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What the Church of England said about ECUSA
by Simon Sarmiento
Anglicans Online Europe correspondent
15 February 2004

At this week's General Synod, several questions were asked about the relationship between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA in the light of the consecration of Gene Robinson. The answers to these questions have received almost no press attention so far, but they are of considerable importance to ECUSA members. The Archbishop of Canterbury also made some remarks about Anglican Communion matters at the opening session of the synod, which have been widely reported and made available in full on the web, but also seriously misunderstood by some.

Question Time at General Synod is somewhat similar to, though more polite than, its British parliamentary equivalent. Any member of synod may put down in advance questions for reply by persons speaking on behalf of the House of Bishops, Archbishops' Council, Church Commissioners, etc. Answers have to be given and are often as close as one gets to an official statement from the Church of England. Although sometimes written answers suffice, most are delivered orally to the synod, with an opportunity for live unrehearsed supplementary exchanges. On this occasion there were a total of 85 questions submitted for answer.

Here are the six Questions and Answers verbatim. A group of five questions was dealt with together:

Question 50
Dr Philip Jeffrey (Chichester)
to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. What advice, if any, will the House of Bishops be offering in connection with any decision as to whether the Church of England is in full or impaired communion with those bishops of ECUSA who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson and will any such advice be given in time to assist those members of the Church of England who, whilst working or travelling in the United States in the course of this summer, desire to worship in Anglican churches?
Question 51
Revd Brian Leathers (Derby) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. In the light of the world-wide opposition to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, what consideration has the House given to formally breaking communion with the Diocese of New Hampshire and with those parts of ECUSA which endorsed his appointment?
Question 52
Mrs Margaret Brown (Chichester) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. What steps has the House of Bishops taken to ensure that any bishops involved in the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson should not be allowed to officiate at Confirmations, Ordinations and Consecrations, or to celebrate the Holy Communion in this country?
Question 53
Revd Brian Leathers (Derby) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. Has the House of Bishops issued, or will it be issuing a policy or guidance for its members on the granting of licenses or permission to minister in their dioceses to those who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson?
Question 54
Mrs Margaret Brown (Chichester) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. Has the House of Bishops expressed its support for all those in ECUSA and the Canadian Church who remain faithful to traditional Biblical teaching on marriage, homosexual practice and cohabitation?

The Archbishop of Canterbury [Chairman of the House of Bishops] to reply:
A. Chairman, with permission I will respond to the question from Dr Jeffrey and the two questions each from Mrs Brown and Mr Leathers together.
Synod has heard the remarks I made earlier concerning the Anglican Communion. As I said then, I hope we will pray for the work of the Eames Commission looking into related matters.
With regard to arrangements for visitors worshipping in the United States, this is surely a judgement for individuals and not one for the House of Bishops.
On the ministry of Gene Robinson in this country - that is not a question for the House of Bishops, but, in accordance with the Overseas and Other Clergy Measure of 1967 - for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. I have indicated already that I would not be prepared to give my permission under that legislation for Gene Robinson to exercise episcopal functions here.
On the position of others involved in the consecration, the House of Bishops has not thought it appropriate to issue guidance.

One further question was asked slightly later:

Question 70
Dr Philip Jeffrey (Chichester) to ask the Secretary General [Mr William Fittall]:
Q.
In view of the fact that a number of Provinces of the Anglican Communion have declared themselves to be out of communion with, or in a state of impaired communion with, those bishops of ECUSA who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson, what is the competent authority in the Church of England to decide whether or not the Church of England is in full or impaired communion with those bishops?

A. The Church of England is in communion with Churches, and not separately with individual dioceses - still less with individual bishops - within those churches. For the purposes of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure and the Church Representation Rules, a decision by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is conclusive in determining whether a Church - as a whole - is in communion with the Church of England.

It is quite clear from both these answers that the Church of England considers itself in full communion with all provinces of the Anglican Communion, including ECUSA and the Diocese of New Hampshire.

More precisely, in terms of the separate questions, it also appears that the House of Bishops…
50. … does not instruct members of the Church of England where or where not to worship.
50 and 51. … does not plan to break communion with ECUSA or anyone else.
51, 52 and 53. … plans no action in respect of bishops who participated in the consecration of Gene Robinson.
54. … did not think this question merited a specific answer.

And similarly, it appears that the Secretary General of the General Synod...
70. …knows that the CofE, or any other Church of the Anglican Communion, cannot (as some provinces or dioceses have claimed) be in communion with only certain members of another Church but not others, depending on their personal theological opinions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury confirmed his previous statement that he would not be prepared to give permission for Gene Robinson to exercise episcopal functions in the Church of England, under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967.
Under the Measure, in order to perform episcopal functions in England, any overseas bishop requires a request and commission, in writing, from a bishop of the Church of England, and the licence and consent of the archbishop of the relevant province (i.e. Canterbury or York). The archbishops (not the House of Bishops) have discretion to consent or not in individual cases.
Under English law, no woman bishop and no person (of either gender) ordained by a woman bishop can minister in the Church of England, and the archbishops have no discretion to allow exceptions in that regard. So Bishop Robinson has been put in the same situation as several other bishops and quite a lot of other clergy. (This law did not prevent women bishops attending and participating in the 1998 Lambeth Conference.)
Incidentally, the Church of England and other British and Irish Anglicans are already in communion with additional Churches that are not part of the Anglican Communion, i.e. Porvoo Communion members (Lutheran churches in Scandinavia).

Turning now to the archbishop's opening remarks, these need to be read carefully and in full. The wording of this, as with every statement made by Rowan Williams, is deliberately and intentionally precise. Some key points to note [emphasis added]:

"Now the Primates in their statement in October called on provinces to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury for those in conscience unable to accept certain dispositions made by their provinces. In line with that request from the Primates, I want to say that I remain fully committed to searching for arrangements which will secure a continuing place for all Episcopalians in the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States …"

It is very clear that Rowan Williams is fully committed to an ECUSA which contains both those who support the contested actions of General Convention last summer, and those who oppose them. He wants ECUSA itself to make mutually acceptable arrangements for episcopal oversight of those disaffected by recent events.

"… and I have been involved in working with several parties there towards some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible. It is in that light that I‘ve been following sympathetically the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America engaged in negotiating some of these questions of episcopal oversight. …"

This reference to "a network" is also very carefully worded. It is quite clearly related specifically to negotiations within ECUSA relating to episcopal oversight. The expression "following sympathetically" is no endorsement of the programme and policies of the NACDP or any other group. It means simply that he is listening to what they are saying. The call for all parties within ECUSA to negotiate together in good faith could hardly be more clear.

 

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