Monday, 28 June 2004

The Archbishop and the Network

The following article is by Mark Harris, a priest in the Diocese of Delaware, USA.

It was originally written for the HOB/D mailing list. and appears here with Mark’s express permission.

Note also that Mark specifically invites corrections to his work. His email address is at the bottom of his resumé.

On the Matter of the Archbishop of Canterbury naming, suggesting or otherwise initiating the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes

Two weeks ago I wrote the HoB/D list asking for information regarding the widely stated proposition that the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes was set up at the suggestion of, given its name by, or was the idea of, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I received a number of replies, for which I thank HoB/D list readers.
What follows is my effort to untangle the various strands of this history. It is unfortunately a bit long, so be forewarned! Now is a good time to stop unless this bit of historical detective work is of interest. I hope it helps to set out the issues in some coherent way.

June 25, 2004

The claim in recent days:

This claim that the ABC is the source of the idea of the Network continues to find its way into the record. The Living Church in its June 27, 2004 issue, in an article by Sarah Tippit-Johnson, repeats the claim, where she writes,

“…national leaders from the American Anglican Council (AAC) and from the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (the official name for the CAN) stopped short of calling for a full-out separation —- even though they acknowledged that the ACN, a network of ecclesial bodies set up on the suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is structured exactly like a province.” (p. 5)

Bishop Robert Duncan restated this claim in his response to Bishop Parsley on May 13, 2004.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury first recommended formation of a network of “confessing” dioceses and congregations.”

Neither attribution is a direct quote, and neither states that the ABC actually suggested the form and structure of the network that happened under AAC guidance. “Suggestion” and “recommendation” allows for a variety of interpretations as regards detail, etc. But the recital of the phrase “network of confessing dioceses and congregations” would lead one to believe that the ABC gave prior approval to the Network as it came to be formed, even though its name is The Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, rather than The Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.

So there continues to be the claim made, or the claim reported, that the Archbishop of Canterbury made the specific suggestion for the name or for the idea of setting up the Network.

And the truth of the matter? It is hard to say. However, here is what has come to light.

The argument for such a suggestion:

(i) Anglican Mainstream, reported on the AAC preparations for realignment on October 24, 2003 and in that report quotes Canon David Anderson,

“A first component of the new realignment is the establishment of a “Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes,” which is actually a name given to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

So Canon Anderson claims the name is given by the ABC, although the name used differs - “confessing” being replaced by “Anglican Communion.”

(ii) George Conger reported by email to the HoB/D list,

“Yes, the Archbishop of Canterbury made the statements cited by Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh in support of the formation of the Network. He made them on October 15 at Lambeth Palace to four bishops and David Anderson and Martyn Minns. I have questioned Lambeth Palace on this point and have received confirmation of the veracity of Bishop Duncan’s claims.”

Mr. Conger does not tell us the nature of that confirmation (letter, email, conversation?) nor its source. His source concerns the idea of forming a network.

(iii) Bishop Duncan, in response to Bishop Parsley on May 13, 2004 says

“The Archbishop of Canterbury first recommended formation of a network of ‘confessing’ dioceses and congregations. In response to that call the Anglican Communion Network is developing as a biblically-based missionary movement dedicated to upholding a faithful expression of Anglicanism in North America.”

Bishop Duncan attributes to the ABC the recommendation that a network be formed.

Problems with the affirmative answer:

Anderson and Anglican Mainstream make no mention of the occasion on which the Archbishop might have given this name or made this suggestion. Anderson’s remarks followed an ACC special board meeting on October 22-23, 2003, so we know that if made it was before that date. The Anglican Mainstream article references a meeting between the ABC and four ACC bishops and two clergy leaders on October 17, 2003. The Anglican Communion News Service, in an article by James Solheim, mentions only this meeting of the ACC leadership and the ABC. That article makes no reference to an earlier meeting.

So does George Conger know of another meeting held before the Primates Meeting by anyone who could have picked up on the ABC’s idea and taken that to the AAC leadership?

When would that meeting have to have been held? Conger supposes October 15, 2003, but as has been pointed out by others (L. Deimel and J.R. Gundersen) Bishop Duncan already used the title, “Network of Confessing Diocese and Parishes” at the Plano Meeting on October 8, 2003.

Bishop Duncan must too have been making reference to some statement by the ABC prior to October 8, 2003, otherwise it is he and the AAC and not the ABC who gave rise to the idea and name to the effort.

The question is, then, is there a source prior to October 8th for any statement by the Archbishop in which he might have said something like:

“I think it would be important to establish a network of confessing dioceses and parishes,” or

“Here’s an idea: why don’t you set up a network of confessing dioceses and parishes,” or even more ambiguously

“Some kind of network of dioceses and parishes would make sense; why don’t you take up that effort.”

References to meetings between the ABC and AAC leadership after October 8, 2003, are not relevant to the issue as to whether or not the ABC suggested the name or the idea of the Network.

