Thursday, December 13, 2007

Parallel Chruch Structures/39th Province

I've been watching events in the States with interest. Events in San Joaquin have raised some thoughts and questions in my mind. And Bishops Harding and Harvey make these thoughts relavent to the Canadian Church as well.

When all this first came out, my immediate reaction was to uphold the decisions about diocese made at the Council of Nicea. Now I am really questioning that and San Joaquin and what has been revealed about its process have made me question even more.

From the sounds of it on the more liberal blogs, there was a lot of pain and fear and other harm done in the process in San Joaquin. I wondered - what if the resolution hadn't passed? What would life be like in that diocese for those who support full inclusion/want to stay in TEC. I think of marriages/relationships that have gone poisonous. Is it not better in the latter case for the partners to separate. Would it not be better in the former case for the Diocese of San Joaquin to separate from TEC with some sort of amicable (or at least as amicable as possible) agreement worked out between San Joaquin and TEC. In that agreement, there could be a continuing Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in TEC. In this diocese would be those who share the values of TEC. People would have a choice as to which church they wanted to belong.

What is so wrong with having two provinces in the same area? We have been conditioned to rejecting this out of hand. But, we are not going to be serving the same people. I know that a question that comes up often is - there are different denominations in the same geographical area, why is that different from what is happening? And initially, I reacted negatively to that thought. But then I read about the pain in Forth Worth, in Pittsburgh, in San Joaquin on all sides of the issue. I read the different understandings about how our faith should be expressed and who should be excluded. I thought about talks that I have had with some of my colleagues in this diocese and how I have come to understand that it often comes down to our basic understanding of God and how God interacts with humans. In many cases, we are poles apart on that understanding. I wouldn't go so far as to say that we are two entirely different churches for we do share some things. But there are significant differences and I think we may need to express them in two separate entities.

In light of people moving across borders to the Southern Cone, I have revised my thinking. Which is the lesser of two "evils" - if one considers a 39th province an "evil" (and I need to note here that I am using a common expression. I do not even come to close to thinking that a 39th province or the people involved in "moving" to the Southern Cone are evil). The Southern Cone has a membership of some 20,000 people. With people from Canada and the US "moving" into that province, the indigenous membership will soon be outnumbered. Given the arrogance of humanity, and especially white North American humanity, I don't believe that this will be a healthy thing for the Southern Cone's indigenous membership. Would not the North Americans be better in a province of their own?

For those of us who support full inclusion. Would it not be better to have a Church (or province) that fully embraces that inclusion. I often wonder about my gay and lesbian friends and how they must feel that this debate is about them but does not include them. That they are being discussed but are not being included in the discussion or decision making in any real meaningful way. Would it not be healthier for there to be a structure that fully accepted all people without having to constantly be aware of the tensions.

Would not some sort of amicable agreement be a more healthy thing all around. I realize that this would have to involve a mutual acceptance to disagree on an international level. For one thing, some of the more extreme provinces would have to agree to accept both provinces rather than just the one which reflected their theology and I'm not sure that is possible. But then, I also don't believe that they are the majority either.

I know that transition would be chaotic and painful for all involved. But would it be any worse than what is happening now? And once we worked creatively to find a way to live together, maybe we could start focusing on some of the more important things such as our inner cities, poverty, etc. In the long run, I believe that is what Christ is calling us to do - rather than being bogged down in our differences as we are right now.

Acutally, I have thought further using an experience in my own life. The experience is not a parallel but it does offer some insight to my thoughts. A number of years ago we lived in a small town where the larger school district had decided to close down the local school. Many of us disagreed with the decision (and I still do). We fought the decision. We did the best we could with the structures in place and still the school was closed. Some of the older members of the community thought we should have fought harder. I disagree. I believe that had we carried it to the possible extremes it would have become a very unhealthy situation for our children and still that school would have closed. We did the best we could but ultimately we had to learn to live with the new arrangement. It was painful to see the school close and it was not easy to adjust to the new situation but we did. Maybe the resulting arrangements were not ideal but, being human, not much of what we accomplish is the ideal.

