The Lambeth Commission on Communion - Documents


Albany (New York) Via Media

Striving for Inclusion and Tolerance in
the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, ECUSA

18 Trinity Place, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
1229 Baker Avenue, Schenectady, New York 12309

August 30, 2004

The Reverend Canon Gregory Cameron
Commission Secretary
Lambeth Commission
Lambeth Palace, England

Dear Most Reverend Sir and Members of the Commission:

The Episcopal Church USA is under attack by a determined minority of conservative Episcopalians. Some parishes have lost members and money, and some of our dioceses are torn by dissention and strife. Critics trumpet this disarray as proof that Bishop Gene Robinson’s consecration is wrong and sinful. Closer to the truth, the ecclesiastical damage is the result of a tactically brilliant ecclesiastical warfare, waged in the name of Christ, by those dissidents intent on victory. Our church is wounded.

The attempt to rally the worldwide Anglican Communion to change, discipline or replace the Episcopal Church is a violation of the Reformation principles by which we were founded. It is a dangerous affront to the Anglican ethic which respects individual conscience.  To give Primates authority to meet and make decisions or pronouncements to or for the rest of the Communion is without precedent in Anglicanism. It is against the Reformation practice of allowing individual provinces to make administrative, ethical and ecclesiastical decisions for themselves. Some are forgetting the whole purpose of the founding of the Church of England by Henry VIII and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. England was freed from the authority (and the tyranny) of the Pope and the College of Cardinals. Whether or not the Church of England always made good decisions, their choices were their own.

The interpretation of Biblical sexual ethics is the moral responsibility of individual Anglicans, who gather in parishes and dioceses to live out faithful Christian lives. Provinces make canonical provision for respecting the moral conscience of individual dioceses and parishes within the culture of each independent province. Difference and nuance are expected; new innovations are adopted slowly. Church ethical innovations in divorce, gay marriage or gay ordination share process similarities with the Reformation struggle for clerical marriage, so that, for example, the innovative Archbishop Thomas Cranmer married Bishop Osiander’s niece in Holland before the practice was allowed in his own “province”. The sixteenth century English Church claimed authority over divorce laws within the borders of the Church of England, irrespective of pronouncements from Rome, and that right of Provincial decision remains today in each of our provinces.

Therefore, the commission should not make any recommendations that subvert the power of individual provinces to interpret scripture and make moral decisions for their common life. The primates as a group have no constitutional authority in the life of the Anglican Communion beyond the authority each individual primate has in his own province. The Anglican Communion already allows individual provinces to craft canons respecting marriage, divorce, as well as moral behavior expected of candidates for ordination. Conservative dissidents who break communion with those with whom they disagree on these issues, function less like Anglicans and more like the Roman Catholic Church we separated from almost five hundred years ago. The church must not capitulate to threats of ecclesiastical violence.

The questions of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
We would now like to specifically answer some of the 2004 Lambeth Commission’s Key Questions , from the Archbishop of Canterbury, from the point of view of the Albany Via Media movement within the Diocese of Albany[1] in the United States of America.

Question 1. What are (a) the legal and (b) the theological implications flowing from ECUSA decision to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops? (See LC 1998 Res. I.10)

The erroneous assumption of the first question demonstrates the canonical diversity of various Provinces. No diocesan bishop is “appointed” in the American system. Bishops are elected, and such elections are not easily overturned in a diocese in the American Republic, nor will the American church be intimidated by threats against its elective system.

Legally, in the American Province, the decision regarding moral fitness for ordination is left up to the individual diocese. Dioceses differ as to their interpretation of the requirement that candidates live “sober, honest and godly lives.” Theologically, this variety of interpretation is seen as a gift of spiritual diversity when discerning the mind of Christ; Paul noted that we only “see through a glass darkly” in this life. We believe that new ethical interpretations must be allowed to proceed in course without threat of ecclesiastical violence, sanction or excommunication from the rest of the communion. A diversity of practice is preferred over the threat of oppression by the church, such as the violence against translator William Tyndale, or Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, or the sanctions against the scientist Galileo.

Question 3. What are the canonical understandings of (a) communion, (b) impaired communion and (c) broken communion? (What is autonomy and how is it related to communion?)

There is no legal means to impair communion within the Anglican Communion, except when a Province chooses to impair its own communion with Canterbury or chooses to impair its relationship with another province. Such impairment would be relational, not legal. Such brokenness violates Paul’s vision of the Body of Christ (we cannot exclude others from the Body, nor remove ourselves from it) and Jesus’ Johannine metaphor of all of us remaining attached to the Vine of Christ. Basically, we’re stuck with each other even when we do not agree.

Question 4. How (do and) may provinces relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion?

In the Anglican Communion, a province or diocese that is convinced that another province has erred should express its dissatisfaction, concern and the reasons thereto. It is the work of the official meetings and groups of the Anglican Communion, such as the Lambeth meeting of Bishops and the meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council to provide such a forum.

If a province or some of its ecclesiastical authorities believe they must impair communion with another province or diocese, then the Anglican Communion has no mechanism to prevent this. At that point, their relationship with the affected province exists only by virtue of both province’s relationship with Canterbury, and not directly with each other. If the Anglican Communion or the Archbishop of Canterbury had a means to force communion or force ethical compliance, it would no longer be the Anglican Communion but an Anglican Papacy.