One suggestion (by Joan Gundersen) is that there might have been some sort of conversation at the CAPA meeting the first week of October. See this Virtuosity report referenced by Joan Gundersen, which has the only reference I can find to a meeting between Episcopal Church bishops and CAPA Primates in early October.

In order for this to be of interest it would need to be shown that the Archbishop of Canterbury initiated the idea there himself, or caused that idea to be floated by someone representing him, and that someone from the AAC was there to receive it. It does not serve the interest of the claim to have one of the American bishops or AAC leaders provide the name or idea for discussion, for if the idea is to be the ABC’s it must come from him.

Barring further revelations (or at least citations) I see no convincing basis for the claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested the name, or even the idea, of the Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.

Arguments against the ABC naming or suggesting the Network:

The question of encouragement: The wider background for the claim arises in the context of also claiming that

“With the Archbishop of Canterbury’s encouragement, the AAC Bishop’s Committee on Adequate Episcopal Oversight is coordinating requests for oversight.” (see Anglican Mainstream news cited above.)

It is in the larger context of “encouragement” that much of the claim for the ABC’s initiation is paced. Encouragement of a general “networking” effort is not the same as either naming the network itself or endorsing the specifics of this particular network’s actions.

Bishop Duncan, in the Anglican Communion News Service article of December 23, 2003 is quoted as saying that the ABC

“has encouraged the formation of such a network in private dialogue with members of the orthodox caucus.”

This statement is clearly more cautious than that made by Canon Anderson two months before. Encouraging the formation of “such a network” is quite different from naming the network, or even initiating the idea. Bishop Duncan does not specify the date of that meeting. This is of course somewhat different from Bishop Duncan’s own statement of May 13, 2004.

Bishop John Howe identifies only the one meeting between the AAC leadership and the ABC: October 17, 2003. While Bishop Howe does say that he remembers the ABC encouraged a network, he later understood that the ABC

“has made it clear that he believes any provision for Episcopal oversight must be worked out within ECUSA itself, and that he will not be personally involved.” (press release December 19, 2003)

One other meeting, the December meeting of AAC leadership in London, is sometimes mentioned in relation to the question of the ABC’s initiation of the idea. The AAC web page report of the meeting in London to draft a Memorandum of Agreement, reported on December 18, 2003, and the press release related to that make no mention of the claim of ABC initiation, and no mention of meeting with the ABC at that time.

Given the various opportunities for the ABC or his office to acknowledge the claim or for the AAC in later publications to state it as clearly as Canon Anderson had initially, the silence seems to step back from the bold assertion that the

“Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes,” is actually a name given to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

We are still left with two questions:

(i) What of the “private dialogue” and whether or not it took place before October 8th, when the name is first used at the Plano conference? It becomes clear that whatever was said and to whom, the ABC in December did not claim ownership of the idea and/ or engagement with the details of negotiation. The matter of response to the issues of oversight was clearly understood to be something that needed to be worked out within the Episcopal Church.

(ii) What of the notion of being in sympathy with the efforts of the AAC and Network? On February 9, 2004, at the Church of England General Synod the Archbishop of Canterbury said,

“I’ve been following sympathetically the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America engaged in negotiating some of these questions of episcopal oversight.”

This clearly indicates some real interest by the ABC in the development of the Network, but the lack of any suggestion of providing leadership - by idea, suggestion, or engagement - is telling. “Following sympathetically,” is as supportive as he wishes to be.

On February 10, 2004 the AAC wrote commending the ABC for

“the sympathetic reaction that the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes received from the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

The commendation goes on to state that

“This acknowledgement of work with representatives of the Network and the American Anglican Council clearly refutes statements from ECUSA leaders implying no such discussions have occurred.”

But the question is not about there being discussions, but rather about whether or not the ABC indeed named the Network or initiated the idea. For that to be true there must be an event prior to October 8, 2003 in which to place the specifics of that discussion.

Interestingly, of course, the ABC’s statement of February 9, 2004 names no parties or individuals as regards work done. I assume that when he speaks of “the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church.” he is indeed speaking of the AAC efforts. I also assume that when the ABC says, “I have been involved in working with several parties there towards some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible,” he is referring to contacts with the Presiding Bishop’s office as well as with AAC leadership and others. But none of this is stated clearly.

What is most interesting about the AAC commendation letter of February 10, 2004 is that it does not reiterate the claim that the ABC is the source of the idea of forming the Network, much less the person who named the network.

In Summation:

(i) As yet there is no source confirmed for any meeting prior to October 8, 2003 in which the Archbishop of Canterbury or his spokesperson floated the idea of “A Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.”

(ii) That title was used at the Plano Conference by Bishop Duncan thereby making any subsequent mention of the name derivative.

(iii) The ABC did meet with four bishops and two clergy on October 17, following the Primates Meeting. The ABC no doubt listened attentively and sympathetically to the concerns of the AAC. There is some memory that at that meeting he used the term “Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.” But because that term was already in use he can not have then invented it. He might well have referred to the idea and perhaps may have been sympathetic to its goals as they were spelled out at the time.

