Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where in the world is Virginia?

The Reverend Dr. Caro Hall, Rector
St. Benedict's Episcopal Church
Los Osos, California

The churches in northern Virginia whose congregations have joined CANA and hence have ‘dual citizenship’ (according to CANA Bishop Martyn Minns) in ACNA, lost their most recent case in the battle over the property of the Episcopal Churches. Now they are going back to court claiming that they are not, in fact, part of the Nigerian church. They don’t seem to have checked their facts with Archbishop Nicholas Okoh who last week (without mentioning his presence to the Episcopal bishop of Virginia) was speaking at a CANA conference in Herndon, Virginia.

According to Archbishop Okoh, the CANA churches split from the Episcopal Church and joined Nigeria in order to prevent a schism. Huh? The only way that makes any sense is to understand that the conservative coalition has changed the map of the Anglican Communion. Instead of discrete national churches or provinces (some provinces like the US-based Episcopal Church include dioceses in more than one nation) who come together in a spirit of free communion, the conservatives have turned the map on its head and said that its all one Anglican Communion with little artificial boundaries between administrative areas.

This is a subtle change – a bit like pictures where you can see two different images depending on whether you see black or white as the foreground.

A vase or the silhouette of two faces? Is the Communion the real organization and the provinces local chapters, or are the provinces, like the Episcopal Church and the Church of England autonomous and independent? When push comes to shove there’s no debate. The Church of England is still the established church and is still under the thumb of Parliament. They can’t enter into an international treaty which would make another body more important than Parliament. Even Archbishop Akinola was quite clear that the Church of Nigeria is autonomous when in December 2008 he told a news reporter of the Nigerian Sunday Tribune, “The Church of Nigeria, we are sovereign”.

However, from a conservative perspective, ‘truth’ trumps organization. When it’s more beneficial to be an autonomous ‘sovereign’ province so it is, when it’s more convenient for the Anglican Communion (read the Primates Meeting) to have binding authority, so it is. When it’s more beneficial northern Virginia is part of Nigeria. When it’s not, it’s part of an American church.

This keen disregard for geographical boundaries with any connection to reality ‘on the ground’ may be seen as the postmodern approach to living in a global society. It’s a new way of doing church where place is irrelevant, what’s most important is the community of interest. I find this highly problematic as downplays the incarnational nature of our faith. God incarnated in one man, Jesus Christ, in one time in one place. We get to live as the Body of Christ at one time in one place. It’s great that we can communicate across geographical boundaries, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of spiritual living, don’t we need to see and touch and listen to each other?

Which of course is which Archbishop Okoh visited Herndon. The good people of CANA (currently the Convocation of Anglicans in North America but see Father Jake’s updated piece on their shape-shifting) want to see their father in Christ. Thank goodness for air travel! But that leads to another problematic question.

What about peak oil? How long can an incarnational relationship which depends upon oil continue? What about stewardship? One round-trip between Uganda and the East Coast creates almost 7000 pounds of carbon dioxide. How much longer can we countenance the damage that these trips cause?

Conservatives have done a good job of (nearly) changing the ground rules by proclaiming again and again that the Episcopal Church is/was the American branch of the Anglican Communion, that Lambeth resolutions are binding (even as they ignore the parts they don’t like) and that Primates (sorry, some Primates) have authority. They have created a church, or perhaps a denomination, which thinly covers much of North America but shares many of its citizens with several African churches.

But they have yet to find a way to move Manassas and the Bull Run to the Niger Delta.

Caro Hall is the former Vice President of International Affairs for Integrity USA and a frequent blogger for Walking With Integrity.


Fr. David Starr said...

Nice article Caro.

Neil Houghton said...

Yes, indeed, Caro... well done.