Episcopal Church to Decide Whether to “Walk Apart” from Communion
By Lionel Deimel, President, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh
Monroeville, Pennsylvania — February 28, 2005 — Following a service of Evening Prayer, Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan, offered a perspective on the recent Primates meeting at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Monroeville. He took questions from the mostly friendly audience after his presentation.
The message of Duncan’s presentation was that the U.S. and Canadian churches have fractured the Anglican Communion, and, that unless they repent of their “innovations,” they, but not him or the diocese he leads, will be outside of it.
Duncan began by reading his statement of February 25, in which he called the clarity of the communiqué from the Primates “breath-taking.” The bishop, who had traveled to Northern Ireland to be able to hear from the Primates directly about their meeting, said that his remarks were based on meeting with 17 of the 35 attending Primates over three days. The church leaders pressed five points, he said. (Audio of the bishop’s presentation, though not of the question period, can be found on the diocesan Web site, along with a description of it.)
First, the teaching in Network dioceses, the teaching of the Anglican Mission of America, and that of other Anglican traditionalists, is the teaching of the Anglican Communion. “There is no other,” Duncan asserted. Both on matters of Scripture and on human sexual behavior, the present teaching of the Anglican Communion is represented in the 1998 Lambeth resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality.
Secondly, Duncan reported that the Primates told him to “go back to North America and help people make the choice.” The synodical bodies of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada have been given time to accept or reject the Windsor Report. It is clear “that to hold the innovations of the General Convention of 2003 or the innovations of the General Synod of Canada in 2004 is to make a decision to walk apart from the Communion.”
According to Duncan, his supporters were encouraged to “flood the system” embodied in the “panel of reference” the Archbishop of Canterbury is urged in the Primates’ communiqué to establish. The task of this panel, he said, is “to guarantee adequacy of protection for orthodox minorities in places where they have been on the run or under duress.” Some 70 congregations are presently attempting to put themselves under conservative, non-Episcopal-Church bishops, and Duncan indicated that he plans to turn these cases over to the Archbishop immediately.
Duncan’s fourth point was that the Primates with whom he met insisted that all groups representing “missionary Anglicanism” in North American must be united under his leadership. The Primates are tired of dealing with the “alphabet soup” of AAC, AMiA, REC, FiFNA, etc.
Finally, the Bishop of Pittsburgh reported that the conservative primates wanted to send the message to the American orthodox to “grow up.” Conservatives, like progressives, want their own way and complain when they fail to get it. Duncan told his flock that it is in a “spiritual battle of immense proportion.” Referring to 2 Timothy 4:3–7, he said, “We’d like to keep the faith, but we have a harder time running the race and fighting the fight.” Summarizing, the five instructions, Duncan said simply, “Expect to suffer.”
Many of the queries during the question period involved “what ifs” and explanations of the mechanics of the decision-making that will be taking place as a result of the Primates’ decisions.
The first speaker, like most of those raising the more difficult issues, was a member of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. She spoke of being a casualty of the battle the bishop is leading and of being a “pariah” because she attends a church not supportive of his goals. Not all Primates, she asserted, share the views of those to whom Duncan spoke. The bishop, in response, pointed out that all Primates in attendance, including Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, subscribed to the Primates’ communiqué.
Duncan was asked if he, like the Primates, would pledge to neither cross diocesan boundaries without permission nor encourage others to do so. He replied that the Primates believe that the work of the panel of reference would make such actions unnecessary. He warned, however, “I can say to you that what I will encourage is that the orthodox throughout this country are honored and given a place, and I will do whatever I have to do to see that they are given a place.” According to Duncan, the Primates agreed not to interfere in existing arrangements involving foreign bishops overseeing churches in the U.S. Duncan cited parishes in the Dioceses of Oklahoma and Los Angeles as being part of this agreement. It is unclear how this reputed agreement might affect the lawsuit brought by Bishop of Los Angeles Jon Bruno against three congregations in his diocese claiming now to be in the Ugandan Diocese of Luweero.
Asked what he would do as Bishop of Pittsburgh if the Episcopal Church were to do as he anticipates it will and chooses “to step outside the Communion,” Duncan replied, “I intend to serve the [conservative] majority here,” raising questions about the relationship of the diocese to General Convention in such an eventuality.
Supporters and opponents of the bishop’s position each expressed frustration that mission suffers when the church is taken up with internal divisions. Duncan agreed that this was inevitable, in spite of his best efforts, and blamed the American churches for diverting the Primates from issues of HIV/AIDS, debt relief, etc., at their recent meeting.
Duncan said that he would support all congregations, even those progressive ones who saw their views as prophetic and opposed to those of the Communion. He spoke of believing that all congregations should be “free,” while noting that he no longer believes that about property—alluding to the ongoing lawsuit that resulted from his attempt to have the diocese declare that parish property is owned by individual congregations. In all dioceses, we should operate out of charity, he suggested.
Duncan criticized Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold for discouraging the House of Bishops from acting on the Windsor Report before it was received by the Primates. The Church of England, on the other hand, saw no barrier in the timing to acceptance of the report. He called the Presiding Bishop’s action a delaying tactic and complained of the members of the House of Bishops that “we talk gracefully but act in power.” Duncan suggested that the action of the Primates might have been less harsh had the House of Bishops been more forthcoming with a conciliatory response at their recent Salt Lake City meeting. According to Duncan, Primates saw the North American churches as arrogant and considered the positions of the leaders of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada as “startling.”
In response to other questions, Duncan described the church as being on a path of “mutually assured destruction.” “The majority,” he said, is “working to eliminate the minority, and the minority has sufficient power to resist the majority until it is eliminated.” He described the election of the next Presiding Bishop as a “plebiscite on which direction the church will go.”