Monday, November 20, 2006

Doctrine, Discipline, and +John David

While serving as an Associate Priest in the U.S., an Epsicopalian layperson asked me if the Episcopal Church needed the Anglican Communion. My answer was simple: if there was no Anglican Communion, I would not be able to field the question, because I could not serve at her parish. I was a priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, only licensed to serve in the Episcopal Church. No Anglican Communion would mean no recognition of my orders in the U.S.

This made a recent letter to the diocese of San Joaquin, from the Presiding Bishop, pique my interest. The Presiding Bishop is unhappy with what is happening in the diocese. ++Katherine writes:
I have seen reports of your letter to parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, which apparently urges delegates to your upcoming Diocesan Convention to take action to leave the Episcopal Church. I would ask you to confirm the accuracy of those reports. If true, you must be aware that such action would likely be seen as a violation of your ordination vows to "uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." I must strongly urge you to consider the consequences of such action, not only for yourself but especially for all of the Episcopalians under your pastoral charge and care. (Italics mine.)
This is hugely inconsistent with the existing practice within her Church. When I was ordained a deacon, and then a priest, I took similiar ordination vows, except that I was ordained according to the Canadian ordination rite of the Book of Alternative Services. So when I made my vows to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Church, the Church referred to is the Anglican Church of Canada. As if to undermine any attempt to universalise this doctrine and discipline, I twice signed the Solemn Declaration of 1893 at my ordinations, a uniquely Canadian document specifically about doctrine and discipline.

My ordination vows were Canadian ordination vows. But to limit my priestly ministry to the Canadian church would be to undermine the tacit catholicity of the Anglican Comunion. So, when I applied for licenses to preside in the dioceses of California and Northern California, I was not re-ordained. My orders were considered valid, despite the fact that my vows were certainly Canadian ordination vows, circumscribed as they were by the Solemn Declaration and the Canadian ordination rite.

The reception of local ordination vows by other Churches in the Anglican Communion is a practice that points to the fact that, despite all of the local circumscription of our ordination vows, there is no fundamental incoherence between them. Canadian ordination vows, in practice, cohere with American ordination vows. The doctrines and disciplines of disparate Anglican Provinces are not seen to be, at least on the ground, in any kind of conflict. Our vows are catholic in practice, even when they are not catholic in appearance.

While I have some reservations about where +John David of San Joaquin is going with his diocese, to say that he is rejecting the doctrine and dicipline of the Church is simply to bark up the wrong tree. Our existing practice of interpreting ordination vows, despite their apparently local character, assumes their catholicity. In this sense, +John David's attempt to get a new primate does not jeapardise his ordination vows. Unless we wish to change our practice of mutual recognition of ordinations, which I certainly hope we do not, the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church cannot be seen to be in conflict with the doctrine and discipline of any other Anglican Province. Our actions simply show otherwise.

Thanks to Thinking Anglicans for pointing me towards the article.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to disagree, at least in part. Personally, I think it's best to be clear that his actions might violate specifically the discipline of The Episcopal Church (I think they do, but for the sake of argument....). I don't think we can say clearly "abandoned communion," or even, "left doctrine," because those are, in the sense you use, catholic - or, at least, broad enough for lots of debate. The discipline, on the other hand, is specified in Constitution and Canons. Your acceptance and licensure in California and Northern California fell within the discipline, however perfunctory the process might have seemed.

And discipline is not universal within the Anglican Communion, much less catholic in the sense we've used it. It is quite specific, as reflected in the Quadrilateral's focus on "The Historic Episcopate" as "locally adapted." The processes for selection of a bishop differ from province to province in the Communion, reflecting different processes and different accountabilities of discipline. Until 2003 we tended to think those differences were small enough or unimportant enough that our processes were equivalent. Since then I don't think we can make that assumption; certainly, I think there are many who would reject the assumption.

We say we elect "for the whole Church;" but that isn't as clear or as catholic a statement in practice as it is in eschatological expectation. I have reflected on that at

So, Bishop Schofield may have violated the discipline of The Episcopal Church. If so, The Episcopal Church through its constitutional and canonical processes can hold him accountable by deposing, removing from position. We don't presume to address any indelible mark in ordination. He would, presumably, still be an episkopos; but he wouldn't have a place in The Episcopal Church. I'm sure he would find other recognition and other opportunities to exercise episkope.

