Orthodox Bishops: Actions, Not Words on Pastoral Care
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Thu May 24 01:29:46 EDT 2001
Orthodox Bishops: Actions, Not Words on Pastoral Care
News and Analysis
By Robert Stowe England
WASHINGTON, D. C. -- To understand any written instrument of diplomacy,
one has to read and reread the text to decipher its linguistic nuances
negotiated between parties in conflict, sometimes even at the brink of
To be sure, whatever meaning was intended by a communique released
today by the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, its clear intent appears
at first to be escaping the understanding of just about everyone. The
statement, which describes discussions between six traditionalist
bishops and Griswold on May 15, is verbose, awkwardly written and
represents no clear agreement on solutions to conflicts between
opposing parties in the Episcopal Church.
Chief among the conflicts is the ongoing battle over the rejection by
Suffragan Bishop Jane Dixon of the call of a traditionalist priest, Fr.
Samuel Edwards, to be rector of Christ Church, Accokeek, Maryland.
To be sure, the communique was never represent any overall agreement,
since the intent of the May 15 meeting was merely to gain a hearing
with the Presiding Bishop, according to Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker,
one of the participants.
Iker thinks the May 15 meeting was "successful and productive" in that
it allowed Forward in Faith bishops and a leader from the American
Anglican Council "to articulate our concerns and say what we would like
to see happen" in a number of areas now under heated dispute, including
the situation in Accokeek, Iker says.
"I can guarantee you on three areas where there was lots of discussions
on how to move forward, the meeting did not resolve anything and
couldn't," says Iker, because recommended actions would require the
agreement of others who were not present.
The three areas that were discussed are: (1) Accokeek, (2) the
establishment of alternative episcopal oversight for traditionalists in
revisionist dioceses, and (3) the visit of task forces to three
dioceses that oppose women's ordination.
Despite the fact the meeting was called just to gain a hearing, the
discussions led to a positive outcome, Iker says. "The Presiding Bishop
gave a sympathetic hearing to some very genuine concerns of
traditionalists, and suggested that they be resolved in a positive way
and not by coercion," says Iker. This specifically included the
avoidance of coercion in the dispute in Accokeek, where Suffragan
Bishop Jane Dixon has indicated she may pursue litigation to drive out
the rector, Fr. Sam Edwards, from Christ Church.
The commitment to a "positive" solution without "coercion" echoes a
call by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who visited Griswold and
Dixon last month and called for a "Christian solution" to the conflict
The communique reports next to nothing about what Griswold said,
devoting most of the text to what the orthodox bishops said. It did
not, for example, include the phrase "resolve in a positive way" in
reference to Accokeek or the other issues raised. Instead, it
recognizes that the conservative wing of the church would like to see
"a creative way forward be found in the Accokeek situation (in order
that the unity of the Episcopal Church be preserved.)"
The May 15 meeting began with concerns expressed by Griswold that
discussions might be misrepresented in reports on the Internet,
according to Iker. Griswold was unhappy that Virtuosity, an Internet-
based list-serve run by David Virtue, the night before had reported the
names of those attending the meeting, including names of people
Griswold was not aware would be present. The communique was intended to
inform people of the contents of the meeting and hopefully avoid
speculation on the Internet about what was said, according to Iker.
However, it appears the communique has not accomplished its purpose,
but has instead left most people perplexed.
In an interview today Bishop Iker helped clarify what the communique
said and did not say, and provided some of the comments that were left
out of the communique's report on the meeting.
"We made some suggestions" about what should be done at Accokeek, says
Bishop Iker. "Whether she'll do that, I don't know," he says, referring
to Dixon, who rejected the call of Fr. Edwards on March 8, long after
the 30-day limit for a bishop's review of a parish's call of a rector.
Fr. Edwards accepted what he and the vestry say is a legal call and has
been rector since March 25. Dixon has threatened a visitation Sunday
when she may take some actions against Fr. Edwards and the parish.
One of the suggestions at the May 15 meeting was that Dixon should
accept Fr. Edwards's written promise he would not try to take the
parish out of the Episcopal Church and "back off" from her rejection of
the call. "If nothing else, he has a three-year contract. He has
assured her in writing the has not come there to take the parish out of
the Episcopal Church," says Iker.
The bishops also warned the Presiding Bishop -- and the communique
contains elements of this warning -- that if the situation in Accokeek
is not settled to the satisfaction of the traditionalists, that it
could lead to the very outcome Dixon says she most fears. Explains
Iker: "If she doesn't accept him, he's not going to walk away from it.
She'll have to charge him, bring him to trial and depose him," says
Bishop Iker. In doing that, "she'll accomplish what say she she didn't
want to happen -- Sam Edwards and the parish will leave the Episcopal
Church," Bishop Iker stated.
The discussion also focused on the need to establish alternative
episcopal care in the Episcopal Church, according to Iker. "What we
we're saying is that talk is cheap. We want to see some action," he
said. Iker notes that the Lambeth Conference in 1998 called for
alternative episcopal care, as did the Primates Meeting in Oporto
Portugal in 2000 and the Primates Meeting in Kanuga earlier this year.
