‘Really weird’, but Scriven bears no ill will on orders

29 January 2009

by Pat Ashworth

New job: Bishop Henry Scriven addresses a CMS meeting a fortnight ago CMS

New job: Bishop Henry Scriven addresses a CMS meeting a fortnight ago CMS

THE Rt Revd Henry Scriven, former Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Pittsburgh, says he bears no ill-will towards the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, after she appeared to interpret his resignation from the US House of Bishops as a voluntary renunciation of his orders.

Bishop Scriven, who is British, has returned to the UK this month, where he is to be director of the South American Mission Society (SAMS), soon to be affiliated to the Church Mission Society, He accepted an invitation to be an honorary bishop in the diocese of Oxford, and wrote to Dr Jefferts Schori in October last year, resigning from the House of Bishops. He considered himself to be under the episcopal authority of the Bishop of Oxford as soon as he moved, which was scheduled to be just after Christmas.

Dr Jefferts Schori responded on 12 November 2008: “I understand your request to resign as a member of the House of Bishops to mean that you will become a bishop of the Church of England, serving as assistant to the Bishop of Oxford.”

She made public a statement earlier this month saying that in accordance with Title III, canon 12, section 7 of the canons of the Episcopal Church, “I have accepted the renunciation of the Ordained Ministry of this Church, made in writing to me on October 16, 2008, by [Bishop Scriven], “who is therefore removed from the Ordained Ministry of this Church and released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations.” The letter concluded, “This action is taken for causes that do not affect his moral character.”

Bishop Scriven remained as a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church after Pittsburgh diocese realigned with the Southern Cone in November last year. He believed the diocese had democratically made its decision and — in a response to the Church Times which came too late for publication — described the Convention’s vote as conducted “in a very fair and grace-filled way”. He made himself available as a bishop to all congregations who invited him, regardless of how they had voted.

He said at that time: “We still pray sincerely that further lawsuits can be avoided, and I certainly intend to maintain all my close friendships with the vast majority of those who have chosen not to stay with the diocese.”

Bishop Scriven described the letter he received in November releasing him from his orders as “really weird”. He retained it but did not respond to it. The promised certificate releasing Bishop Scriven from his orders did not reach him personally, “though, to be fair, she might have tried as I was wandering round the world,” he said on Wednesday.

The correspondence is now in the public domain. “I had no desire to publish these letters until the thing was announced but was then very happy for them to be released,” Bishop Scriven said. “Hers was a very gracious letter but I was kind of boggled by the language really. It’s two nations divided by the same language, it seems to me. I bear no ill will, and I think it’s a storm in a teacup really.”

The continuing Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh released a statement on Wednesday, confirming its understanding that the Presiding Bishop’s action was “not a disciplinary action or an action taken because of Bishop Scriven’s support for the attempt to realign.”

It pointed out that in order for Bishop Scriven to be allowed to exercise his new ministry in Oxford, the canons required he be released from the Episcopal Church. “This is a routine way of permitting Bishop Scriven to continue his ministry. Orders in the Church themselves are indelible, but licensing is require to exercise them.

“The Standing Committee gives thanks for the gracious way in which Bishop Scriven exercised his ministry in the Episcopal Church while he served here as Assistant Bishop and we hope he and his wife Catherine will visit us in the future.”

Lawyers and theologians at the conservative Anglican Communion Institute Inc. gave a withering denunciation of the Presiding Bishop’s action, describing it as “misuse of the canons”, “canonical adventure” and “canonical overreaching”. The Presiding Bishop, a statement said, “has no authority to deprive [Bishop Scriven] of the ministry conferred on him by his ordination in the Church of England.”


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