These are strange times.
Several indisputably orthodox primates have stepped forward boldly not only to provide pastoral care for those parishes that have departed heterodox dioceses and sought refuge within their respective jurisdictions, but have also stepped forward with the promise and pledge to step together, to cooperate and to coordinate so that the oft-feared and foretold fragmentation does not occur.
When Archbishop Nzimbi announced plans to consecrate Canon Bill Atwood to the office of bishop, he said:
“As a part of a broader and coordinated plan with other provinces, the ACK will consecrate The Revd Canon Dr. Bill Atwood as Suffragan bishop of All Saints Cathedral Diocese, Nairobi of the ACK to support the international interests of the Anglican Church of Kenya, including support of Kenyan clergy and congregations in North America.
Our goal is to collaborate with faithful Anglicans (including those in North America who are related with other provinces). A North American Anglican Coalition can provide a safe haven for those who maintain historic Anglican faith and practice, and offer a way to live and work together in the furtherance of the Gospel.”
Quickly after this announcement, Archbishop Orombi of Uganda stated:
“The Church of Uganda welcomes the announcement of the consecration of The Revd Canon Dr. Bill Atwood as Suffragan Bishop of All Saints Cathedral Diocese in the Anglican Church of Kenya. Canon Atwood is a long time friend and partner of the Church of Uganda. In these difficult days in the Communion, we recognize that measures must be taken to provide for the care of those orthodox Anglicans in America who remain faithful to the Bible.”
And then Archbishop Akinola promised:
“We look forward to working with Archbishop Nzimbi, Bishop-elect Atwood and this new pastoral initiative from the Anglican Church of Kenya. We pledge our ongoing prayers and enthusiastic support and cooperation through CANA – a missionary initiative of the Church of Nigeria already established in North America .
It should be noted that there are now more than 250 congregations in North America related to Global South provinces through a growing number of missionary and pastoral initiatives.”
Most recently, just last night, Archbishop Gregory Venables said:
“In the painful circumstances of the Anglican Communion I deeply appreciate the bonds which link many primates together. I welcome the prospect of congregations under my care and protection working more closely with those of Kenya and other provinces. In the absence of even a tiny indication of willingness from the Episcopal Church to address the crisis those who wish to remain orthodox within the US cannot be abandoned. Collaboration among Provinces working in the States and the Network is helping build a unified future for those who share the historic Biblical faith.”
Domestically, subsequent announcements from the Network make, or at least form the basis for making, these primatial promises manifest.
“Bishop-elect Atwood will be initially supporting Kenyan clergy and congregations in North America . He joins Bishop Bill Cox of the Southern Cone as another domestic bishop cooperating in ministry with the Network, which has strong links with many international congregations under overseas jurisdiction through its International Conference. The Network welcomes Archbishop Nzimbi’s actions which also support its “Biblical, Missionary and Uniting” work….
…As Archbishop Nzimbi said in his announcement, Canon Atwood’s election and consecration is ‘part of a broader and coordinated plan with other provinces,’ to provide unity and pastoral care for those who have left or been forced out of The Episcopal Church,”…
…The Anglican Communion Network remains committed to its International Conference representing parishes in relationship with the provinces of Kenya , Uganda , Southern Cone, and Central Africa as it also remains committed to working with its partners in CANA , AMiA and the broader Common Cause Partnerships. Following its mission to be a uniting force in the ongoing Anglican realignment, the Network continues to build relationships among all faithful Anglicans, those that have left the Episcopal Church and those within.”
This Network webpage devoted to the International Conference provides at least a glimpse into the beginnings of this coordinated work:
The Network provides for parishes that are not part of The Episcopal Church via its International Conference. Our Common Cause Partners AMiA and CANA are also able to provide episcopal oversight through foreign jurisdictions for American parishes.
The Rev. Canon Bill Atwood, D. Min. ( Kenya )
Bishop-Elect Bill Atwood had an awakening of faith in 1972 while serving as a pilot in the US Air Force. That led to a vocation to pursue ordained ministry.
