The first constitution of the church, ratified in 1789, reflects these foundational principles. Parishes were led jointly by rectors and vestries: clergy overseeing worship and education, and elected laypeople managing finances and property, as well as calling new rectors. The tradition of colonial conventions led to state conventions, which were what we now call dioceses, presided by the bishop but that have power to determine the life of the diocese. The annual diocesan convention oversees finances, elects a bishop when necessary and a standing committee and other governing bodies (depending on the dioceses) to exercise jurisdiction.
So far these were not very different than the features of English church life. It was the creation of a “general convention” endued with specific powers that marked the American Episcopal revolution. In short, while the Church of England and most of the churches that came from it have an archbishop who serves as the metropolitical authority, that authority resides in the General Convention.
Thus on the face of it, the seven bishops [signed an amicus curiÃ¦ brief submitted to the Texas Supreme Court] are right. In The Episcopal Church, the classic church hierarchy of deacon ”” priest ”” diocesan ”” archbishop ends at the diocesan level. But this is to misunderstand what a hierarchy is.
[i]While the General Convention alone can create a new diocese, two neighboring dioceses may decide to re-unite, if one originally came from the other (Western Kansas and Kansas could decide to become one again, for instance), without approval of the Convention.[/i]
Here is just one instance in which Bishop Whalon appears to indulge in a selective reading of the Canons.
Canon I.10.6 (a) states that:
[b]When a Diocese, and another Diocese which has been formed either by division therefrom or by erection into a Diocese or a Missionary Diocese formed by division therefrom, shall desire to be reunited into one Diocese, the proposed reunion must be initiated by a mutual agreement between the Conventions of the two Dioceses, consented to by the Ecclesiastical Authority of each Diocese. If the said agreement is made and the consents given more than three months before the next meeting of the General Convention, the fact of the agreement and consents shall be certified by the Ecclesiastical Authority and the Secretary of the Convention of each Diocese to all the Bishops of the Church having jurisdiction and to the Standing Committees of all the Dioceses; and [i]when the consents of a majority of such Bishops and of a majority of the Standing Committees to the proposed reunion shall have been received, the facts shall be similarly certified to the Secretary of the House of Deputies of the General Convention, and thereupon the reunion shall be considered complete.[/i] But if the agreement is made and the consents given within three months of the next meeting of the General Convention, the facts shall be certified instead to the Secretary of the House of Deputies, who shall lay them before the two Houses; [i]and the reunion shall be deemed to be complete when it shall have been sanctioned by a majority vote in the House of Bishops, and in the House of Deputies voting by orders.[/i][/b]
If the General Convention is supreme (something I don’t believe the historical record demonstrates) then there is no way that one can interpret this Canon as Bishop Whalon appears to do above.
Alternatively Bishop Whalon is right in his interpretation of the Canon but consequently wrong about the supremacy of the national church.
So which is it?