Windsor Continuation Report and South Carolina

My recent essay that questioned the Diocese of South Carolina’s decision to leave the Episcopal Church has generated a fair bit of comment on blogs around the world, not to mention the two response essays in The Living Church itself.

There are two posts on the Anglican Down Under blog (here and here), though I quickly lost the thread of the discussion in the comments as it descended into a string of ad hominem attacks, or ones only loosely connected to the argument I was making in the first place. I do note that several people have noted in various places that South Carolina could quickly get three bishops together if it had to. I acknowledged this in the initial essay, but also noted that this would demonstrate the ad hoc nature of their existence.

But on the TitusOneNine blog, Christopher Seitz of the Anglican Communion Institute makes a perceptive—but I believe mistaken—claim:

This essayist misses the point that “extra-provincial” in the present period does not refer to the cases he lists, but emerges in the context of our conflicts and was proposed as a way forward by the Windsor Continuation Group. It is a category overseen by a primatial committee. We have information on this at ACI. Incidentally, even the PB of TEC supported it.

We might first note that while the report of the Windsor Continuation Group was “received” by the Anglican Consultative Council, little action has been taken on any of its recommendations. As a result, Seitz’s implicit assertion—that South Carolina has simply taken up some status available to it in the Communion—is not correct, nor is it what South Carolina has been claiming for itself in the last several months. Regardless of which primates supported the idea, it has not, to my knowledge, become an active and viable option in the Anglican Communion, as the absence of a primatial committee in South Carolina makes clear.

Nonetheless, I went back and read the WCG report. Here is what it has to say about extra-provincial dioceses:

100. One way forward – although initially dismissed by some of the parties concerned – would be for ACNA to seek for some clear provisional recognition which seeks to keep it in relation to the Communion, but which acknowledges its provisional and anomalous nature. WCG has explored on previous occasions the idea of “escrow” – the creation of a body which could take on the oversight of these groups on behalf of the Communion, but which recognises the provisionality of such bodies. The group wonders whether there is any mileage in the model of extra-Provincial jurisdictions? In at least one case, such jurisdictions have been recognised as provisional – e.g. in Sri Lanka Such a provision is fraught with difficulties. Such a scheme could not guarantee any particular outcome, the nature of which would be dependent on many factors, including the progress of the Covenant process. The provision would have to be hedged around with all sorts of restrictions, to avoid such a scheme becoming a haven for discontented groups, and institutionalising schism in the life of the Communion. Who would be the metropolitical authority? If all other obstacles were overcome, the WCG would favour a Metropolitical Council similar to that which operates for Cuba rather than linking the new entity to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In other words, the WCG report itself highlights the need for metropolitical authority, which is precisely the point I was making in my initial essay. Rather than contradicting my claim, it seems the WCG accurately forecast the problems that would arise with such an unusual status.

(I would post these comments directly to the TitusOneNine blog, but it appears as if it is no longer taking new users.)

No commenter, to my knowledge, has responded to the historical facts I lay out in the essay concerning the South Carolina episcopacy—namely that South Carolina went many years without a bishop and its first bishop was consecrated at a General Convention. These seem of central importance to the current conversation.

Still, I welcome the conversation. It is noteworthy to me that none of the more reliably “liberal” Anglican/Episcopal blogs have entered this discussion, even though I think these ecclesiogical issues are of critical importance in ongoing debate about the future direction of the church.

On another note, here’s an example of another use of my writing. A group from the Diocese of Fredericton in New Brunswick, Canada went on a mission trip to Ghana and used my book, Grace at the Garbage Dump, to help them reflect on what they were experiencing. Read the full report here. Then download the study guide for the book and do the same on your next trip!

A lesson from history for South Carolina

When was this man’s predecessor consecrated? And why does it matter?

Last autumn, the diocese of South Carolina left the Episcopal Church. A primary justification for this departure was that South Carolina was created as a diocese in 1785, before it acceded to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church in 1790. The departure, therefore, was a mere return to its pre-accession status. The implicit claim here is that a diocese only needs itself to be a church—with a bishop, the sacraments, the Bible, and the creeds, they’ve got all they need. Mark Lawrence, the bishop of the diocese, has pointed to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as evidence of this claim.

I have an article in the current edition of The Living Church that challenges this line of thinking. And I challenge that line of thinking by pointing to an historical fact: the first bishop of South Carolina, Robert Smith, was not consecrated until 1795—and at a General Convention. In other words, for nearly ten years, including the five before it acceded to the Episcopal Church’s constitution, South Carolina was without a bishop. By the standards its current leaders are now using to justify their departure, that makes it at best a proto-diocese.

(We should note that in the early years of the Episcopal Church—despite the name—several dioceses went long stretches without bishops, for a variety of reasons. South Carolina was not unique in this regard.)

This historical fact is the grounds for the larger claim of the article, namely that provinces—groupings of dioceses—matter to Anglicanism: we need them so that we can ensure our bishops are properly chosen and consecrated. The fact that Bishop Smith was consecrated at a General Convention demonstrates this. Moreover, I argue that this larger sense of belonging is actually part of the good news of the church. But read the article for the rest of the argument.

The Living Church editors also solicited two responses to my piece, which take different views. You can read one here. (UPDATE: The second response essay has also been posted.)

History matters, if only as a corrective to the self-justifying arguments that are so common in the church today. Would that we had more people in the church studying it.