Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Controversial Consecrations...

There has been recent news about a new bishop whose election and consecration reflects and deepens the divisions within the Anglican Communion.

No, not that one.

On April 13th, Canon Peter Hayward was consecrated bishop in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. Bishop Hayward now serves as Bishop of Wollongong, one of the regional Episcopal roles in the Diocese of Sydney.

The press release announcing Peter Hayward’s election contained an intriguing section of his CV:

In 1996 he moved to Spokane in the State of Washington in the USA and became the founding Rector of an independent Anglican congregation known as ‘Christ the Redeemer’.

As the rest of us know, there is no such thing as an ‘independent Anglican congregation’, granted the somewhat idiosyncratic understandings employed in some parts of the Australian Church.

Bishop Hayward cannot be held responsible for what ‘Christ the Redeemer’ now promotes or does, but its present materials show no sign whatsoever of Anglican identity, ‘independent’ or otherwise. It clearly does not adhere to fundamental elements of Anglican polity and theology around Church order. In particular, it does not seem Christ the Redeemer operates under episcopal authority, which makes it an odd spot in the career of someone who just made the declarations and vows required for a bishop in the Anglican Church of Australia.

There was and is an Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, which is part of the Anglican Communion. Granted that there are now questions about the state of the Anglican Communion and of the Episcopal Church in particular within it, those questions were ostensibly not in existence in 1996.

An interview about the history of the Church found on Christ the Redeemer’s website explains some of its Anglican roots. Specifically, the founding members left the Episcopal Church after encountering some undeniable failures in local congregations, but were also influenced by the ‘Bible Study Fellowship’. This non-denominational fundamentalist group adheres to a highly prescriptive doctrinal statement whose doctrine of the Church, among other things, is quite alien to Anglicanism.

I don’t think it inconceivable that ordained or other Anglicans work in and with congregations of other traditions and polities, within limits that respect difference and integrity. When we act as though those limits don’t apply or exist, or as though we can use the structures of the Church opportunistically for an agenda that does not respect or recognize them, there is a huge problem.

To suggest that the problems in the Anglican Communion date from the consecration of Gene Robinson, or that those now constructing new confessional bodies were acting respectfully of the Communion and its structures before then, would be to ignore a considerable body of evidence.

Bishops have a unique and difficult role in maintaining unity in truth. We cannot pretend this is presently easy, whatever our opinion of the current difficulties in Anglicanism. On that note, pray for Peter Hayward as he takes up his important ministry in Wollongong. And pray for that other bishop too.