Statement From Bishops Concerning Polity of The Episcopal Church

Posted: April 23, 2009 by limabean03 in Anglican Communion, Thought and Practice in the Diocese of South Carolina

Our own diocesan Bishop, Mark Lawrence as well as former diocesan Ed Salmon have both endorsed this document with their signatures. While some commentators have rightly pointed out, that General Convention could be said (although the evidence is not conclusive) to have formed some dioceses, it cannot be said to have formed the Diocese of South Carolina. The Diocese of South Carolin pre-exists the Episcopal Church U.S.A. In fact, the Diocese of South Carolina was one of the original Diocese that called for the organization of the first general convention. The argument put forward in the following document states that individual dioceses use their autonomy to join the Episcopal Church therefore an individual diocese can still use its autonomy to determine its future course of action irrespective of the decisions of General Convention. It is important that you know, that neither the Standing Committee NOR the Bishop intend to use this autonomy to leave the Episcopal Church. Rather, they intend to use this autonomy to join the proposed Anglican Covenant even if the General Convention of the Episcopal Church chooses not to join the Anglican Covenant. I will be happy to take questions on this matter IN PERSON OR OVER THE PHONE ONLY. I will not answer any questions pertaining to this matter on the blog though as always you are encouraged to discuss. 

The Fundamental Structure of The Episcopal Church Is That of a Voluntary Association of Equal Dioceses

Given the constitutional reservation of authority within the diocese to the Bishop and Standing Committee, it is not surprising that the fundamental structure of our Church is that of a voluntary association of equal dioceses.

It is significant that the same term, “voluntary association,” has been used by both the founding father of The Episcopal Church to describe the organization he was so instrumental in forming and by the civil law to describe religious societies and other unincorporated voluntary organizations in general. Our Church’s primary architect was, of course, William White, and his blueprint was The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, published in 1782 as the Revolutionary War was nearing an end. As a result of American independence, many of the former Church of England parishes had become independent churches while others were still organized as state churches under the control of state legislatures. White’s concept, later accepted by others in the former colonies, was that the Anglican churches would first be organized into state churches and then the state churches would organize themselves nationally as a voluntary association of state churches (now called “dioceses”). Pursuant to this plan, White was one of the first two Americans consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1787 to serve in the Episcopal Churches. When The Episcopal Church eventually was duly organized in 1789, Bishop White and Bishop Samuel Seabury, consecrated by the Scottish Episcopal Church, sat as the first House of Bishops at the first General Convention.

Just as the thirteen states were the “independent and sovereign” constituents of the American confederation that existed when the church now known as The Episcopal Church was being formed, the state churches were the bodies that combined to constitute what was initially called the Protestant Episcopal Church. It was the dioceses, then co-extensive with the newly-independent states, that created our Church’s Constitution and General Convention. The constitutional mechanisms of governance they created preserved their status as equal members of a voluntary association of dioceses. As noted by the official commentary on our Constitution and canons, “Before their adherence to the Constitution united the Churches in the several states into a national body, each was completely independent.” It then describes that national body they created as “a federation of equal and independent Churches in the several states.”

As this brief summary of our founding history shows, the fundamental structure of The Episcopal Church from the outset has been that of a voluntary association of dioceses meeting together in a General Convention as equals.

Click here to read the whole thing

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