Monday, November 19, 2012

Church of England remains in communion with South Carolina

Ouch! Mother Church has told the High Priestess of the Church of What's Happening Now to pound sand, at least for the time being.
The Church of England has declined to accept Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori’s assertion the Diocese of South Carolina may not withdraw from the Episcopal Church. Nor will Saturday’s vote by the South Carolina Special Convention affect the standing of its clergy with the Church of England at this time, General Synod learned today.

Speaking for the church’s Council for Christian Unity (CCU), Bishop Christopher Hill said the Church of England sought to maintain good relations with all sides in the Episcopal Church’s civil war and would take no “hasty” actions at this time.

On 19 November 2012 two questions were put to the CCU by members of General Synod on the South Carolina affair.

Miss Prudence Daily of the Diocese of Oxford asked Question 53: “Has consideration been given to whether the Church of England is in full and unimpaired communion with Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”

While Mrs. Lorna Ashworth of the Diocese of Chichester asked Question 54: “Following the recent issue of a Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church in relation to the Rt Rev Mark J Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, and recognizing that Bishop Lawrence has been one of the declining number of theologically conservative bishops who has sought to remain and to keep his people within TEC, in the light of paragraph 6 in the statement offered to the Synod in GS Misc 1011 in 2011 by the Archbishops, are there any plans to consider proposing to the Synod fuller recognition of the Anglican Church of North America than has been considered to be appropriate up to this point?

Bishop Hill responded that he would answer the questions “together."

“The withdrawal from the Episcopal Church of most of the clergy and people of several dioceses, led by their bishops, after diocesan convention decisions, is a development novel in kind as well as in scale,” he said.

“Our North American sisters and brothers have been often involved in a litigious and sometimes acrimonious debate. We should try to remain on good terms with all parties and avoid inflaming matters further. Our response should be deliberate, and not hasty.”

He added that as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York noted in General Synod Misc. paper 1011, “the creation of the Anglican Church in North America raises questions of recognition of orders – ministry – as well as a relationship of communion.”

“The former question is in some respects simpler, because the considerations are more objective, and it is also the more pressing, by reason of requests for transfer. Nevertheless there are some matters that require clarification before any decisions can be taken.”

“Clergy ordained in several churches with which we are not, or not yet, in communion are seeking permission to minister in the Church of England. The Council for Christian Unity has therefore established a small group to offer advice to the Archbishops through the Faith and Order Commission on the relevant issues. The question about the Anglican Church in North America’s orders (whether it is a church and whether its orders are such, whether they such that we can recognize) will be addressed in that context. This will necessarily involve direct engagement with the Anglican Church in North America which was envisaged in the Archbishops General Synod miscellaneous paper that I have referred to,” he said adding “that will be the context for subsequent exploration of relationships between our churches.

Bishop Hill said that “on Saturday, a Special Diocesan Convention endorsed the South Carolina withdrawal from the Episcopal Church. The Bishop has stated that their position would be to remain within the Anglican Communion as an extra-provincial Diocese. The Episcopal Church on the other hand maintains that General Convention consent is necessary for any withdrawal. So the legal and indeed theological and ecclesiological position is extremely complicated. And it is absolutely not certain.”

The bishop concluded “it has therefore not been possible to consider the consequences for our relationships at this immediate stage. And, in my view, any statement just at this point would be premature.”

Saturday’s vote to affirm the secession of the Diocese of South Carolina from the Episcopal Church was the second time the church has withdrawn. In 1861 the diocese withdrew to join the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. The Nineteenth century secession had no impact on the relations between the Church of England and the South Carolina clergy or diocese.