention…would shatter the church," the statement said. "The American bishops at this meeting have prayed, planned and are prepared to respond as faithful members of the Anglican Communion. Should these events occur, the majority of the Primates anticipate convening an extraordinary meeting at which they too will respond to the actions of General Convention."
Element of surprise
But under questioning by reporters, the group refused to divulge any specific plans. "Action will happen," said Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria. Another spokesman for the group, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, explained, "We are trying to preserve an element of surprise. That is part of the strategy here."
Asked if it will make a difference if, say, Robinson were confirmed but the liturgy resolution failed, Akinola said, "No. Either one will cause a split. They are inextricably linked."
Plea for mutual accountability
On the same day the statement was released, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams sent a letter to Anglican primates asking them to maintain "mutual accountability," not just on matters of sexuality but on issues such as lay presidency at the Eucharist and "alternative episcopal oversight" for dissenting parishes.
"We do not have a central executive authority in our Communion; this means we are quite vulnerable in times of deep disagreement, and need more than ever to pay attention to one another," Williams wrote. "… This is not to recommend a refusal to face circumstances or to avoid conflict at all costs. It is to acknowledge that who we are as Christians is connected to the worldwide fellowship to which we belong. Within a living Communion, we should never find ourselves in the position of saying, or seeming to say, to each other, ‘[I have no need of you' (I Cor. 12.21)."
Claiming a majority
The statement claimed that the signers represent "a majority of the world's 75 million Anglicans." Exact numbers are hard to come by, but according to the Anglican Communion Secretariat's figures, the seven primates listed represent a little more than 20 million members out of 76,650,449 worldwide -- 26 percent of the total.
When asked how many primates agreed with the group, Akinola responded, "Most primates are here in spirit. We know the mind of a good number of primates." He would only confirm being in contact with "6 or 7" of the primates.
Most of the names on the list are familiar as conservative activists in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Many have signed previous statements declaring their discontent with moves towards the full inclusion of homosexuals in the Episcopal Church, and are members or officers of advocacy groups such as the American Anglican Council, Forward in Faith/North America, and the Institute for Religion and Democracy.
Ten of the 15 American bishops are "bishops with jurisdiction," eligible to vote on Robinson's consecration. Their dioceses represent 185,766 communicants, some 9% of the American church. The clergy listed represent congregations with a combined average attendance of approximately 10,500 members.
A stream of statements
The Truro statement follows an "Open Letter to the Concerned Primates of the Anglican Communion," issued July 15 by 24 Episcopal Church bishops, who declared themselves to be in a state of "impaired communion," or broken relationship, with the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster, which has authorized liturgies for blessing same-sex partnerships. They also committed to commit to "common responses" to what they described as "the deteriorating situation within the Episcopal Church" over homosexuality.
In early June, fourteen of the 38 Anglican primates charged that "by deliberately and intentionally abandoning the established Anglican consensus, [the bishop of New Westminster] placed himself and his diocese in an automatic state of impaired communion with the majority within the Anglican Communion."
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold wrote to the primates July 22, asking for their understanding of the difference in context between their provinces and the American church over the understanding of human sexuality. "Over these last five years I have continually reminded our church that we are part of a larger reality called the Anglican Communion, and that what we do locally has ramifications both positive and negative in other parts of the world," Griswold said. "At the same time I am mindful that each of us has to interpret the gospel in our own context and within the particular reality of our own Province; there is no such thing as a neutral reading of Scripture. While we all accept the authority of Scripture, we interpret various passages in different ways."
At least one African primate has already come out publicly against the Truro statement. "I believe that it is wrong and contrary to our Anglican Tradition and understanding of Canon Law to presume to interfere in the affairs of another Province," said Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of South Africa. "Such actions are a major threat to the fabric of our Communion. Let us respect the integrity of each Province.
"It would be profoundly inappropriate for any Province or any group of Provinces to presume to take on a role which properly belongs to the See of Canterbury, and with the whole Communion acting with the See of Canterbury."
--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service. Additional material for this story was provided by Stratton Edwards of the Office of Government Relations.