We have fought to maintain our current church structures in place. And maybe we have actually fought too hard. The reality is that we are no longer together. Is it not better to try to come to the best possible arrangements and to learn to live creatively within those? Is it not, in the long run, more healthy for all involved to say that we have tried our best but now it is time to look creatively at the future and do the best we can with what we have available - that we need to sit down and work out the best possible arrangements for all concerned given the reality that we are living.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie


Malcolm+ said...

"[S]ome of the more extreme provinces would have to agree to accept both provinces rather than just the one which reflected their theology and I'm not sure that is possible."

It isn't possible. For the "conservatives," the only acceptable outcome is for the Episcopal Church and our own to be expelled from the Communion with some cobbled together "conservative" remnant named to take our places.

Odd, isn't it, that one is hard pressed to find a liberal voice claiming that the conservatives - or even the "conservatives" - must be expelled, yet it is the "conservatives" who whinge about how oppressed they are.

Tim Chesterton said...

Malcolm, in 1980 I sat in a diocesan synod in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and heard a talk given by then-primate Ted Scott. I forget what the topic under discussion was, but I do remember that at one point, in making an illustration, Ted (who, by the way, I liked a lot) said, "Well, you know how we feel in our church when evangelicals say..." He placed evangelicals outside of 'our church'.

In 1999 I attended a national meeting of committees of General Synod in Toronto; I was on the Faith, Worship, and Ministry Committee at the time. Our committee attended a post-Lambeth briefing led by Michael Ingham and A.J. Finlay. In that briefing, the word 'evangelical' was used many times, and every use of it was pejorative. There were two evangelical Anglicans sitting at the back of that room - myself and Stephen Andrews - and by the time the meeting was over we felt completely demonised.

Oh, did I mention that Michael Peers was in the room and was participating enthusiastically in the demonisation?

I was baptised in the Anglican Church in England, my Christian formation was in a charismatic Anglican parish in southeast Essex. And yet in my 29 years in full-time Anglican ministry in Canada I have many times had my commitment to Anglicanism questioned by clergy colleagues because I was an evangelical, and somehow evangelical was seen as less Anglican than liberal catholic.

No, I never thought of it as oppression. But I was sometimes reminded of Chinese water-torture. Drip, drip, drip.

Malcolm+ said...

Which is one of the reasons I studiously avoid referring to the "conservatives" as evangelicals - or even as conservatives.

The actions of certain Primates do not appear to me to be either conservative nor evangelical.

As I have argued elsewhere, what makes you and I both Anglican is our shared willingness to meet around a common table. I am prepared to come to the table with you, and I gather from what I have read of you, that you are prepared to come to the table with me.

The message from the former Bishop of San Joachin, of the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, from the Primate of Nigeria is that they are not prepared to be at the table with me because I disagree with them on certain matters.

That is sad indeed.

Ann Marie said...


Other than in seminary I don't think my commitment to Anglicanism has been questioned except for possibly by me in my darker moments.

However, I can relate to what you say from liberal sort of middle of evangelical/anglo side of this. I am told that people wish doctrinal lines would be drawn and people who believe as I do kicked out of the church. I have been called a heretic so much that I have finally consciously embraced the term in order to lessen its power to wound. I have been told that I do not preach the gospel or that I am not biblical.

I think that all spaces on the spectrum need to be more sensitive to what they say. Often when I read the blogs and forums I see much the same sort of conversation, especially on the extremes. It really doesn't matter which extreme.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I believe that we all have gifts to bring to the table and I believe that most of us actually have more in common than we think. But we have to be careful of falling into the trap of judgement, which is not our perogative anyway.

I will admit that most things that reflect Calvinism will push my buttons but I also recognize that if we interact in a positive manner that most spaces on the spectrum offer checks and balances preventing most of us from heading off to the extremes. I think that we can help each other come to deeper understandings of our faith, maybe not through embracing each other's view but by understanding our own views better and enriching and broadening our faith.

Like Malcolm, I would be happy to share the table with you for the gifts you bring can only bring us closer to understanding the whole.


On a self-pitying note, those you mention are not willing to come to the table with me not only because I disagree but also because of who/what I am. And that just frosts my little cookies even more. I would still meet with them though albeit with a lot of prayer and seeing God in the middle of us.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie