A canon that was created as a charitable concession has been twisted to be used for ... revenge. And the result is that The Episcopal Church is making the public statement that it no longer recognizes the universality of Anglican Holy Orders.
Why some may say that the Episcopal Church is no longer a member of the Anglican Communion.
A very interesting and disturbing phenomenon has occurred due to a reinterpretation of the Canons of the Episcopal Church. The decision was made to use a Canon formed to ease the transition for a priest to leave the Anglican Church (of which The Episcopal Church is a part) and go to another Apostolic faith community without trail or expenses, non-necessary paperwork and meetings, which a regular renunciation would have required. A good Canon constructed to work as Christians together in one faith: when spiritual disciplines change and new callings and discernment lead us apart.
But now that same Canon has been reinterpreted to mean that a bishop may depose a priest when they disagree or when that clergyperson sees that they can no longer remain in the Episcopal Church, but she/he may be called to another Anglican entity (Province, Church, Ministry) which shares, supposedly, the same faith and Holy Orders. It has been used nearly 300 times in the past six years. The words have been reinterpreted to speak to a Bishop and his/her clergy instead of a Holy Order within the whole of the Anglican Communion. The interpretation now leans to saying that people are ordained to this Church (TEC) and not to the worldwide Communion. This has been extended to bishops for the first time and now all pretence of investigation, trail, evidence and Anglican identity can be ignored to solve problems that should be dealt with pastorally.
In fact, some few bishops have said they will never depose a clergyperson under these circumstances and have actually sat down with clergy and churches (which they refuse to litigate against) and have worked out pastoral solutions to very difficult and challenging issues. No one has been deposed. Fiscal responsibilities have been satisfied, and even though all arrangements do not satisfy everyone, the Church does not sue its own and cast aside faithful, loving clergy who just can not belong to a Church which has so changed from when they took their vows, that some no longer recognize the Church where many first came to Christ. I actually have a dear friend and priest who was deposed from his office. How many times did he meet with his Bishop? How many people advised him of the gravity of the situation? How many questions were asked of him as to why he was doing what he was doing and believed as he did? Absolutely none. He received a letter one day saying he could no longer be a clergyman in the Episcopal Church. No reason asked. No reason given.
When I was ordained a priest 28 years ago I could go to any Anglican Church in the world and as a recognized Anglican in Holy Orders of the Anglican Communion, I could be invited to celebrate, preach or otherwise minister with summary permission from ecclesiastical authorities. Today, I would stand in judgment of my beliefs and practices in many of the world’s Anglican Provinces. Why? Because the Episcopal Church no longer validates Anglican Orders but only those conferred by bishops within The Episcopal Church (also named TEC). In years past, if I was given a call to another Province, I could go and serve, never being deposed whether I came back or not. What has changed? The Episcopal Church’s understanding seems to be that their orders only extend within the ecclesiastical package of what was known as ECUSA, PECUSA and ultimately the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and applies to TEC only. The Episcopal Church has declared that it is indeed a church apart from the Anglican Communion.
And this has not occurred because of sexuality, women’s ordination, differences in doctrine, nor polity. It has happened because The Episcopal Church no longer recognizes the universality of Anglican Holy Orders and truly is no longer a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church most of us were ordained into. How far will the separation go? I fear it will eventually be complete and Episcopalians can throw away all the books which claim it is an Anglican Church because it will have divorced itself from its past and become something apart. Maybe that is what the majority want. Then those who have trouble with the historic Creeds of the Church can cut those out of the liturgies and declare a universal salvation at no cost or sacrifice. And it will be worth what people are willing to give for it. As little as possible.
The Rt. Rev. James M. Adams
Bishop of Western Kansas