"Where is it? How do you get it? To say it ought to be offered is not
enough," says Bishop Iker.
Instead of providing pastoral care, revisionist bishops are persecuting
traditionalists. Says Iker: "What Jane is doing in Washington, D.C. is
not providing extended pastoral care. It's denying pastoral care for
those who asked for it," says Iker. The battle of Accokeek, as it has
come to be called, has made the issue of pastoral care of paramount and
pressing concern in the U.S and across the global in the Anglican
Communion. Says Iker: "We want the Presiding Bishop to come up with a
plan" for alternative episcopal oversight, or flying bishops. The plan
should explain how a congregation can go about seeking and obtaining
pastoral care, "even in a diocese that says no," Iker says
If nothing else, says Iker, he believes the May 15 meeting will lead to
further discussion toward establishing a plan for flying bishops. "I
think there's a commitment [on Griswold's part] to pursue that with the
House of Bishops," Iker says. That's where the issue will have to be
hammered out, since the Presiding Bishop could not issue a policy on
flying bishops "that every bishop is compelled to obey," says Iker.
Iker reports that the three bishops of traditionalist dioceses --
himself, Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, Calif., and Bishop
Keith Ackerman of Quincy, Illinois -- were asked for comments about
pending visits from task forces established by the Executive Council.
The task force as the result of Resolution A045 at last year's General
Convention. The convenor for the Resolution A045 Task Force, Virginia
Bishop Peter Lee, was at the May 15 meeting.
"I told Peter Lee I could not imaging anything I could come up with
that they had not already heard" with regards to providing
opportunities for women priests in his diocese. Currently, for example,
if a parish calls a woman rector, the parish is allowed to come under
the oversight of Diocese of Dallas, which recognizes women's
ordination. If the intent if the visit is to "try to force women
priests on everyone, they're not going to have my cooperation," Iker
During the discussions, the orthodox bishops pointed out some of the
potential dire consequences that come occur if the issues around
Accokeek, alternative episcopal care and the A045 task force, are not
resolved. Bishop Iker declined to name any of the potential outcomes
because "it might look like a threat and not a warning."
While the bishops attending the meeting may not care to name some of
the consequences of failing to resolve the disputes, others have
speculated about them. Among the potential outcomes is a complete break
down of canon law between dioceses. That implied warning is lurking
beneath surface of the language of the communique, which juxtaposes the
phrase "diocesan sovereignty as the ultimate principle" against the
phrase "coercive implementation." Does it mean that if Dixon does not
relent on Accokeek, the bishops will not welcome the task forces?
Maybe. Maybe not. No one at the meeting will say.
Note the language: the communique states that the orthodox bishops of
the three dioceses "stated their assessments that Task Force visits
would be disruptive and triangulating in the lives of their dioceses."
The Presiding Bishop, the communique continues, "sought to reassure the
bishops that the Executive Council, in its appointment of the task
force, had a temperate spirit in which they wanted the church to move
forward with the ordination of women in all dioceses, but in ways that
respected the theological integrity of the various dioceses."
Among the many questions that remain unanswered is this one: If Dixon
does not allow Fr. Edwards to remain as rector, will orthodox and
conservative bishops seek to find a way to establish oversight of
traditional parishes within revisionist dioceses?
The text also warns that more parishes will leave the Episcopal Church.
It states: "The perception of an increasing rate of loss of catholic,
evangelical and charismatic members to other ecclesial bodies was put
on the table by those who had asked for the meeting."
Others have posited even more extreme outcomes: whole dioceses leaving
the Episcopal Church, dioceses invading one another's turf, and a
general descent into canonical chaos and wide-spread hostilities
Church historians might look back on the May 15 meeting and the
subsequent communique it as a prelude to open hostilities or a step
toward establishing a means whereby two polar and theological opposites
can live together in peace despite intractable differences.
The communique was written by Bishop Lee, who attended the meeting at
the request of Presiding Bishop Griswold. It appears to intend mostly
to state the concerns of five orthodox bishops affiliated with Forward
in Faith / North America, a traditionalist organization, and a sixth
bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who heads the
American Anglican Council.
The AAC, which is composed of about 45 bishops, represents a
significant force within the church. The presence of Bishop Duncan, who
is chairman of AAC's Bishops Advisory Committee, implies that the
statement potentially represents not just the views of the orthodox
remnant, but also of the larger conservative wing of the church.
Those present at the meeting include five orthodox bishops: Bishop
John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, Calif., who called for the
meeting, as well as Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Bishop Keith
Ackerman of Quincy, Ill., along with retired Bishop Donald Parsons of
Quincy. Also present was Fr. David Moyer, rector of the Church of the
Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, and president of Forward in
Faith, as well as Charles Nalls, executive director of the Canon Law
Institute, and attorney for Christ Church, Accokeek, Maryland.
Also present at the meeting were Bishop Douglas Theuner of New
Hampshire, who is chairman of the Presiding Bishop's Council of
Advice. Finally, there was David Booth Beers, chancellor to the
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