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'Alternative primatial oversight' requested by three standing committees
Virginia priest elected by Church of Nigeria to serve in North America

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
6/28/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The standing committees of the dioceses of Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and South Carolina all issued separate statements on June 28 saying they were requesting "alternative primatial oversight" from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Panel of Reference.

None of these requests is the legislative action of a diocesan convention, and in each diocese there are congregations and individuals who affirm their participation in the ongoing ministry of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church as led by its current Presiding Bishop and Primate, Frank T. Griswold.  

The Diocese of Fort Worth announced on June 19 to both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies during the 75th General Convention -- the morning after Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected to take office November 1 as the church's 26th Presiding Bishop -- that it had requested "alternative primatial oversight."

The dioceses – Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and South Carolina – have theologically conservative leadership and number among the Episcopal Church's total 110 dioceses and one geographically similar convocation.

Pittsburgh and South Carolina said their standing committees reached their decisions on June 28. San Joaquin's statement issued June 28 said the decision was made June 24. It said it affirmed Fort Worth's statement of June 19.

The Pittsburgh standing committee said that it intends to ask its diocesan convention, which meets November 3-4, to ratify its desire to "withdraw its consent, pursuant to Article VII of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, to be included in the Third Province of the Episcopal Church." The standing committee said it envisions "the drawing together of a new Windsor-compliant Tenth Province in the Episcopal Church."  

A statement on Fort Worth's website, clarifying a newspaper article about the diocese's request, says that its June 19 request "is a pastoral arrangement, not a legal one." It added that any move on the diocese's part to attempt to leave the Episcopal Church would have to be approved by its diocesan convention, which also meets in November.

Dioceses and congregations, however, do not officially "leave" the Episcopal Church simply because leaders or any number of members depart, said the Rev. Jan Nunley, deputy for Communication at the Episcopal Church Center in New York. "Parishes are created by dioceses and dioceses are created by action of the General Convention," she said. "People are free to leave," but congregations and dioceses continue within church structures.

Nunley confirmed that the Episcopal Church's elected leadership may, if necessary, declare a diocese vacant, and that in such a case the Presiding Bishop would call for the election of a new diocesan bishop, among other actions. 

South Carolina's statement makes no comment on its plans. It said that its actions were prompted by the "crisis" caused in the Anglican Communion by the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 and of Jefferts Schori's election. The statement said that her support of Robinson and her approval same-gender blessings in the Diocese of Nevada form a "painful complication" in the Communion.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Quincy posted a statement on its website June 28 saying Bishop Keith Ackerman and the Standing Committee was awaiting responses by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion Network of Diocese and "others" before making any decisions. The statement said the diocese has reserved September 16 as a date to convene a "special diocesan synod."

Also on June 28, the Anglican Church of Nigeria announced that its Episcopal Synod, meeting that day at All Saints Church Wuse Abuja, had elected four priests as bishops, including the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia. The Nigerian church's website (http://www.anglican-nig.org/bshpelects_jun2006.htm) said that Minns was elected to serve the church's Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA).  

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of Nigeria, started CANA in April 2005. In a letter at the time, he wrote, "Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada but to provide safe harbour for all those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches."

The Church of Nigeria's website noted that the Episcopal Synod on June 28 had also elected the Rt. Rev Simon Mutum of the Diocese of Jalingo as "bishop for non-geographic nomadic mission." No other details were offered.

The actions of June 28 follow an announcement by Christ Church in Plano, Texas -- part of the Diocese of Dallas and one of the largest congregations in the Episcopal Church -- that it intends to "disassociate" itself from the Episcopal Church. The Plano parish's statement was posted on its website (http://www.christchurchplano.org/documents/06_gen_convention/) after a two-day vestry meeting June 23-24.

Writing in a letter calling all clergy of diocese to a July 5 meeting, Dallas Bishop James Stanton referred to Christ Church's action. "I support them in the careful way they have come to this statement, Stanton said. "We will work together for the future, faithful to our Anglican heritage." 
   
Of the Pittsburgh announcement, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said in a June 28 statement: "I find the action by the Standing Committee and Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh unsurprising and altogether consistent with their implicit intention of walking apart from the Episcopal Church.

"The urgency of their appeal indicates an unwillingness to be part of the process of formulating a covenant so clearly set forth in the Archbishop of Canterbury's reflection. I would very much hope that they would remain part of the Episcopal Church as we, along with the other provinces of the Communion, explore our Anglican identity - as the Archbishop has invited us to do," Griswold added.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, issued a reflection on June 27, "The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today, A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion," in which he stated that the strength of the Anglican tradition has been in maintaining a balance between the absolute priority of the Bible, a catholic loyalty to the sacraments and a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility.

Williams said he favors the exploration of a formal Anglican covenant agreement among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion as providing a possible way forward.

Under such an arrangement, member Provinces that chose to make a formal but voluntary commitment to each other would become "constituent churches in the Anglican Communion. Those who did not make such a commitment would be known as churches in association who would be "bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion and not sharing the same constitutional structures."

The text of Williams' reflection and accompanying letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion is available at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_76411_ENG_HTM.htm

The text of Fort Worth's statement is available at http://www.fwepiscopal.org/index1.php

The full text of Pittsburgh's statement and resolution is available at http://www.pgh.anglican.org/news/local/pittsburghaltoversight

The full text of San Joaquin's statement is available at http://www.sanjoaquin.anglican.org/about_us.htm

The full text of South Carolina's statement is available at
http://www.dioceseofsc.org/mt/archives/000193.html

The full text of Quincy's statement is available at
http://www.webmedleysb.com/media/media-139702.pdf