Furthermore, in the current matter too much authority and voice have been given Provincial Primates in their individual protestations against actions of the American Episcopal Church. The very fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Commission will be reporting to the Primates, as though they [the Primates] had authority, is a concession to threats of schism and an affront to existing decision-making structures in the Anglican Communion. The strategy of ECUSA dissidents to use the Primates as a new power structure within the Anglican Communion is an innovation that violates the very ethos of our founding.

In the English Reformation the church in England freed itself from the tyranny of Papal authority. King Henry VIII was glad to insist that England – and the English church -- must have the right of self-governance, free from meddling by Spanish and Italian Princes and Prelates. We wonder how Thomas Cranmer, King Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury would view this scenario: Anglican bishops from the West Indies, Africa and the Southern Cone, claiming the right to overturn marriage innovations in the English Church.  We find it no improvement to replace the tyranny of the 16th century Pontiff with the presumption of the 21st century Primates.

Question 5. What practical solutions might there be to maintain the highest degree of communion that may be possible, in the circumstances resulting from these two decisions, within the individual churches involved? (eg [alternative] episcopal oversight when full communion is threatened).

Alternate Episcopal Oversight can only be allowed when it is managed by and agreed to within the province affected, between the bishops concerned. There may be a limited role for Lambeth to facilitate alternate Episcopal Oversight using Episcopal resources within the province, with the consent of that Province. Canterbury must not put itself in the position of subverting the authority of a province with its own member congregations.

Question 7. Under (a) what circumstances, (b) what conditions, and (c) by what means, might it be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of pastoral oversight, support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province to maintain communion between Canterbury and that province? (see LC 1998, Res. IV.13)

Since the Archbishop is already in communion with the Provinces and their elected authorities, there is no circumstance, condition or means by which the Archbishop could exercise oversight in a province that does not seek his help. There is no legal authority structure for a Canterbury role as judge or arbiter between a province’s dissenters and its authority, except as noted in (5) above. Dissenters within a province should be directed by Canterbury to dissent within the canonical structures of the province.

Question 8. Under (a) what circumstances, (b) what conditions, and (c) by what means, might it be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of pastoral oversight, support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province to maintain communion between that province and the rest of the Anglican Communion? (see LC Res. IV.13)

This question seems to assume that a Primate of the rest of the Anglican Communion has the authority to declare his entire province “out of communion” with another province. We do not accept the notion that any single bishop has this power in Anglicanism.

There is no circumstance, condition or means by which the Archbishop of Canterbury would need to exercise oversight to force communion between Provinces. Provincial members are such by heritage and its members remain such by choice. Those Anglicans who wish to force conformity by violence or threat of schism or by intervention in the matters of another province – such as Uganda’s recent incursions into the Los Angeles diocese, are betraying the values of our Anglican foundations in the sixteenth century. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer lost his life in the pursuit of theological freedom of conscience, and no illusion of communion should be forced at the expense of provincial conscience. An artificial unity that sacrifices provincial autonomy is a new tyranny. Conservative dissidents in the American Episcopal Church believe they have the support of the current Archbishop of Canterbury in their dissent. We hope that he will use the power of his office to encourage dissenters to work within the power structures of their own provinces.

We, the undersigned members of Albany Via Media, thank the commission for the opportunity to present our opinions in this matter.

The Very Rev. Dr. John T. Sorensen, Trinity Church, Plattsburgh, and

The Rev. Dr. James Brooks McDonald, St. Stephen’s, Schenectady, Co-Presidents, Albany Via Media (New York). The Rev. Charles W. Sheerin Jr, Albany, NY; The Rev. Christopher Smith, St. Ann’s, Amsterdam; Jack Luscombe, Esq. and Hallett Luscombe, Sheila Rowland, Trinity Plattsburgh; The Rev. George Easter, Lyon Mountain, NY; Gay Gamage, St. Stephen’s, Schuylerville; Robert Dodd, PhD, James Rice, PhD, Saranac Lake, NY;

Claire and George Stahler, St. James, Lake George, NY; Keith St. John, Esq., the Rev. Dr. David McSwain, St. George’s, Schenectady; The Rev. Judson Pealer, St. Eustace, Lake Placid.

No one is spared the threatening rhetoric of the bellicose right, whose plan to win or destroy extends to the whole of the Anglican Communion. To quote Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, convener of the Network of Anglican Communion Parishes and Dioceses (What Would Intervention Look Like?), speaking to the Plano rally in October 8, 2003, and hoping to intimidate Archbishop Williams before the 2003 Primates meeting: “The Archbishop of Canterbury would become little more than the titular head of a moribund and declining British, American and Australian sect.  The dynamic Anglicanism of Africa, Asia and Latin America would realign with a “first among equals” whose see might have a movable name, including places like Lagos or Nassau or Singapore or Buenos Aires.  I believe that Archbishop Rowan Williams understands precisely this reality, and that "muddling through" this time will not be good enough.  The last English empire is his to loose.” 

[1] The Diocese of Albany, New York, is a member of the “Anglican Communion Network.”