My brothers and sisters in Christ in the Diocese of Pittsburgh
Someone asked me recently if I was planning to vote at the Convention on November 2. “Not until they allow email ballots,” was my answer. But it occurred to me that I could send an electronic voice vote instead of a paper ballot.
I write to you from a distance but with a closeness of heart as you prepare for the Convention this weekend. I have been an Episcopalian since my conversion and baptism as a university student in 1966. I have been ordained since 1971 and a priest of the Diocese since 1979. I have been a theologian and educator at Trinity School for Ministry for 21 years and now in Uganda since 2000. I have been addressing the crisis in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion for the past 20 years.
I believe Bishop Jack Iker has spoken frankly and prophetically when he states there is no future in The Episcopal Church for those who hold to biblical Christianity in the Anglican tradition. In my courses on the prophets, I always taught that oracles of judgement precede oracles of hope. Such is the situation of Anglicanism today. We have incurred God’s judgement as a tradition and as a church. The responses of biblically-minded Anglicans to this crisis have been various, uncoordinated and often contradictory, which may itself be an outworking of judgement.
About ten years ago, I did some contingency planning for the American Anglican Council by projecting five scenarios for the future. Let me comment on them briefly with benefit of ten years of hindsight.
Scenario 1: Victory in turning the institution back to the biblical and historic faith. Despite strenuous efforts by the AAC and others, the Episcopal Church has set its course for the future, and we are not a part of it. Politically, we lost. There is no credible scenario now by which TEC can be reformed or revived from within.
Scenario 2: A negotiated settlement that would allow our group (call them confessors or dissidents) to live in peace or to separate with a fair distribution of property. The powers that be have ruled out this option, either out of fear that they might open the floodgates to departures or out of conviction that they don’t need to compromise, holding the legal cards in their hand.
Scenario 3: A league of confessing parishes. Parishes have been the main source of strength among confessing Episcopalians. Beginning with the First Promise movement, then with AMiA, and now with other networks aligned with overseas provinces, parishes have become the foundation of a new church. In most cases, joining these networks has cost churches and clergy their property, pensions, and some of their people. At the same time, breaking free has brought new energy for evangelism, church planting and mission.
Scenario 4: A league of confessing dioceses. The Anglican Communion Network emerged out of the AAC to unite bishops and like-minded dioceses against the powers that be. Unfortunately, this league has been whittled down to only a few. Help has come from another quarter: a network of bishops and dioceses has emerged, with connections reaching internationally into the Global South and historically back to the Reformed Episcopal Church and other groups who have been marginalized by the Episcopal Establishment over the years. This is the Common Cause Partnership.
Scenario 5: Piecemeal disintegration. Institutional death ”“ comfortably financed but death nonetheless ”“ is the future of The Episcopal Church. If the typical Anglican worldwide is a 30 year-old person of color, so the typical Episcopalian of the future will be a 70-year-old divorced priest. Those who stay in the institution to make a witness will be swallowed up and swept away like the exiles of Samaria after 722 BC.
None of the above scenarios is pleasant, humanly speaking; even the first (victory) would have been distressing in its way. As Scripture says: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant”¦. But some scenarios ”“ call them ways of obedience ”“ are hopeful; as the writer continues: “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
I think realignment through the Common Cause Partnership offers the best amalgamation of parish and diocesan scenarios that we can ask for at present. Yes, there is danger of splintering. Yes, there are thorny issues like women’s ordination to be faced. And certainly, there is no way we shall return to “business as usual.” On the other hand, I think this movement has garnered the best leadership in the church, and above all, it has the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ that those who are faithful over a little will be entrusted with more (Matthew 25:21).
Some of my friends and former students have concluded that Anglicanism has lost its saltiness and have departed to other churches. I believe Establishment Anglicanism is dying, both nationally and internationally, but the Anglican tradition, chastened and reformed, has an ongoing witness to make. Certainly, the Anglicans in the Church of Uganda see it that way. So I plan to continue an Anglican come what may.
I serve in Uganda, but I am proud to be a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I am in awe of my bishop, who has exhibited sacrificial courage, biblical faithfulness, and practical wisdom in leading the Network and Common Cause movements. I cannot in good conscience remain a priest of The Episcopal Church much longer, but it is my hope that I may remain a priest of this diocese for years to come. Your decisions this week may enable that possibility.
May God bless and guide you in your deliberations. We shall be praying with you as you meet.
Cordially in Christ,
The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll
28 October 2007