(head) Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
Forgive me if this sounds like a bad joke: but I want to tell you what the evangelical said – or rather wrote – to the lesbian priest. At the end of ten tension filled days at the June 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the US branch of the Anglican communion, evangelical Angela Minns slipped Susan Russell, president of the Episcopalian gay lobby group Integrity, a note. It read “The gays and lesbians in this church have been sold out for a tea party at Lambeth.”
The evangelicals, a tiny minority at the convention, had watched a last minute manouvere by which the one faction – the “institutional liberals” led by bishops had outflanked Russell’s “revolutionary liberals” with a last minute motion which rather ambiguously promised that the Episcopalians would not elect any more gay bishops.
Yes that’s two factions of liberals – with the evangelicals too small to count for much.
The Episcopalians are rather different from us.
The usually dominant Liberals had split – over the issue of whether to put gay rights on the backburner and cave into the demands of Anglican Communion that they halt electing gay bishops and apologise for the damage to the Communion caused when they elected Gene Robinson as bishop of new Hampshire in 2003.
Angela Minns doesn’t support the election of gay Bishops. But she found the Liberal Bishops’ desire for a trip to Lambeth (or rather the less salubrious University of Canterbury campus) at all costs, distasteful.
All for a tea party.
The tea party is the Lambeth Conference – a Jamboree of bishops held every ten years. Attendance defines who is a member of the Anglican Communion, the International group of churches that owe their origins to the Church of England. There’s good evidence the American bishops had had a message from England that they had better get a motion passed to say no more gay bishops or no cucumber sandwiches would be on offer.
Clearly the American Bishops like Lambeth. It gives their denomination, small by US standards and shrinking, a sense of at least historical importance.
The overwhelming number of bishops from third world evangelical provinces of the communion which are booming have changed Lambeth from the white man’s club it used to be. Many of them don’t want to be associated with the Liberal American church – If the Church of England once lived up to the epithet of the “Tory (conservative) party at prayer” the Americans now resemble “the Green party at Prayer”.
The Anglican Communion is struggling to hold together in the face of such diversity, despite the valiant efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
He hopes that a new “covenant” will help bind churches together – and even suggests that some member churches who fail to sign up will only have associate status in a future communion. Others like our archbishop Peter Jensen think that events are moving too fast for William’s plan to be practical. A gradual, gentle loosening of the bonds in the Anglican Communion – which is only a tea party after all.
British journalist Andrew Brown provided another pithy quote on ABC radio, “before they can get round to the business of throwing out the Americans, if that’s what they’re going to do, they’re going to have to organise the Anglican communion into the sort of body out of which you can be thrown. Which at the moment it isn’t.”
A mere tea party still has a host: someone gets to write the invites. And that is the Archbishop of Canterbury (actually an obscure committee of the Church of England).
The Communion has gradually ceased to be a real communion. Ministers can’t automatically transfer around the world – which is what a functional communion would provide. Prayerbooks have been rewritten in some member churches to reflect very different theologies.
Which brings us back to Angela Minns. Her husband Martyn runs a very large evangelical Episcopalian church in the Virginian suburbs of Washington He’s been appointed a missionary Bishop. By Nigeria. The Nigerians – and a couple of other third world Anglican churches – have started to plant local churches across the US. Now that’s more exciting than a tea party.