A collegial episcopacy

One interesting aspect of the dispute between the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina is that it has largely been conducted between two people: Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop, and Mark Lawrence, the once and current bishop of South Carolina. Sure, Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina has been involved as well, but it all seemed to revolve around two people.

That may be what the canons call for (and it may not—like everything else in this mess, canonical process is in dispute) but it seems like a mistake. One of the gifts the Anglican/Episcopal churches have given to the catholic church is a collegial understanding of the ministry of bishops. Bishops make decisions best when they make them together. (Notice that doesn’t mean all the decisions bishops make are right.) This is why things like the Lambeth Conference and the various houses of bishops of the various provinces of the Anglican Communion are important. This collegiality of bishops is part of the larger process of synodical governance, in which bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people come together to discern where God is leading the church.

Events in South Carolina have moved so quickly that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has not had a chance to weigh in. Bishops last met in July and won’t meet again until the late winter. But surely, given the contested theological, ecclesiological, and canonical issues, their thinking is important. Instead, the actions of essentially two people have resulted in a major Episcopal Diocese losing the majority of its members.

I don’t put much faith in petitions but there’s a new one floating around online about the South Carolina situation that laments the situation and calls for it to be resolved without litigation. The reason I signed it is that I was attracted by this line:

We furthermore implore the House of Bishops – as guardians of our faith and common life – to take counsel with one another as a body; to seek, alongside other leaders of our Church, a new application of the discipline of this Church that will build up the body of Christ in South Carolina and The Episcopal Church.

I’m not saying that the input of the House of Bishops will “fix” things. I may be completely overstating the significance of collegiality. But I like the way it echoes Jesus’ teaching on conflict resolution in Matthew 16. And given the warm feelings everyone seemed to have at last summer’s General Convention and how everyone was getting along, surely the wisdom of this body might be of use in this situation?

So read the petition. And then think about signing it.

2 thoughts on “A collegial episcopacy

  1. I read and signed the petition. I am, however, not very optimistic as it seems that the bishop and diocesan leaders do not want to be associated in any way with TEC. Can we avoid litigation? Certainly through negotiation over property the parties may avoid it, but so far it seems that the positions on property make negotiated settlement unlikely. I would like to see the House of Bishops play an active role, but I am not optimistic about the chances of that making much of a difference.

  2. Jesse Zink

    I don’t disagree with anything you write, Dan. On the other hand, you know as well as I do there’s a difference between optimism and hope.

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