The Rt. Rev. Bill Cox (Southern Cone)”
And yet, given all of these promises from trustworthy orthodox leaders, and the visible, though initial, steps toward the fulfillment of these promises domestically, there remain some who are far more eager and willing to trust these words:
“I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion.”
…from the most prominent author and primary presenter of the wholly false and misleading Sub Group report that sought to provide an exonerating veneer of compliance to the rebellious actions of a recklessly and willingly defiant Episcopal Church (a report which the Executive Council has used to good effect), than to the words of orthodox primates and the actions of orthodox leaders.
Of course, there is history; the history of St. Louis, the history of the Continuum; a history of unfulfilled promises and fragmentation. And, on the basis of that history, there is the predictable if irrational “this” is “that” comparison in the face of the obvious reality that “this” is in fact not “that”. The differences between then and now with regard to cause, circumstance, originators, and goals are myriad.
All of the primates involved in the present actions have been abundantly clear in the past and in the present that they do not intend and do not want interventions to be permanent but rather to serve as a temporary measure on the way both to protecting orthodox parishes in heterodox dioceses and to establishing a new viable Anglican structure in North America.
This, along with the quotes and actions noted above would seem to suggest that Kenya’s is not some willy nilly discordant act against “catholicity.”
Just supposing that the words and promises of the primates are true, and this is not a stretch, and just supposing that the end of these actions is to establish a reformed orthodox Anglican structure in North America, let’s think through what steps might be necessary.
First step would be to consecrate North American bishops specifically to serve North American parishes that lie within the jurisdictions of each province. This not only provides for the pastoral care of those parishes, but ensures that they will begin life beyond the Episcopal Church connected to and nourished by an already ordered, established, episcopal structure.
The second step would be to transplant or transfer the sort of cooperation and friendship that exists between various global south provinces to their North American bodies. Since the bishops of these North American bodies are under orders, efforts at cross polinization can be enforced and pushed at the provincial level. In other words, it is not left up to Bishop “Smith” from Kenya to decide whether or not to cooperate with Bishop “Jones” from Nigeria. Both bishops are given the mandate to cooperate and coordinate by their primates. This is the benefit of retaining, for a time, provincial connections. This cross-pollination between North American bishops of differing provincial authority ensures that the provincial boundaries extant in North America do not become solidified to the point that they inhibit an eventual unification.
Third (actually simultaneously) domestic orthodox bishops within the Episcopal Church and/or beyond would begin to form personal and working relationships with the various provincial bodies and bishops so that an organic relational foundation for any future domestic provincial framework might be established.
It is interesting to note at this point that if there were some master plan like the one envisioned above then steps one through three have already been taken and are in place. Again, be sure to take a look at the International Conference page, linked above, where you can see this coming together.
Step four would be to establish a college of bishops (as per the Pastoral Scheme), under provincial oversight, incorporating all of these jurisdictions under one umbrella body.
Step five (again, in keeping with the Pastoral Scheme) would be to have the college select a leader or, perhaps, “moderator” to serve as “primate” or something like a primate for the whole and invite him to attend and participate in various primatial councils in that capacity.
Once we arrive at step five, there would need to be a graduated relinquishing of extra-jurisdiction authority and a corresponding assumption of unified institutional authority domestically centered on the college and the Moderator.
And soon, perhaps within a decade, there might be a functional and functioning orthodox Anglican province with or without the approval of Canterbury.
Again, I have no idea whether this is in fact what is happening. I hope it is and I believe that the recent primatial moves point to something like it. At the very least, since steps one through three seem to have been taken, I think we ought to hold off a bit on the “alphabet soup” rhetoric. The assured tones with which some predict fragmentation and dissolution are overdone and, I believe, unjustified.
So far we see a group of provincial jurisdictions cooperating and acting in a somewhat coordinated fashion to achieve a unified end; an end, a goal, that is shared by at least one major domestic orthodox body, the Network.
Rather than hinder this work or curse it, a wiser course might be to pray for its success. Perhaps this is God’s doing?