October 21, 2005

Preamble to Change

I'm sure many will recall the conversations last year concerning the Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church. For those who don't, the Preamble states, in part, that the Episcopal Church is "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury..."

Some, such as the Anglican Network, hold that if the Episcopal Church were to cease to be part of the Anglican Communion, or no longer be in communion with the incumbent of the See of Canterbury, it would in fact somehow cease to be the Episcopal Church, and the Network, or perhaps some other pretender to the throne, would step in upon its recognition by Canterbury to become the "real" Episcopal Church. Such a mode of thought is laid out in the Network's bylaws, and in numerous comments by their leadership and supporters.

I have argued on the contrary that the Preamble (adopted in 1967, before which there was no Preamble) is descriptive and historical. It records that the Episcopal Church is one of the "regional Churches" that joined to constitute the Anglican Communion as it emerged in the 19th century. That is what the word "constituent" means: The Episcopal Church existed before there was an Anglican Communion, and was integral in its formation. Contrary to the assertions of the Network and others, there is no fiduciary language in the Preamble; the Episcopal Church does not exist for the benefit of the Anglican Communion, it does not "represent" it as if it were a subsidiary or franchise, and it is not dependent upon the Anglican Communion for its existence, since it existed before there was an Anglican Communion.

So what is odd at this point is the silence on the part of so many who were so outspoken last year about the Preamble and the role of Canterbury in determining Anglican identity, in the face of the Church of Nigeria's recent excision of reference to Canterbury from their Constitution. In place of Canterbury (as what the Anglican Consultative Council calls the "focus of unity" for the Anglican Communion) the Nigerians have adopted a confession focused on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (complete, apparently, with its seriously deficient Eucharistic prayer), its Ordinal, and the 39 Articles of Religion, with Nigeria as the sole arbiter and interpreter of the same — at least as far as Nigeria is concerned. Nigeria is prepared to "walk apart" — if need be — from Canterbury.

I can well remember the hue and cry that arose from some of these same folks last year at the merest suggestion of disregarding, amending or deleting the Preamble to the Episcopal Church's Constitution.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile "South-to-South" encounter will take place next week, in a gathering of "like-minded" Anglicans from part of the South and some of the North, along with that same Archbishop of Canterbury whose mind, like it or not, may or may not be made up, or subject to change. And the gilded butterflies will talk of who's in and who's out, who loses and who wins, and the great ones will work out their packs and sects that ebb and flow by the moon.

Tune in next week for the BBC broadcast of Lear with +Rowan in the title role, and +Gomez and +Akinola as Goneril and Regan. I will be glad to play the Fool if asked.


2 comments:

ajg said...

Fr. Tobias,

Thank you for this. At the recent Via Media USA meeting in Dallas Joan Gundersen lead a discussion on the meaning of "constituent member" in the preamble.

Andrew Grimmke

J.C. Fisher said...

As far as the relevance of communion w/ Canterbury goes, it cannot be overlooked regarding the difference between walking out (which ECUSA would never do . . . to ANY of the baptized), and being kicked out (which ECUSA seeks to avoid . . . but not at the price of injustice to some of its members).

Fortunately, the latter looks less likely than it did just a year ago (whereas in Nigeria, the former seems to be happening, more's the pity :-().

But God is working God's Purpose out! :-D