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A Provisional Solution

Sic et non

Jesse Zink’s “Why Provinces Matter” and the responses from William G. Witt and Colin Podmore [TLC, May 26] illustrate the range of opinions on what South Carolina’s ultimate ecclesial structure should be, from standalone province to joining the Anglican Church in North America. One thing in common to all of the initial essays, however, was the recognition that any decision on ultimate structure might still be some time away.

This recognition has also been the starting point of the Anglican Communion Institute in our work on this issue in the last several months. We believe that South Carolina’s current status does not necessarily present a problem in need of immediate resolution, but rather inheres in the nature of this dispute. Taking our cue both from Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Instruments of Communion, we have proposed that the guiding principle of the next season for South Carolina is “provisionality.” During this period ultimate decisions are deferred precisely because they are premature. Bishop Lawrence has stressed this on many occasions. The rupture with the Episcopal Church is too fresh with many unresolved issues; the ensuing litigation is only beginning, not nearing an end. This is not the time to make such a momentous decision as that regarding the ultimate future of this diocese, which predates the formation of the Episcopal Church.

Many observers are unaware, however, that this is also the stated perspective of the Anglican Communion’s official instruments. In 2008-09 all of the instruments gave approval in principle to provisional arrangements of Communion oversight to bodies alienated from the Episcopal Church. These arrangements were designed to be implemented in the context of mediated talks seeking long-term reconciliation among the alienated parties both in the United States and in the communion as a whole. They were developed specifically to deal with the many parishes and four dioceses that had withdrawn from the Episcopal Church after its consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson in 2003 and subsequent failure to comply with the moratoria affirmed by the instruments. But by the time the Communion approved these procedures the bodies that had withdrawn from the Episcopal Church had agreed to form the Anglican Church in North America and were no longer interested in provisional arrangements. Notwithstanding the rejection of this concept by the groups for which it was originally intended, these arrangements were nonetheless subsequently approved by the instruments and remain “on the shelf” for use in other situations as the need arises.

The provisional arrangements were developed by the Windsor Continuation Group convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury to recommend ways of implementing The Windsor Report. The continuation group modeled its proposal after the Communion’s existing concept of extra-provincial jurisdictions. In its recommendation to the Communion, the continuation group described the concept as “a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long-term reconciliation in the Communion.” It noted that such an arrangement would provide the alienated body with “clear provisional recognition which seeks to keep it in relation to the Communion, but which acknowledges its provisional and anomalous nature.” Conditions would be attached to this provisional recognition, including oversight by a metropolitical council and an undertaking by the recognized bodies that they would “not seek to recruit and expand their membership by means of proselytisation [outside their borders].”

All of the instruments have endorsed use of these arrangements. The continuation group outlined an early version of this concept prior to its development in final form in an interim report to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. That conference’s final summation stated that “there is clear majority support” for the concept and expressed “a desire to see it in place speedily.” Later the concept as fully developed in the continuation group’s final report was approved unanimously by the 2009 Primates’ Meeting. Later still, the 2009 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council affirmed the continuation group’s final report as a whole and encouraged the Archbishop of Canterbury to implement the report’s recommendations. The other instrument, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was among the primates approving this recommendation at the 2009 Primates’ Meeting.

The Anglican Communion Institute has suggested since last November that this concept may be more appropriate for the Diocese of South Carolina than it was for the Anglican Church in North America. South Carolina did not take the initiative to leave the Episcopal Church, but departed only when Bishop Lawrence was charged with abandonment. South Carolina does not understand itself to be an alternative or parallel jurisdiction to the Episcopal Church but only to remain the diocese it has always been, dating back to the period before the Episcopal Church itself was organized. Although reconciliation between South Carolina and the Episcopal Church will not happen in the near term, it is conceivable on the terms specified by the continuation group and approved unanimously by the primates — namely, “the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long-term reconciliation in the Communion.” Provisional Communion recognition and oversight using the agreed procedures might also assist in an amicable settlement to the litigation that is only now beginning and could last for years (as has already happened in other cases).

A final reason the Anglican Communion Institute has stressed these agreed procedures for provisional recognition of extra-provincial status is Communion accountability. All too often in recent years the instruments and churches have reached decisions, only to disregard them immediately as if they had been “writ in water.” No one will take decisions of the Anglican Communion seriously until the instruments themselves begin to do so. South Carolina is a place to start. There are agreed procedures in place. They should be utilized.


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