The Irvine BadgeFr. Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD

Series 2004 - May
The Shepherd and Bishop of our souls...


The Irvine Tartan  ē My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican




Paul wrote to the Faith Community in Corinth:  My dear friends, as a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg you to get along with each other. Donít take sides. Always try to agree in what you think.  Several people from Chloeís family have already reported to me that you keep arguing with each other.  They have said that some of you claim to follow me, while others claim to follow Apollos or Peter or Christ. Has Christ been divided up? Was I nailed to a cross for you? Were you baptized in my name?  

[1 Corinthians 1:10-14 Contemporary English Version]


Youíd almost feel like an outsider.  I mean, the level of communication these days relies a lot on a short hand that can leave you out of the loop.  Governmental agencies have done this for a long while.  And each professional discipline develops its own style of expression.  They call them acronyms.  And the Church has developed our own.

Weíve used acronyms as a hasty way to refer to common elements of our shared life.  They have helped us establish that we are in the circle.  People that donít understand simply donít need to and draws the line in the sand.  This shorthand has allowed us to reference familiar objects and programs in discussions we have had with others in the church.  Sometimes these are cherished, and on occasion they become objects of ridicule when they collide with our sensibilities.

The use of acronyms have allowed us to assess anotherís disposition and this has been particularly helpful when that has been other our own.

In recent years new acronyms have come into use and they say a lot about us.  While not brand new, A.C.C. is a young acronym replacing what I grew up with Ė C. of E.  It took a long time to gain ground.  Many went to their graves using the imperial acronym.  The last to give it up were members of the church who had absented themselves from our worship and hadnít learned of the change.  With it, W.A. became A.C.W.  That seemed a simple transition. 

Our National Church replaced the N.E.C. with CoGS.  That may have been more mechanical than anything else.  Members of the Council of General Synod naturally would prefer being a cog in any wheel to membership of the National Executive Council.  The wheels of progress continued to advance and the image of each onc effectively contributing to the whole held attraction for many.

More recently we have become aware of the ACiNW by way of the church press and occasionally the secular press as well.  Through the ministry of our former bishop, Episcopal oversight was exercised to the parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster that made up this group.  It was seen as the Anglican Communion in New Westminster but not to be identified nor confused or included with the Diocese of that name.  The acronym provided a distinction that allowed for dissent.

The concern voiced by the ACiNW is over the blessing of same-sex unions in that diocese.  The provincial Supreme Courts of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have confused this with their respective rulings in support of marriage of same-sex couples. 

The ensuing debate has drawn lines.  While there has been a lot of talk, there has not been evidence of much listening.  Each side would suspect that any accommodation would betray their position.  Conservatives are suspicious of liberals, and in this one regard the suspicion is reciprocated.

The result is the introduction of a new acronym and one I think that is fraught with considerable danger for the fellowship of faith that seems headed for a reef.   You may have heard of it: A.E.O. Ė Alternative Episcopal Oversight.  Some consider it as Adequate Episcopal Oversight.

Either way, the foundation of our form and order as Anglicans is in jeopardy.

Our lack of cohesiveness in the Body of Christ under the Bishopís oversight in a diocese will erode our unity and leave us fractious.  Paul had some idea of that.  Some would prefer to look to Paul for oversight, while others prefer to consider Apollos and then of course, for those who want to be right-minded, there are those who defer to Jesus.  Paul knew what dissension was like.  And so did Jesus.

The rag-tag bunch Jesus invited to join him in his journey was not a like-minded group.  I can well imagine how Simon and Matthew Levi would have tested each otherís short fuse.  And while James and John wanted good reservations in the Kingdom, the other ten would waste little time in their envy.  Small wonder then that Jesus gave his closest followers to love one another only hours before his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion!  They needed to!  Of all that he had taught by word and example, their obedience to love one another Ė to prefer one another, to use Paulís phrase Ė was the most difficult. Not much has changed.

Now, when the mood suits, we would prefer to establish our options and go with the Bishop who best reflects our disposition.  The alternate is unbearable it seems: to be under the oversight of a Bishop who listens to his family, regardless of their disagreements, even on important matters.  We run the risk of exchanging our familial paradigm with a democratic and political model of church.  Not that we arenít without precedent.  Malcontent parishioners have always exercised their option to abandon the pastoral care of any priest they have chosen to disagree with.  Small fractures in a parish can only be larger fractures in a diocese.  Having left parochial oversight with impunity, we will become a thoroughly congregational expression of Church with this move to an Alternative Episcopal Oversight.

I donít even want to consider the minimalist expectations inherent in Adequate Episcopal Oversight!

Synods run an equally hazardous risk.  They are no more immune to the intransigence of sheep in this fold than are the shepherds.

Alternative or Adequate are temptations that attract and diminish who we are, forgetting the Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls for whom one acronym was sufficient: I.N.R.I.

Copyright © 2004 James T. Irvine

Series 2004