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ALBANY: HoB Responds - Is half a loaf better than none?


by Bishop Dave Bena

The House of Bishops met this week in Texas to take up action on the growing number of parishes (now in the hundreds) who feel that they cannot accept Episcopal Oversight by their bishops. Most of these are traditional parishes which take Scripture very seriously and which teach and model biblical, conservative values.

They have gathered that their bishops are teaching and modeling values in opposition to theirs, and are concerned that the teaching role of the bishop may threaten their position on these values.

Last October, the Primates - the archbishops of the thirty-eight Churches of the Anglican Communion, our Presiding Bishop being one of them - stated in a pastoral letter, "Whilst we affirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates."

Translated into "regular talk," that means that the Episcopal Church bishops were charged by the Primates to come up with a plan that would minister to parishes who in all conscience feel bound to dissent from the actions of last August's General Convention regarding sexual practice. That plan would need to be made in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There was some drama leading up to the House of Bishops meeting this week. You may have read about it. Both the Presiding Bishop and representatives of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes were in regular consultation with Archbishop Williams right up to the eve of the meeting.

The Archbishop counseled charity on everyone's part, as well as encouragement to go as far as possible in providing adequate Episcopal Oversight for traditional parishes in non-traditional dioceses.

The Archbishop was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, because he realized the need the Episcopal Church has for such an organization to act as an advocate for persons and parishes who hold to orthodox Anglican teaching. And so he regularly consults with our Presiding Bishop and he regularly consults with leaders of the Network.

Obviously his consultation had a positive effect on the House of Bishops meeting. While no one got the whole loaf, both sides got half a loaf. A document was produced entitled "Caring for all the Churches," in which a way through the difficulty is sketched out. The way through is called Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. If a rector (or clergy in charge) and vestry petition the local bishop for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, a negotiated settlement may be reached by which a traditional bishop from another diocese can become the primary caregiver for that parish.

There is an appeal process in case the parish and the local bishop cannot reach agreement. This, in my opinion, will allow traditional parishes to continue functioning in non-traditional dioceses without feeling pressure by their local bishop.

Not all agree with me that this document shows promise. Some of the bishops thought the document went way too far in granting alternative episcopal oversight to traditional parishes. One bishop wanted to so obfuscate the document that it would make no sense at all. He was shouted down.

And some bishops felt the document went nowhere near far enough to provide oversight. But as I read the document, I see some gains for the concept of alternative episcopal oversight. There are positives and there are negatives regarding this document:

1) Allows a way for traditional parishes in non-traditional dioceses to stay in the Episcopal Church, and receive oversight by a traditional bishop.
2) Allows for a continuation of dioceses as territorial, in keeping with Anglican practice.
3) Provides an way for the Episcopal Church to function while the larger Anglican Communion considers a response to the "American" issue of sexual behavior.
4) Allows God time to work toward bringing the Episcopal Church back in the direction of its traditional heritage.
5) Encourages bishops to be charitable with dissenting parishes, and to give up some of their "power."

1) The document is rather sketchy on the particulars of how much pastoral care a parish can receive from a bishop from outside the diocese.
2) Depends an awful lot on the integrity and generosity of the local bishop to allow traditional parishes to flourish without his/her attempts to liberalize them.
3) The appeal process could be flawed in that the Provincial Bishop, who is to handle the appeal, could be less than charitable.
4) There are no teeth in this document; it can be easily abused by a diocesan bishop indisposed to sharing power.
5) It puts severe limits on the exercise of oversight by a bishop from outside the diocese - time limited, no jurisdiction possibilities, 2/3 majority by vestry required.

In the end, it is half a loaf for those wanting Adequate Episcopal Oversight and half a loaf for those wanting Supplemental Pastoral Care. Let's give it a try.

David Bena is Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Albany

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