Thinking Anglicans

Do American bishops have a different view of their role?

Bonnie Anderson, who is president of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, has made a statement about the Lambeth Conference to a Conference for Religion Writers. You can read that statement in full at Rowan Williams and “the distinctive charism of bishops” on Daily Episcopalian.

Update: Episcopal News Service has now also published this text.

Here’s a snippet:

…I think that the Archbishop has given up trying to get our bishops to take an independent stand on the future of the moratorium of same sex blessings for instance, and is now moving to “plan B” and turning his attention to encouraging our bishops to understand their “distinctive charism” as bishops, perhaps in a new way. I envision Archbishop Rowan pondering in, to use his word, “puzzlement” why these bishops of the Episcopal church don’t just stand up and exercise their authority as bishops like most of the rest of the bishops in the Communion do. Why would our bishops “bind themselves to future direction for the Convention?” Some of us in TEC in the past have thought that perhaps the Archbishop and others in the Anglican Communion do not understand the baptismal covenant that we hold foundational. Perhaps they just don’t “get” the way we choose to govern ourselves; the ministers of the church as the laity, clergy and the bishops, and that at the very core of our beliefs we believe in the God- given gifts of all God’s people, none more important than the other, just gifts differing. We believe that God speaks uniquely through laity, bishops, priests and deacons. This participatory structure in our church allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment. But I think our governance is clearly understood. I just don’t think the Archbishop has much use for it…

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Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“At the Lambeth Conference, I believe that the voice of the conformed bishop will be easily heard and affirmed. The prophetic voice will not be easily heard.” I find this very telling. First,there is the idea that to conform to authority is to silence the prophetic voice. I cannot agree with this as a basic attitude, since it is my belief that guidance of the Spirit is found in the group’s voice, not that of the individual. I know this is not exactly what is being said, that after all the bishop is elected by the laity, thus it is… Read more »

Tobias Haller
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It isn’t just that we are divided by a common language, but a common episcopate, it seems. American bishops are very different from English bishops, not merely because they are elected by representatives of all parishes in their dioceses, and all the clergy of the dioceses, and consented to by the majority of other diocesan bishops and standing committees of all the other dioceses. And once elected, American bishops do not “govern” their dioceses, though they share in their governance. (There is a difference between leadership and governance.) Similarly, the House of Bishops does not make decisions for the church.… Read more »

Ian Montgomery
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Ian Montgomery

When I have participated in an Episcopal election it was to elect a person who would represent God to us, which is an essential part of the apostolic office. I do not need a Bishop who represents either me or my congregation. The congregation and I are perfectly happy to represent ourselves in the councils of the Church. Heaven forbid a kind of ecclesiastical congressman or senator. Episcopacy that listens to God, reads, marks and inwardly digests the Scriptures and then, ministers – this is the ideal. I am singularly unimpressed by Mrs. Anderson’s grasp of church polity as it… Read more »

Thomas+
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Thomas+

I believe the ABC’s question is fair. May be it should have been asked two hundred years ago, but nevertheless, here we are. The problem with an exclusively General-Convention-centered episcopal ministry, is that it leaves out the universal character of being “a bishop of the Church of God.” What then is the role of episkope in the wider global Communion? Is it only limited to providing that a bishop can move from one province to another without the need of being ordained again? Going to Lambeth or being member of an international committee? One the other hand, playing the universal… Read more »

Lois Keen
Guest

Brava, Bonnie Anderson.
Lois

Nom de Plume
Guest
Nom de Plume

Ms Anderson notes: “Some of us in TEC in the past have thought that perhaps the Archbishop and others in the Anglican Communion do not understand the baptismal covenant that we hold foundational.” This is in fact a very significant point. The Baptismal Covenent of which she speaks is part of the Baptismal liturgy in the BCP 1979 of the Episcopal Church (USA) and is also included in the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada. (I assume it is also included in the Brazilian prayer book, which I understand to be a translation of the BCP… Read more »

Bob In PA
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Bob In PA

What do you get when you have all powerful bishops? Let’s talk about what happened in Botswana when Archbishop Malango fired bishop Mwamba for not sticking with the party line. What about those who dissent from the official line in such places and Nigeria, Kenya and Central Africa? Fear can be a powerful tool. It silences dissenting voices. Another glowing example is Kunonga and his friend, Mugabe in Zimbabwe. I’ll take a republic to a kingdom anyday. One persons interpretation of directives from the Holy Spirit can be another’s nightmare. No one has the whole truth! God speaks to all… Read more »

counterlight
Guest

I think the rest of the Communion needs to figure out that we Yanks have little use for, or patience with, monarchy in any of its reincarnations. It’s an idea whose time is long past. The old model of priests and bishops teaching and guiding easily awed peasants is over (and not just in America). The children of those peasants are now educated professionals, and those that aren’t aspire to be so. We are not so easily awed or intimidated anymore. Skepticism, independence of thought, like it or not, are facts of life. Religious democracy, like political and economic democracy,… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

Bonnie Anderson, you ROCK! 😀 [Ian Montgomery, I am singularly unimpressed by *your* grasp of Bonnie’s point: that bishops, while lifted up FROM the people, remain intrinsically OF them, and share governance WITH them. They are not set OVER them: not in TEC, praise Christ!] ***** “In so far as mere words can describe it, we call it the Kingdom of God, not the Republic of God.” Yes, Ford: but GOD is the monarch, not a bunch of prince (OR princess) bishops! The question remains: how best, under King Jesus, to order ourselves, in a way that honors the dignity… Read more »

Marshall Scott
Guest

Perhaps, though, this demonstrates that we in the Episcopal Church are distinctively committed to the priesthood of all believers. The Holy Spirit dwells in all of us from baptism, and calls us all to service, and each in our own way to proclaim the Gospel. If that is the case, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we expect the laity to participate, to share how each of them perceives the leading of the Spirit. At the first Pentecost there were eleven apostles, and more than 89 lay men and women – and all of them proclaimed. It should be no… Read more »

Christopher
Guest

Ford,

I disagree. The Spirit works through the whole Church, including the laity. The laity should have a say in the governance of the church. Checks and balances on authority are appropriate and all the moreso in a tradition that says the Church can err.

dr.primrose
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dr.primrose

I think it’s very important in all this to remember the historical context of the establshment of the American episcopacy. There was an Anglican Church in North America for almost two centuries without an local episcopacy at all. The real power in during that time was the vestry, not the clergy, and certainly not the episcopacy. Bishops during the colonial period and the revolutionary period were identified with the monarchy and the aristocracy, both of which were despised by the end of the colonial period. There was some discussion in the establishment of an independent Anglican Chuch in America about… Read more »

Kahu Aloha
Guest

I love the stories of the early Church where bishops were teachers and protectors of the people. Probably because the people brought them forth and held them up. Thank you, Church of England, for never ever having sent us bishops to minister to the people. Your negligence or arrogance enabled us to learn the wisdom of the early Church and raise up our own bishops. As far as most Episcopalians I know, the Archbishop of Canterbury can skip his spin on the “special charism” of bishops. God can, has and will tell that story through time. Has it ever occurred… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

One thing that this thread and Ford’s posting leave us to ponder, is “are the bishops (aka shepherds) accountable to the flock?”. My reading of the bible is definitively yes. More definitively, their missive is the the care of their flocks. For example: Zechariah 10:2 “Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” or 11:17 ““Woe to the worthless shepherd,who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!” Contemplate Jeremiah 17:16 “I have not run away from being your shepherd;… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
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choirboyfromhell

counterlight-“The old model of priests and bishops teaching and guiding easily awed peasants is over (and not just in America).” Uh, you haven’t been to too many suburban “mega churches” have you, nor the hundreds of various fundamentalist churches that dot the U.S. countryside? Before we Americans pat ourselves on the back for our supposedly wonderful every three year party, I should note that it is often the same delegates and alternates that attend these things. And our “democratically” elected bishops come from a three or four dog and pony show that magically appears from the very mysterious standing committees… Read more »

counterlight
Guest

choiboyfromhell,

I grew up in deeply fundamentalist Texas.

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

If there is a special charism of being called to be bishop, it must involve living the gospel by listening and pastoring across our current or future global Anglican differences. The listening job is to help us all keep telling the truth, instead of repeating part or total falsehoods in our characterizations of other points of view inside the global Anglican big tent. Temper tantrums from the right to the contrary, setting aside listening in favor of policing plus punishment will actually do little to save us from thorny but not impossible choices in hermeneutics, empirical hypothesis testing, and the… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“North Americans” Um, I’m a North American, and the only time I have heard the term “Baptismal Convenant” is in online discussions with Americans. What is it, with whom is it, and what does it entail? “The laity should have a say in the governance of the church.” I didn’t say they shouldn’t. There are numerous ways of doing this, the American model is but one of them. “The old model of priests and bishops teaching and guiding easily awed peasants is over (and not just in America).” Here in Canada we have a very different understanding of episcopate, it… Read more »

Thomas+
Guest
Thomas+

I do not believe that either the ABC, NT Wright, et al are concerned with the particularities of TEC’s polity per se. The COE elects some bishops and others are appointed. We elect our bishops. However, both churches have managed to have saintly bishops and scoundrels. We can’t say that our democratic process ensures the action of the Holy Spirit, while England, by lacking our polity, lacks some part of the blessings of the Spirit So, that is not the point. I believe that they are asking is, how do you play the local episcope (shepherding, pastoring, teaching, or whatever… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

counterlight: My sympathies. I grew up with them too and had a painful lesson learned from their emotional sabotage during adolescence. It probably explains my snappiness at them on this blogsite. Wounds do run deep.

