Giving up bishops for Lent

The news from Tanzania, with respect to the Anglican primates, doesn’t bode well.

Whose the winner?  This freechurchman thinks its the bishops. At every turn, you would think that the national churches or dioceses are the bishops because the debate is cast in terms of what bishops do, don’t do, fail to do, say or respond.

The terms of the debate seem better fit for the churches in England and Nigeria than the United States. The whole thing smells of power grab. I trust that if an emergency General Convention is called, the laity, deacons and priests will be very vocal. In either case, this episode remind me why I will never be an Episcopalian. Never ever.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Is it true that there is a long-term plan to consolidate the Church of England into the Roman Catholic Church, as The Times announced a few days ago? Or is it a smear campaign which is part of the power grab you mention?

  2. Jaume, this was way overdone by the Times of London. There have been long-term ecumenical conversations for years on all sorts of matters (none of them approaching the merger-and-acquisition scenario you describe) and some of what found its way into the Times was a) old stuff and b) part of the story only. Of course there will be Anglicans who will cross the Tiber over to Rome (as a group of Episcopal men priests did around the time of the ordination of women in the U.S.) but this kind of consolidation is not only unlikely, but impossible. Neither the Anglican Communion (or its constituent parts like the Church of England, the Church of the Province of South Africa, the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Anglican Church in Nigeria, et al.) nor the Roman Catholic Church is a neat enough and organized enough entity for this to happen. Churches –and all religious associations– are messy creatures. (I say this as an Episcopalian who was raised a UU and sojourned for a quarter of a century in the RC Church, and as a scholar of religion.)

  3. I am more of a fan of congregationalism than the Episcopal style of governance. That being said, maybe if the Episcopal Church splits from the worldwide Anglican Communion and is thus freed from the shackles of the church’s conservative wing, it might actually develop into a truly interesting and highly progressive church. Note that some of most progressive theologies out there come from Episcopalians (I am thinking of people like Marcus Borg.)

  4. I think of it this way: The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of dying church (in England) and is trying to maintain the appearance of leading an international body for which he has a very strong and extremely conservative challenger in Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, and so did nothing to support the next oldest (and much more lively) church in his communion. The Episcopal Church, which is fully 100 years older than the “Anglican Communion,” is also republican in its episcopacy — its bishops are elected rather than appointed, and can’t make decisions without the consensus of the laity and clergy, unlike the bishops of most of the rest of Anglicanism. The archbishop and the primates don’t understand — or don’t like — that more democratic polity. Personally, I don’t have an ideological or temperamental problem with Episcopal polity in its American form; after all, ,congregationalism is not without its own distinctive problems. Then again, I’m married to a candidate to its priesthood so I’m sympathetically inclined.

    As for the Times story, Anglicans have been quite serious about ecumenism and reconciling their historic split from Rome, but a long-term plan would still have to be quite long-term. The Anglicans are unlikely to give up married priests and may not be in a position to give up female priests; the Catholic church might bend on the first (as it has with the Eastern Rite Catholic churches and with priests received from Anglicanism), but it won’t bend on the second anytime soon. And Rome and Canterbury won’t reconcile as long as the U.S. church is part of the Anglican Communion.

  5. Jaume, such a plan is news to me. Perhaps it is a reference to the bilateral Anglican-Roman talks that have been going on for years, in which case I would project reunion about a hundred years after Christ returns. The talks only get air time when there’s a crisis on the Anglican side, as if the Catholic church is some kind of immovable rock full of mother-love to come back to.

    But a number of bodies have these and multilateral talks, so I wouldn’t think they’re that newsworthy. Do you have a citation?

  6. Well Mystical Seeker, we live in hope. But for me the proof will be in how the non-bishops, and especially the laity, are brought into the next round of actions. But I think the whole matters is a set-up for slap-down of the US church, or else the Anglican Church of Canada and the like church in New Zealand and (I think) Scotland would be getting the same treatment.

    The US Episcopal Church is hardly unique, even if it is in the Anglican minority.

  7. Sorry about the out-of-ordered-ness: Jane and Philo’s comments were in moderation. Not to be pedantic, but wouldn’t the Scottish Episcopal Church be the second oldest church in the Communion? Even if it has The Hollow Cough.

  8. I was brought up within liberal Methodist and Anglican churches, and I would argue that in many ways the Archbishop of Canterbury is not “the head of dying church.”

    Weekly attendances are low, but the church is still arguably the main point of reference for people when it comes to religious matters and is nationally, a central religious organisation – it continues to be used for christenings, weddings, funerals etc. It is also the established church in England, and as a result, has seats in the upper chamber of parliament (House of Lords) and ‘royal sponsorship’.

    In addition, whilst some churches close, there are others that are thriving- alhough these are often merged fully or in coalition with a Baptist, URC or Methodist church. St Thomas’s church in Sheffield, and some of the big churches in London, are examples of this. Also, there are those (Jeremy Paxman in “The English”) who argue that modern England has never been fervently religious, and so low church attendances are not that much of a radical shift.

    But as noted before, the Church of England is a ‘messy’ church – there certainly are Anglicans who would like to see the church returned to the Holy See, but as I mention, there are other elements that are working closely with Baptists, Methodists etc. There is great diversity within its ranks and this is not even really that clearly cut into different wings.

    I personally think a full schism -and disestablishment – would be ultimately good for the churches in the Anglican communion – and for Christianity as a whole. This is because a split could quite possibly be the catalyst for a dynamic, progressive ‘new paradigm’ Christian church being formed. The proposed two-tier system of full communion and association will hopefully be a start of this.

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