Bishop Smith has published the following letter to the people of the Diocese of Arizona about the recent House of Bishop’s meeting in Camp Allen:
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The bishops of our church have just completed our annual spring meeting at Camp Allen near Houston, TX. A summary of our actions and activities is available in our concluding letter “A Message to God’s People.” To its rather formal official language, I would like add some more personal observations.
Of all these meetings I have attended, this was by far the best. Under the direction of our new Presiding Bishop, there was evident a new sense of collegiality and prayerfulness. We now worship facing one another, sing lively and interesting music, and set our own agendas instead of them being forced upon us by outside consultants.
Even though increasing attention was given to the outside mission of the church, especially to our embracing of the needs of the world as expressed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), much of our energy and time still focused on the recent events in the Communion, especially the demands that have been made upon our Church by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in their recent Primates’ Communiqué.
I came to the meeting assuming that it would be an easy thing for the House of Bishops to do what was being asked of us. I wrote as much to you on Ash Wednesday immediately after the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania. I now realize that I was naïve in that assumption. What I had not realized in my first reading of the Primates Communiqué was just how far the Primates were asking the American church to depart from our history, polity, and canons. Let me emphasize that the subject of the Communiqué (namely human sexuality) was not discussed in our gathering AT ALL. What was discussed with alarm was the process that we were being asked to follow; indeed which the Archbishop of Canterbury has already begun to put into place by the creation of a Primatial Vicar and Pastoral Council, which would exercise oversight over our own American church. This notion was soundly rejected by the majority of both liberal and conservative bishops. The issue was not our participation in the Anglican Communion, which we unanimously wish to continue, but the legality of the tactics used by a minority of Primates to enforce their views upon us. Our decision, not to accept their ultimatum, was not an issue of theology, but of sovereignty. Some will attempt to portray our resistance to their interference as “choosing to walk alone” from the Anglican Communion. This is certainly not the case. We remain as committed to the Communion as ever, but we must find a way of doing so that is true to our own Constitution. As much as we wish to work together with all Anglicans throughout the world, we are mindful that in 16th Century, the Church of England was created in opposition to a distant Roman Pope and Curia, and that in the 18th Century our country in turn fought a revolution to free ourselves from British rule. Why would we want to turn over our independence to a small group of foreign prelates, who we did not elect, and who have no legal authority over us?
I don’t think anyone knows the next step. The Archbishop has, as expected, called our response “discouraging,” but has called for more clarification and discussion. The House of Bishops has extended an invitation (read text here) to him to meet with us as soon as possible.
It may be that the American Church is not invited to the Lambeth Conference in 2008. It may be that the entire Communion may fracture, and there may not even be a Conference. Yet when all is said and done, it is helpful to remember that Episcopalians were Anglicans before there was an Anglican Communion (our church began in 1789, the Anglican Communion was not organized until 1851, and Primates have been gathering for only a decade), and we will be Anglicans even if the formal structure ceases to exist.
What is even more important is that none of this be allowed to get in the way of our far greater mission. Bishop Claude Payne pointed out that “the maintenance of the Communion is important, but that is still a maintenance agenda, not a mission agenda, and Christ does not call us to maintain the institution but to grow his Body.”
And so, as the last sentence of the Bishops’ Comment to the Church concludes, “it is to that mission that we must now determinedly turn.”