Pluralist
Guest

The Fulcrum website writes:

“Rowan Williams and “the distinctive charism of bishops”

A statement by Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of TEC, sheds light the differences in mindset between US Episcopalians and their Anglican cousins, Episcopal Cafe, 30 May 2008.”

I have pointed out (as can now be seen) that Episcopalians are not cousins of Anglicans but are Anglicans, that they have not gone from any core group yet, and indeed are very unlikely to go anywhere.

Nom de Plume
Guest
Nom de Plume

Ford Elms: For the Canadian version of the Baptismal Covenant see the Book of Alternative Services, pp. 158-159, especially the 5 questions on p. 159. To wit: “Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

I just checked–and the US version (from the ’79 prayer book) is identical to the Canadian…and, yes, those last two questions make the full inclusion issue one of special significance. I don’t see how anyone can honestly answer them affirmatively and then NOT support full inclusion of all people in the church, no matter what the “presenting issue” might be.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“I just checked–and the US version (from the ’79 prayer book) is identical to the Canadian” Interesting fact, this. I have been to the US and find the people friendly, kind, generous to a fault, and, surprise, surprise, humble. In fact, I was more at home in Seattle than I have ever felt in, say, Toronto. I think part of the problem is that they don’t let the nice Americans run for office or travel abroad:-) Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I can’t imagine anyone giving what we have always called our “baptismal vows” the rather… Read more »

Matt Humphrey
Guest
Matt Humphrey

Dr. Primrose writes: “The decision was made, of course, to have them(bishops). But they were given very little power in the American Church. Part of that was of course the reluctance of the local vestries to give up power. But part of it was a fear of establishing the British system of episcopacy as well. All this was before the Oxford movement and the accompanying high theological view of the episcopacy.” Excellent points. It isn’t simply a matter of American Episcopalians having a different view of the office of bishop, in contrast to those of Anglicans in England, Canada, or… Read more »

Jim Pratt
Guest
Jim Pratt

Ford, The Baptismal Covenant is alive and well in the Canadian church, though maybe not so much in your diocese. Here on the west coast, when one priest raised an objection to the baptismal covenant at our clergy conference last year (he was ordained in the CofE), the universal reaction was one of looking at him like he had 2 heads, it is so much a part of our thinking about baptism and membership in the church. I think we are also seeing a drift toward a more “American style” polity in the Canadian church. Witness GS07, where the laity… Read more »

Mark Clavier
Guest
Mark Clavier

Ford, In point of fact, many Episcopalians would find find it surprising that they have signed on to a “baptismal covenant.” While I find much of the intent of developing a “baptismal covenant” laudatory, I find the way in which it is being done lacking. First, as this posting suggests, it seems normally to be expressed in political terms of representation and voting rights. Further, it’s foundation appears to draw less from Scriptural language about covenants than it does from an Anglo-American political tradition. Second, it seems to sit loose on the idea of special charisms and ministry within the… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest
choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

My recollection of what is being called a “Baptismal Covenant” is the recitation of parts of the Apostle’s Creed that came about in the Baptism Service of the 1979 BCP (USA). Before that, baptism was commonly a private service and the 1928 book has no mention of the “covenant” except for an adult candidate affirming the Apostle’s Creed and “Articles of Faith” (p. 278), or godparents doing such for an infant. In the Services For Trial Use (“Green Book”-1971) the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed with congregational participation appears (p. 25), but is not labeled as the “Baptismal Covenant”. Having… Read more »

Kennedy
Guest
Kennedy

The Liturgy of Holy Baptism (2006) of the Scottish episcopal Church has the following section 5 5. COMMITMENT TO CHRISTIAN LIFE Either The president addresses the candidate(s) N., as a disciple of Christ will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Answer With the help of God, I will. Or At the baptism of infants the president addresses those who are presenting the candidate(s) NN., as those who will love and care for N., will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in… Read more »

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

“All this was before the Oxford movement and the accompanying high theological view of the episcopacy.”

