Letter of the Presiding Bishop to All Diocesan Bishops of the Episcopal Church

Episcopal News Service. November 19, 1991 [91237]

Edmond L. Browning

I write you concerning the paper issued by the Synodical Council of the Episcopal Synod of America. Attached is a copy of a response the Council of Advice and I made to the "plan," as well as a copy of the "plan" itself. Bishop Donovan and I met with Bishops Clarence Pope and Donald Davies on Monday, November 18. I want to share with you my sense of where we are at this moment.

I was grateful that Bishop Pope accepted my invitation to meet with me so I could hear from him firsthand his understanding of the intent of the Synodical Council's action in Fresno on November 8, and some of the reasons for it, as well as to share my concerns about it. I also wanted to ask him not to implement a plan such as this, and to try to look instead for some means of reconciliation.

I thought our meeting was conducted in a spirit of candor. Unfortunately, Bishop Pope evidently believes that some actions pursuant to the Synodical Council's proposals cannot be stopped at this time. I made very clear my understanding that the canons of the Episcopal Church do not provide for the establishment of a diocese outside the action of General Convention and that a "missionary diocese" such as that proposed by the Synodical Council could, by its very nature, only exist outside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Those persons -- lay or clergy -- who "transferred" to a "missionary diocese" would put themselves outside the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. The same would be true for any congregation thatsought to "transfer" its allegiance to the "missionary diocese" away from the geographical diocese to which it belongs. Similarly, were new congregations begun in established dioceses they would not be part of the Episcopal Church. Finally, bishops and other clergy who attempted to serve or "oversee" any such congregations would plainly be in violation of our canons.

I also shared with Bishop Pope my belief that the Synodical Council's proposals are not in accordance with Resolution #72 of Lambeth 1988, which reaffirms the historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and deems it inappropriate behavior for "any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesiastical authority thereof." They also are not in accordance with the normative guidelines of the Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Communion and Women in the Episcopate accepted by the primates of the Anglican Communion in 1989.

I understand that, notwithstanding all this, certain ESA representatives attempted to discuss an affiliation with one of the provinces of the Anglican Communion. It has been reported to me that those efforts have failed. The archbishop of Canterbury and I have spoken about this, and he has issued a strong and clear statement saying, in part: "Any alternative episcopal oversight which is imposed without the good will and cooperation of the entire Province is potentially schismatic. Our Lord calls us to earth our diversity in His unity. This plan does not help to do that."

I believe I have done all I can do at this point in listening to Bishop Pope and articulating the pain and loss of unity that implementing the Synodical Council's proposals would cause in our body. I continue to believe that reconciliation is possible and should be worked toward. The departure of those who would transfer to a "missionary diocese" created by ESA would diminish our wholeness. I continue to believe that their voices are needed in the Episcopal Church.

I have a particular concern at this time for people within our church who are confused about the Synodical Council's proposals and what they may mean. I also am very concerned about those who feel caught because they are not in agreement with the position of their bishop, whatever that might be.

I still hope for pastoral solutions. However, should an attempt be made to implement any of these proposals, we shall of course have to be prepared to deal with the unfortunate canonical implications. I hope and pray that it does not come to that.

I believe it is now left for all of us to pray, for one another and for the unity we are called to in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Edmond L. Browning

November 19, 1991