Now, should we enforce discipline when doctrine and communion are more open to discussion? We haven't much had that discussion, because we've confused the issues. However, if he violates discipline, and he leads other clergy in violating discipline, what is The Episcopal Church to do? Discipline without some accountability loses cohesion and meaning. Consider how much time Blessed Benedict spends on accountability in his Rule. Benedict didn't think much of gyrovagues, but he didn't say they weren't monks. But if one chose to follow his Rule, one also accepted the accountabilities involved; and those accountabilities were never about doctrine, but about behavior within the Rule.

Now, I do think he has violated discipline as he commited in his ordinations. I think he can and should be held accountable for those violations. He has been invited to change his behavior, and he may or may not. However, I do think it appropriate to clarify expectations.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous J.C. Fisher said...

I don't think his ordination, as priest or bishop, is at stake ("Once, Always", unless formally defrocked).

But +JDS is also licensed, to be the diocesan of San Joaquin. He made/signed a vow to TEC, as part of that licensing (before his episcopal consecration).

That's the issue. He can't continue to function, as the authorized diocesan bishop of this particular Episcopal diocese, while working to take that diocese out of TEC.

+JDS has "tree'd" himself, and PB Katharine is simply querying him if he'd like to come down (before he falls kerplunk! out of it, taking many w/ him): the furthest thing from "barking" at him, BabyPriest.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger Preston said...

To quote +KJS in the letter she wrote:

"If you now feel that you can no longer do so, the more honorable course would be to renounce your orders in this Church and seek a home elsewhere."

What is at issue is +John David's orders, at least according to the Presiding Bishop.

I say she can't dispute them.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 2:36:00 PM  
Blogger Tobias said...

Preston, orders are not absolute (that was forbidden by the ecumenical councils -- and if that isn't "catholic" I don't know what is.) Rather orders are always to a particular church. When churches are in communion, it is possible for someone ordained in one church to be licensed in another, or even transferred to another. But Schofield is advancing the entirely novel theory that a diocese itself can leave its church -- and he can go with it, no longer in communion with the mother church, yet still as it were "ordered."

But what, for example, would happen were he to swim the Tiber. I know for a fact that Rome would welcome him as a layman, possibly even shorten his time before acceptance (with reordination) as a priest or even as a bishop. But his "orders" aren't absolute -- certainly not _that_ absolute, and not recognized by Rome because we are not in communion with them.

So it all depends on being in communion. And if we are no longer in communion with the Southern Cone, or wherever he is planning on going, he forfeits his orders in the Episcopal Church.

Of course, he can ignore this matter of discipline as much as he does any other, and still claim to be ordained, even if he were to be deposed. His ordination might even be recognized in the Southern Cone's missionary diocese. But this is not what the courteous recognition of orders for the advance of mission was meant to address.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 3:16:00 PM  
Blogger Preston said...

Tobias - you hit the nail right on the head. It depends on who we are in communion with, and what it means to be in a worldwide communion. To say that anyone has to reject his orders to be part of another church in the Anglican Communion is to say that there is no communion at all between the two provinces. Is this lying behind +KJS's thinking? That TEC is already out of communion with her theological opponents within the Anglican Communion? If this is true, our communion is finished. It's all paperwork from here.

This is new ground, I will grant that entirely. Being "out of communion," or in "impaired communion," with each other has made the landscape strange.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 4:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tobias said...

As I see it, if +John-David, as an individual bishop (soon to retire, if I'm not mistaken in any case) wished to transfer his membership to the Church of the Southern Cone, he could do so. That is not the issue. The issue is his violation of the Oath of Conformity by urging his Diocese to depart from the Episcopal Church, which is both a canonical crime and morally culpable. ++KJS is offering him two primary options: 1) pull back from this or face presentment, trial and deposition; 2) take the personal step of leaving a church with which you disagree by renouncing your vows. She doesn't mention the third possibility, to resign his See and transfer to another Province of the Anglican Communion. I agree with you that this would be a possible "out" for him, but it is not what he has so far indicated he wants -- that is, he wants the whole diocese to go with him; which is not canonically possible. Individuals are free to sever their membership or transfer their membership -- but the institutions of which they are members (be it parish, diocese, or national church) perdure as entitites regardless of the coming and going of particular members.

