Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes truth is mysterious. Coming onto the internet are reports on the 'opening remarks' of ++Jefferts Schori to the most recent meeting of TEC's Executive Council. Like it or lump it, TEC and what it thinks, does and says is germane to the life of the Communion. It is the flashpoint church for many of our current consternations about the fate of the Communion. So when its Presiding Bishop speaks, it is worth taking note of what she says. In this latest speech, as reported by Episcopal Life Online I see honest appraisal of the overall situation of TEC:
"Jefferts Schori warned that "the trajectory of churchwide funding is downward" and that the trend is shared with all mainline denominations.
Some of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their equivalents in Canada have been discussing how they might share both churchwide mission and administration functions, she reported."
At this point nothing is stranger than fiction and nothing is mysterious: facts and figures about TEC life are published regularly, and critics of TEC have been observing decline for years.
But the Presiding Bishop, precisely from the vantage point of presidency, also says these things about the life of TEC and the character of its internal governance as it is worked out:
" "However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward." "
"Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."
"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."
Jefferts Schori also described "an adversarial attitude between bishops and deputies," saying that bishops' vocation is "their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock" and to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation. Deputies, she said, are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses.
"That does present tension," the presiding bishop said. "Our job here is to hold that tension and not resolve it to one end of the spectrum or the other." "
Truth is stranger than fiction here because the Presiding Bishop appears to fulfil her many critics' wildest allegations that she is presiding over a dying institution. But there is also mystery in what she says. Why use the term "suicide"? That is a very strong word in the context of recognition of decline. Is the governing role of the Executive Council really driving TEC to its death? (I am inclined not to think so, by the way). And the 'adversarial attitude' between bishops and deputies means what? Snarling at 12 paces in a duel at dawn? Surely not! But the greatest mystery is how any governance can occur when "tension" is something which is not resolved!
These are simply observations on my part. For criticism from within TEC itself, head to Episcopal Cafe's fisking and comments.
Here's the thing, from Down Under: why should the Communion be rent asunder in the near future (e.g. January 2011 when the Primates Meeting is due to occur) through division over the place of a dying and divided TEC in its midst? Would it be unreasonable to ask TEC to suspend its involvement in the Communion while it works out whether the course it is on as a church is towards life or death? Are we being infected as a Communion by the dis-ease of TEC which comes to expression in the Presiding Bishop's remarks?
If TEC's course turns out to be towards life (as some commenters here assert) then that should be obvious in, say, five years time, and its decision to reinvolve itself in the Communion could be celebrated. This would be in time for the next Lambeth Conference.
But if it is towards death (whether "suicide by governance" or otherwise), then I think - many Anglicans would think - the Communion deserves better than to be dragged down by a dying and divided church.
PS: ENS carries this report on further reductions in TEC's budget. What this report does not tell us is that in a time of stringency, the budget for litigation remains unabated. See Anglican Curmudgeon's analysis of the situation. Another ENS report, conveying the Executive Council's own report of its proceedings gets an A+ for sanguinity re finances,
"We then heard a report from the Joint Standing Committee for Finances for Mission (FFM) about issues related to the budget. Committee Chair Del Glover explained that FFM's work is to make sure we have the resources to do mission, and that the more clarity we have on mission, the better decisions we can make. Council adopted the budget."