Well, I guess that depends. Edward Bouverie Pusey did not subscribe to a particularly “high” view of the episcopacy, either, did he? He was more “American” in this respect, I think.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Jim, I have never heard the term here, nor in Anglican Journal nor Anglican Life, though I may just have missed it. I do understand the concept, and I’m not opposed to it, we speak of the New Covenant, after all. I’m not surprised it’s more common in Western, you’ve always been more ‘au courant’ with this kind of thing, I think, (I didn’t say ‘trendy’, since that has negative connotations I don’t wish to give). There seems to be a perception, I think true, that the Church now is becoming more and more like the Early Church: witnessing the… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

There’s a saying “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. The Baptismal Covenant term has probably been around for a while. I first heard it through the 2007 New Orleans conference which Rowan Williams attended. It is one of those times where the words did not create the dynamic, but rather gave a label to a dynamic that was already happening. One clue that God is involved is when the ripples are disproportionate to the actions and individuals involved. Jesus was just another man crucified on the cross, but because Jesus moved with the Father… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Let me quote a small section of Louis Weil’s presentation which I have linked above: Keeping this in mind, let us apply what has been said to what is called in the American Book of Common Prayer (1979) the Baptismal Covenant. The use of that title is new to Prayer Book evolution. I believe, however, that what it says grows out of what has already been present in the evolution of the Book of Common Prayer over the centuries. In the 1979 rite, the title ‘The Baptismal Covenant’ comes at the point where historically the Apostles’ Creed was recited, as… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Let me point out that the five questions quoted from the Canadian baptism rite (and confirmed by me as also being in the US version) are, in the US version, immediately preceded by the Apostles Creed, done in the form of a two-part question and response by the congregation…the entirety (Creed and following questions) headed “The Baptismal Covenant”.

dr.primrose
Guest
dr.primrose

Pat O’Neill — thanks for the point you made, which I was just getting around to making. The term “The Baptismal Covenant” is in big block letters at the top of page 304 of the current American Prayer Book, which has been in common use since it was approved for the first time in its “proposed” form in 1976 (Prayer Book revision requires the votes of two General Conventions) — over 30 years ago. Choirboyfromhell mentioned that baptism is now reserved for certain Holy Days. The rubrics (p. 312) say, “Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on… Read more »

Jim Pratt
Guest
Jim Pratt

Ford,
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

Malcolm+
Guest

“There is even continual talk to keep (and even limit) the baptisms at important holy days, such as All Saints, St. John the Baptist, Easter Even and (I think) Pentecost.”

The recommended days for baptisms are Easter (or the Easter Vigil), Pentecost, the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday after Epiphany) and All Saints or in the Octave. These days are seen as particularly appropriate because of the associations of the day. This does not preclude holding baptisms at some other time.

Cheryl Va.
Guest

Ford wrote after my last posting “There seems to be a perception, I think true, that the Church now is becoming more and more like the Early Church: witnessing the Gospel in a world that doesn’t know it and doesn’t see any need for it. “ I would agree, but slightly modify that to “…some elements of the Christ body is becoming more and more like the Early Church: witnessing the Gospel in a world that doesn’t know it and doesn’t see any need for it.” The elements that see beyond organisational politics and power hierarchies and status in “this”… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Dr. Primrose:

My experience is the same; while the two parishes I’m involved with perform baptisms more often than the four rubrical dates (keeping to just those four could mean as many as four or five baptisms per service on those dates, clearly not a viable option), they are ALWAYS public baptisms with the entire congregation participating.

My only regret is that too many of the “visitors” have no idea how to behave in a church service.

Lois Keen
Guest

“The recommended days for baptisms are Easter (or the Easter Vigil), Pentecost, the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday after Epiphany) and All Saints or in the Octave. These days are seen as particularly appropriate because of the associations of the day. This does not preclude holding baptisms at some other time.” (Malcolm+)

In addition, if there is no baptism on one of those four feasts, worship is to include the full Baptismal Covenant, so that it is renewed at least four times each year.

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

Thank you Malcolm+, I should probably read my rubrics more closely.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Jim, it occurred to me last night that maybe my perception of this is because I hear the phrase with a Bayman’s ears. You’ve lived where you are long enough to have seen how quickly outport hands shoot up to drag back down anyone with the temerity to rise above their station. I can hear it now “Oh, listen to Mr. Biggee, ‘e’ve agot awful big in ‘eesself, ‘avn’t ‘e? “E can’t ‘ave vows like the rest of us, oh no, ‘e got to ‘ave a COVENANT!” Sorry, I had to make up an orthography as I went along. It… Read more »

Marshall Scott
Guest

The point of calling the Apostles Creed and subsequent commitments regarding life in Christ the “Baptismal Covenant” is to emphasize that the covenant is between God in Christ and the baptized. Thus, when used without a baptism it is also appropriate to speak of “Renewal of Baptismal Vows.” Within the Episcopal Church at public baptisms and confirmations, and at the Easter Vigil whether or not there are baptisms, the entire congregation participates. Thus, each of us affirms (on our own behalf or as parents of an infant baptizand) or reaffirms our commitment to this understanding of our covenant with God… Read more »

Malcolm+
Guest

Why Ford, and all ‘dis toime, I tot you was a townie, bye.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Malcolm,
You take that back! A corner boy is something one is born as, I’ve lived in town since 1980, but I’m still a Bayman in everyone’s eyes, my own included.