In the USA, we have an annoying fringe political group, proudly known as “birthers,” who insist, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that President Barack Obama was not born in this country and thus is an illegitimate President. The birthers protest at political rallies with signs demanding that the President show his “real” birth certificate, since the certified copies provided by the State of Hawaii are, according to them, fakes.
It seems the virus has spread to England and been caught by The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. According to Episcopal Life Online, before Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church was permitted to preach and preside at the Eucharist this past Sunday at London’s Southwark Cathedral, she had to present proof of her ordination as a deacon, priest and bishop. This, apparently to satisfy some obscure subtitle of English canon law. But, if that were the only outrage the PB suffered, one might chalk it up to bizarre British church bureaucracy and shrug it off. Perhaps the Brits were still miffed about that flubbed block by goalie Robert Green that cost England her expected victory over Team USA in the first round of the World Cup. Or maybe they were out of Earl Grey at Lambeth Palace.
But the Archbishop was not content with a simple insult to his visiting American guest, he felt to compelled to add an injury as well. He ordered her not to wear her mitre, the traditional “Bishop’s hat,” the symbol, along with a shepherd’s crook or crozier, of the bishop’s authority. Though calling the order “beyond bizarre,” she complied, and carried her mitre, rather than wear it in the procession into and out of the Cathedral.
The Archbishop was, in fact, denying that she is a bishop in the Apostolic Order, something heretofore only asserted by the Anglican equivalent of the birthers, those far-right bishops clamoring for the ouster of The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion.
The time has come, it seems for The Episcopal Church to ask: Are we going to walk away from 500 years of Anglican theology that all duly consecrated bishops are equal in apostolic authority and that none, whether Bishop of Rome or Archbishop of Canterbury are the Head of the Church and create an Anglican Pope? That’s what the far right, and apparently Archbishop Williams, seem to be heading towards.
I served as the Chaplain to the Presiding Bishop a few weeks back during the consecration of our new Bishop Andrew Waldo. She was calm, kind, humble and surprisingly funny. She no more needed a deacon to be doting on her than she needed a hole in her mitre. But she welcomed me to her side and together we welcomed in a new Shepherd for the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. I’m saddened that she was insulted by Rowan. Saddened, but not surprised.
And I won’t be surprised if, speaking ex cathedra, Rowan Williams shortly finds Himself to be Infallible. That will be the day I no longer consider myself an Anglican.