(iv) Later references to the notion that the ABC had initiated the idea and named the group seem to be references back to the initial claim of Canon Anderson, with the exception of Bishop Duncan, who in the letter to Bishop Parsley restates the claim. I wonder if the Duncan statement is written by ACC staff persons who by that time had accepted the earlier Anderson claim. If not, of course, Bishop Duncan has memory of another source. It would be very helpful if he would share that source, the time and date, etc.

Were there discussions with the ABC in which the idea of a Network was floated? No doubt.

Was the ABC the source of the idea, the name, or any sort of recommendation for something not already in the works? I have considerable doubts.

Does any of this matter at all?

Only to the extent that historical memory is a product of those in contention remembering what they want to remember as well as what actually took place, and the extent to which such memories lend credence to the efforts of those in contention.

If the ABC had indeed suggested the idea, named the group, etc, it would raise issues of the extent to which the ABC or his office were attempting to set the course of Episcopal Church development and intervene in the internal affairs of an autonomous church. But it would be a sign of encouragement to the AAC from one of the “instruments of Unity.”

If he has not done so it would raise issues of the spin by the AAC put on otherwise less promising meetings and would confirm the sense by some of us that the AAC overstates its case considerably.

Unless clear and verifiable information is brought out, the claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury first gave name to the Network, or initiated the idea of its formation remains clouded in the memories of a few.

I gather that efforts to get a definitive statement from the ABC’s office have gone unanswered, with the exception of that offered by Mr. Conger. The supposed meeting of October 15, 2003, reported by him, seems immaterial given the address by Bishop Duncan on October 8, 2003, which specifically speaks of the Network by name.

So we are left with the probability that the Archbishop of Canterbury may be sympathetic, supportive, interested, attentive, etc to an idea proposed by others and that something like the network was in the works and the words bandied about for some time. But sympathy is a long way from endorsing or encouraging, much less commissioning the specifics of the Network.

I continue to be amazed by the presumption of calling the “Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes” the “Anglican Communion Network” thereby giving it the supposed status of being THE real connection among member churches in the Anglican Communion.

I stand ready to be corrected on any or all parts of this.

Mark Harris, Clergy delegate to ECUSA General Convention, Delaware.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 28 June 2004 at 2:09 PM GMT | TrackBack
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The ABC has had plenty of opportunities to deny that he was in any way responsible for the name or idea of a ‘confessing network’. On no occasion has he dissociated himself from the very public claims. The Network exists with or without the imprimatur of the ABC, but it is very much in the intersts of ECUSA to play down its relevance, importance and international standing. If the ABC felt that the Network was overplaying his recognition he could (and I submit would) make that known. ERGO the Network is justified in claiming his support for the idea.

Posted by: observer at June 29, 2004 06:42 PM

There are a number of very reputable people and sources who say that the ABC supports the existence of the Network. To say otherwise is — no offense — crap revisionism.

Posted by: WannabeAnglican at June 29, 2004 08:22 PM

It should be mentioned that +Duncan’s use of the term “confessing parish” before meeting with Cantuar does not really speak to the matter one way or the other; there has, for example, for some years been a Confessing Movement active in the United Methodist Church. So the name is hardly a completely original creation.

In any case, if Cantuar had any real objections to the formation of the Network, he’d surely have issued some negatively-toned bafflegab by now…

Posted by: Craig Goodrich at June 30, 2004 12:17 AM

Let me see if I’ve got this right: “The ABC hasn’t explicitly corrected our gross overstatement-bordering-on-outright-lie, ergo the ECUSA majority should accept w/o question the Network’s characterization of its relationship (“suggested by”, “named by” “it was the ABC’s idea”) w/ the ABC”?

Can we please call a spade a spade here? The problem between the AAC/Network/whatever-they-call-themselves-next and the ECUSA (democratic) majority is not, at this point, primarily one of sexuality, IT IS ONE OF TRUST.

The AAC (et al) have explicitly abandoned any sense of loyalty to the democratic structures of ECUSA—-hence we in the democratic majority DON’T TRUST YOU. The AAC (et al.) now holds that ECUSA’s canon democratic processes of discernment are irrelevent, null and void (because you have some sort of gnosis that your S,T& R is The Correct One, and the majority’s is from the Deceiver)—-hence YOU DON’T TRUST US.

In this breaking-God’s-heart context (members of Christ’s Body not trusting each other—-in many cases saying “I have no need of you”), any failures in the dispassionate journalistic process (quotes, attributions, acceptable witnesses to the former, all i’s dotted and t’s crossed) are only going to pour more fuel on the fires of mistrust.

God speed the day of our reconciliation. Until then, the best way to avoid charges of “crap revisionism” by anyone, is to follow journalistic/legal process (that is, the rules of journalism and laws of the World, since we’re so far from agreeing about the movements of the Holy Spirit).


Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at July 5, 2004 06:41 PM