Co-operative loopholes.

I was intrigued to read Bosco Peter's Liturgy website this morning and see this post. Basically Bosco is saying that Anglican Priests serving in Co-operating Parishes (those in which several denominations join together as one congregation) give precedent for people who wish to circumvent the constitution of the Anglican church by, for example, performing a blessing service for a same sex couple.

As bishop my heart sinks a little when Bosco opens this can of worms - or more exactly draws attention to a can of worms that has been open since the early 1970s - but as a priest and a Christian and a human being I loudly applaud him.

My first two parishes (Waihao and St. Francis', Hillcrest) were both Cooperating Parishes combining Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist elements in one church. At a congregational, everyday level these worked pretty well. At an administrative level they were a nightmare, and my failure to live with the difficulties imposed on us by our parent denominations was the main reason I left ecumenical ministry after about 9 years of largely successful and happy life within them. Let me give you two small examples of the nonsense we had to try and negotiate.

1. The Anglican Diocese required me to send in quite exacting statistic returns. I was told not to include Presbyterian or Methodist figures in these, but only the "Anglican Element". Ok. Right. So, is a Eucharist conducted by an Anglican Priest in a Methodist Church,  using a Presbyterian order of service, and attended by a largely Presbyterian congregation Anglican? What about an Anglican liturgy conducted by a Presbyterian? How do I count the children of Anglicans baptised by a Methodist, and now growing up with no sense of denominational loyalty whatsoever? Letters to Church House asking for clarity were generally ignored.

2. At a confirmation in Hamilton, the bishop turned up to do the task, as is required by the Anglican system. Except half the 20 or so confirmees were Presbyterian and the appropriate confirmer in the Presbyterian system was the moderator of the session; in our case this was the lay chair of the parish council, whose performance of that task would have run seriously counter to Anglican doctrine. Further, this lay person was required by his own tradition, in the circumstances, to preside at the Eucharist, which was absolutely forbidden by Anglicans. In fact,  because he didn't hold a bishop's license as lay Eucharistic minister, with the bishop present he couldn't even distribute the elements of holy communion. Trying to work our way through this nonsense was not helpful as I simultaneously counselled the young confirmees, some of whom, an hour before the service,  did not know which denomination they wanted to belong to, didn't particularly care, and were upset at having to make a choice.

By and large the confusion between denominations was a license for me to do as I pleased. What was forbidden under one set of church polity was often permitted under another, so I became adept at changing hats to suit pastoral circumstances. (A wedding in the park? Sorry, but as Anglican Vicar I cannot do that. However my colleague the Methodist minister would be only too happy to oblige. And who is he? Why, me, of course. ) This license caused me to question the whole rationale for having rules and systems in the first place. Further, I found it corroded my relationship with my own denomination and imbued in me a deep disrespect, which persisted for years, for the procedures of my own church. I am more respectful now, but I do note that we persist in heartfelt allegiance to our constitution and the simultaneous, systematised breaching of it on a weekly basis.

For year after year I would sit in synod listening to earnest debates on the legality of forms of worship knowing that whatever was decided I (and, in fact, about a third of the clergy of the Diocese of Waikato at that time)  was going to ignore it next Sunday, not out of any sense of rebelliousness but because the role to which my bishop had licensed me required me to do so.The earnest discussions on the necessity of episcopal ordination seemed  bizarre to me when my Presbyterian and Methodist colleagues publicly received their episcopal licenses to pastor, to preach and to preside at the Eucharist. Sunday by Sunday we in the parish worshipped together and generally ignored the ambiguities our denominations dumped on us. The parish functioned very well indeed, grew and prospered and the passionate discussions on liturgical and constitutional matters which I encountered at synod seemed to me to me more bizarre and empty with each year that passed.

For decades we Anglicans have participated in cooperating parishes. For decades the mere existence of these units has removed any credibility we might pretend to with regards to arguments over the inviolability of our constitution. Yes Bosco, you are right. There is a loophole. It's big enough to drive a truck through - several trucks abreast, in fact - and it's been there for at least 40 years.


liturgy said…
Thanks, Bishop Kelvin, for this compliment and complement to my post. I have updated mine in the hope that readers there will go on to read your reflection here.


Jon White said…
Thank you for this! I've been involved in an ecumenical community here in the US and we have faced all of these issues with a similar lack of clarity. And with similar results. I love our tradition, but our constitution, not always so much.
Jon White
Rector, St Stephen's Church, Beckley, WV
Anonymous said…
Teresa Wine.
Thanks for this insightful piece Bishop; have enjoyed both articles and now it it time to reflect and contemplate.
UKViewer said…
Reading this from the CofE, which is the champion of so much of this sort of stuff, we're now sitting in a position where an Priest from the Anglo-Catholic tradition is to be Consecrated as Bishop in accordance with the Ordinal, but those Bishops, who are #tainted in his eyes from having Ordained women as Priests will not participate, although they will be present.

He and the Arch Bishop of York, seem to believe that this is appropriate? It ignores the practicality that every Bishop present at the consecration will be effectively be actively participating in the service through their prayer and the liturgy, and will only refrain from the Laying of Hands?

It's a joke and is also an insult to every Women, Ordained, Ordinand or Lay, who has offered for their ministry role as admits in a highly public way that their Orders or Licences are in fact less than those of their male counterparts.

Some will call this a typical Anglican fudge, but many believe as I do that a serious mistake is being made, and in fact Bosco has posted on the Donatism of the CofE in this issue.

I wonder what Jesus would make of this whole charade - I anticipate him laughing openly as such a muddle and twisting of his commission to the disciples, which now seems to have been downgraded to a 'please do' rather than a Sacred Command.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Kelvin (via Bosco!).

We have just come back from holiday in your Diocese appreciating the many small rural communities of which it comprises and wondering about the different models of ministry this would entail.

Near where we stayed was an Anglican -Baptist church which didn't seem open for business last Sunday so we ended up being 'Presbyterian', and more importantly, identifying with the local community.

My role as an Ecumenical Chaplain (employed by the Methodist Mission) feels like operating in a parallel universe, but as you say, at a personal level, it works. Needless to say, the institution where I work has become "my parish".

Don Pilgrim,
Chaplain, WesleyCare Rest Home and hospital, Christchurch.