Another General Convention of the Episcopal Church is upon us — meeting this July in Indianapolis — and provides an opportunity again to reason about the purpose, protocol, and theology of church government. An irreducible aspect of Anglican life is the reality of provincial autonomy, that is, self-government among the member churches of the Communion. And within our churches we find smaller units of self-organization called dioceses, ordered by a further layer of canons and even constitution, the details of which may or may not match up seamlessly with provincial and Communion-wide commitments. As so often in the history of the Church, on-the-ground realities prove to be complicated and complicating, even as Anglican diversity-in-communion finds itself placed within and contributing to a larger matrix of denominational proliferation: a clamor of autonomous “churches” and “communions,” criss-crossing and cross-pollinating in a whirlwind of would-be world evangelization. One day, we believe, the one Spirit of the one Church will discipline and order this multitude of nations, tribes, and tongues, drawing out of it a single witness to the one faith and one Lord. In the meantime, we — Anglicans, Episcopalians, Christians rooted in one and another geographic locale — are bound to press on to order our common life as coherently as possible, in hope and love.
We offer a series of essays on “orderly counsel” to aid this vital labor — in the run-up to this summer’s triennial General Convention, and more generally as Anglicans seek to articulate and defend the properly theological foundations of an ordered, orderly Church. Starting in the present issue and extending across the following four issues, we will publish 10 loosely connected essays on a range of topics broadly within the field of Anglican ecclesiology and church government. In most cases our authors will jump off from concrete instances ready to hand in the Episcopal Church, but always press out to a larger pattern of reasoning, incorporating Scripture and the history of the Church. In this way, we hope to place a range of problems and questions — concerning mission and power, legislation and oversight, constitution and canon, episcopacy, and the nature and reality of dioceses — in a new light.
We are grateful to the fellows of the Anglican Communion Institute for suggesting the possibility of such a series and generously convening a meeting at the newly formed Cranmer Institute in Dallas, during which initial brainstorming and a lively exchange of ideas took place. The editors of The Living Church in turn conceived the series, chose the topics, and selected writers from across the church, half of whom are younger leaders, coming to grips with the challenge of wise governance at the outset of their careers. We should all redouble our commitment to faithful reform on their account and that of their children, to the greater glory of God.