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Hallo again to all.

This week marks the beginning of the General Convention of the US Episcopal Church. Hundreds of press releases, position papers, website URLs, open letters, and statements have crossed our desk in the last month or two.

The US Episcopal Church is just one province in the global Anglican Communion, but since so many other provinces have made it their business to pay attention to what the US church is doing, and to express opinions about it, the US convention seems to have become worldwide news. But in many ways, the build-up to it feels like the hype before the release of a sequel to a successful motion picture. We must confess that we aren't paying nearly as much attention to General Convention 2006 as we have to the past few GCs. The election of a new Presiding Bishop will certainly be important. We're having a hard time believing that much else is.

A mediaeval swordInstead we find ourselves ruminating on the use of force within the church, which seems at first glance to be growing. No guns, knives, or arrows—we aren't referring to that kind of force—but attorneys, subpœnas, writs, inhibitions, lawsuits, depositions, pastoral directions, and boycotts. We've had this trend in our minds for a while, and there have been many news stories about one part of the church applying force to another. It was the recent event in the USA of a bishop presenting a priest and specifying the bishop's chaplain to be the judge, that stopped us in our tracks. We delight in having mediæval vestments, mediæval buildings and architectures, mediæval music, and mediæval liturgical customs. There is less delight in the preservation of mediæval law. Well, it's not entirely mediæval law: we didn't see that bishop asking 'Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?' in the manner of Henry II.

A fountain penThe Anglican tradition is for a hierarchical church, in which the upper parts of the hierarchy have authority over its lower parts. A 'province' of the church is usually the largest scope of authority; the provinces that comprise the Anglican Communion do not have authority over one another. Where there exist both authority and humans, there will be conflict, and where there exist both authority and conflict, the use of force is inevitable. Otherwise the authority would diminish; the existence of that authority is a pillar of our identity. Without it we would become congregational, with each parish defining its own faith and worship. Anglican news over the past few years is chock-a-block with stories of power being wielded; whether that power was indeed used to preserve and implement authority, or merely because wielding power is intoxicating, we will never really know.

Authority is a part of what defines us, but the historical record shows us that too much authority is as bad for a church as too little. It almost makes us blush to say it, but the middle way, the via media between too little and too much, is the Anglican way. If you follow the US General Convention these next weeks, or read about it afterwards, you may well read about some event and mutter 'that isn't about religion, it's about power'. Power. Force. Authority. Hierarchy. We think that's healthy for Anglicans, as long as the use of power remains in the light, remains in the via media, avoids dirty tricks and secrets, and remains the means to the goal and not the goal itself.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 11 June 2006

(Click for the 9 June update on Cynthia's cancer.)


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