Well, the Archbishop of Canterbury is back-peddling. We are told (not by him, but by “Lambeth Palace”) that his words are being misinterpreted.
Archbishop Williams did not, they have told us with straight faces, intend to say anything new. Well imagine my surprise! Of course he didn’t intend! That’s the problem. Archbishop Williams hasn’t intended to do a lot of things – nevertheless he has done them.
It is hardly surprising, considering The Letter’s effect, that Lambeth Palace has issued a "clarification". What was said publicly in the letter could have potentially devastating consequences for the Anglican Communion – as many people on both sides of the pond and from both conservative and progressive perspectives have pointed out.
Alas, for Canterbury, therefore. He is trying to use a half-empty bucket to put out a raging forest fire
Because that’s all that Canterbury has, considering the circumstances. No matter what 'clarifications' Canterbury might issue regarding The Letter (such as that he didn't really mean provinces were totally irrelevant - gee, thanks Rowan!) – no matter what the "clarifications" his original words could (and, of course, would) be interpreted as allowing dioceses to bypass their provinces and relate directly to Canterbury.
We didn’t have to wait long! Today, October 24th, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has done exactly this (see below).
That's the thing about a Pandora's Box: once you open it then you really can't close it, and the contents take on a life of their own.
This sad situation is not helped by the content of the “clarification” itself, as Forth Worth has clearly noticed.
The “clarification” does not change what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his letter, which was, in essence, something like this: "In the final theological analysis Provinces are irrelevant, only the Archbishop of Canterbury matters". And, most importantly that it is the diocesan relationship with Canterbury via its Bishop that matters, not the bishop’s or the diocese’s relationship with its province.
Thus this subsequent attempt to finesse The Letter is a classic example of seeking to close the barn door after the horses have bolted.
The "clarification" speaks loudly mostly by what is not said - that provinces not only matter, but the relationship of any clergy within those provinces is to the province first and then to the Communion. AT least, that’s the way Anglicanism has developed. Archbishop Williams is therefore making claims about the nature of the Anglican Communion that are really quite novel!
Novel, but not new. He is really turning back the Anglican clock to a pre-Reformation view of polity.
And that’s not gonna sell in our Province – nor, I would imagine, in plenty of others, including Canterbury and York.
Statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, October 24, 2007
http://www.fwepiscopal.org/news/FW102407.html or http://tinyurl.com/28jjst
Fort Worth welcomes Archbishop’s view on dioceses
We welcome the comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury, contained in a recent letter to the Bishop of Central Florida, where he reminds us that "the organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such," calling this a "basic conviction of Catholic theology." He goes on to say:
"I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'."
Given the current atmosphere and controversies in the life of the Anglican Communion, it is helpful to be reminded that dioceses, not provincial structures, are the basic unit of the catholic church. As is stated in the clarifying note issued by Lambeth Palace on Oct. 23, "The diocese is more than a ‘local branch’ of a national organization." Clearly, provincial alignments are intended for the benefit of the dioceses, and not the reverse.
It is indeed painful when a number of faithful congregations, striving to discern God's will in these days of controversy and seeking to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ, arrive at a moment of conviction that compels them to separate from their bishop and diocese. It is also difficult for a faithful diocese to reach the collective decision to separate from its national province.
Such congregations and dioceses, however, now feel compelled to take definitive actions to secure their future and to guard the orthodoxy of their faith communities in the decades to come. Affiliation with a heterodox province hampers their mission and witness, just as affiliation with an orthodox province enhances and strengthens it.
As the realignment of the Anglican Communion continues to unfold and take shape in the months ahead, we pray for the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit for all those who seek truth and unity in Jesus Christ, and we urge that such separations as must take place may be accomplished without rancor and litigation.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
The Very Rev. Ryan Reed
President, Standing Committee