As Richard Hooker once observed, "The Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society... Assemblies are properly rather things that belong to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before." (Laws III.I.14) That is, the structures of the society endure even as different individuals take part in the assembly of that society from time to time. Congress is still congress, regardless of the change in party majorities. And the Diocese of San Joaquin, as an institution, existed before Bishop Schofield came along, and will be there after he is gone.

All the best,

Thursday, November 23, 2006 3:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not certain where the quote from ++KJS's letter comes from, as my copy of the ECUSA BCP reads "I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church." (pg. 513) Perhaps they've changed the commonly used language since my copy was published, but even "as received by this church" indicates that there is a local application and standard at work. The language is very specific not to say "the church catholic", but the church as embodied by ECUSA.

Besides which, ++KJS doesn't claim the authority to strip +Schofield of his status as a bishop. She suggests that the honourable course would be to volunteer to step down as a bishop "in this Church" and find a home elsewhere.

As for that elsewhere being in communion with ECUSA, any province that would accept a bishop inside the ecclesial boundaries of another national church is, almost by definition, out of communion. To geographically overlap is to declare the existing structure null and void, which is a pretty clear rejection of communion. Only a church that didn't recognize ECUSA as Anglican would do that, and that church would necessarily be out of communion, or break communion, by that act.

Saturday, November 25, 2006 2:37:00 PM  
Blogger Preston said...

aaronorear - my point in the post is that despite that all Provinces have local language in their ordination rites, the orders remain catholic, and recognised all over the world. ++KJS's letter (linked to in the post) claims that his actions, probably intended to associate his diocese with another Province of the Communion, does not mean that he is not following his ordination vows. His vows are to the church catholic, as it is emodied locally, but his re-orientation to another communion does not change this underlying discipline.

There are overlapping jurisdictions, for pastoral reasons, within the Anglican Communion. This has been true in Europe for quite some time. Nobody thinks that this is how things should be, but just how things are. This has not affected how "in communion" these parishes are. It is not a paralell example of what is happening in TEC, but an example of overlapping jurisdicitons nonetheless.

Saturday, November 25, 2006 5:23:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Barry said...

Well thats what liberalism does feeling free to violate the discipline of the church,what'd you think?

Sunday, November 26, 2006 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger The young fogey said...

I've come to this late but well put, Fr Parsons - refreshing amid the understandable acrimony in all this (I'm pro-+San Joaquin).

Of course nobody on the left, right or centre in Anglicanism would say +San Joaquin would cease to be a bishop or even to have 'left the church' (if in fact the Anglican Communion sides with TEC and not the conservatives - too soon to call that one) because historically Anglicans don't see their communion and 'the church' as co-terminous!

Realistically, most of his people are with him and those who want to leave with their churches can so why ask for anything more? TEC could haul him into court but cui bono? You'd have a possible Pyrrhic victory of destroyed parishes and empty buildings for spite's sake. And Californian law favours parishes anyway so those leaving TEC would win.

Just go through the motions of presentment and deposition and be about your business. And +San Joaquin can be about his.

The few places in central California that want to remain Episcopal either can regroup as 'the real Diocese of San Joaquin', that is, TEC's one, or join neighbouring dioceses.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 8:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Deacon Erin Giles said...


It seems to me that the most obvious observation from the current situation in San Joaquin is that this is what happens when a Christian body chooses to proceed with change without reaching unity in mindy and Spirit.

The views prompting my bishop, and many in my diocese, to seek affiliation with another Anglican province are the same views he held when he was ordained nearly 40 years and consecrated nearly 18 years ago.

I still am awestruck by the fact that an institution has the nerve to change its doctrine, discipline and worship so radically and then accuse those who are unable in good conscience to go along with those changes of failure to uphold said doctrine, discipline and worship. I truly wonder how those who took the same vows as John-David and then oversaw the orchestration of the overhaul of the doctrine, discpline and worship of the Episcopal Church USA into its current form can comprehend and be at peace with what they have done. I also find it sad that their is such vitriol directed against a man who has sought to remain faithful to the faith he received.

Most amazing, however, is the true peace and joy of the man admidst charges back and forth.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on these questions.
Erin Giles

Saturday, December 23, 2006 3:53:00 PM  

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