In a group that has met for years in Kansas City, the varied reasons why the Episcopal Church has become radically different have been discussed over hundreds of occasions. Many of those reasons have been topics of our blog, and perhaps more reasons will be presented. I think each reason has had some validity and usually have had substantive evidence in favor of it. Each reason has also had some tie on to others so that a fabric of explanation seems to weave together. This fabric is what I am most interested in as I see it as a matrix evolving and connecting the whole.
I think a major change in the matrix began at the ordination of eleven women in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974. One of the ordaining bishops was Robert DeWitt who had only recently retired from the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Lyman Ogilby was then Bishop of Pennsylvania and who did not participate in the unapproved ordinations at Church of the Advocate in north Philadelphia where Paul Washington, as Rector, allowed them without permission in his church. The justifications for the ordinations had to do with the moral and social righteousness of the actions by bishops who decided to act individually on their own opinions of episcopal authority. This radical breach of the fabric of tradition and canon law by the bishops was unique insofar as it had to do with episcopal authority over presbyterate ordination in the Episcopal Church, a central and critical role canonically allowed by a diocesan bishop through the jurisdictional process that depended on the final and single authority of the bishop to actually ordain someone.
At the time, I lived just a few miles away from the ordination and could have gone as many of my friends did. I did not because of my formal and very personal relationship to Lyman Ogilby as my bishop and very dear friend. While Lyman’s Connecticut Yankee upbringing gave him quite a bit of lip stiffening, I knew him well enough to know that his friend, Bob Dewitt, and the other participating bishops hurt him deeply as did Paul Washington’s violation by allowing the event in his church. However, Lyman was an old school and loyal graduate of the Episcopal Theological School (EDS) who firmly believed in social justice and therefore sucked up his hurt with little complaint about his violated jurisdiction and authority to manage it.
Of course, in 1976, the ordinations were regularized. Soon the new righteousness over female ordination was focused on gaining approval in General Convention to breach noncompliant jurisdictions. Focus was on and against dioceses that would not ordain women. By 1997, a committee was formed to go into and check on the status of women in offending dioceses. The three "noncompliant" dioceses were San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth. Approved search parties to check on the status of local women were launched into them to admonish and gain correction from the local area native leaders from their aberrant practices.
By the 1980’s with the ordination of women being enculturated and a new Book of Common Prayer becoming familiar everywhere, a new twist in the fabric was occuring. The conservative forces realized liberals had revealed that jurisdictional and traditional lines of all sorts were really no longer solid nor apparently of paramount importance. As taught to them by the liberals’ actions, dioceses and parishes began to see themselves as more autonomous from bishops with whom they did not agree and General Convention and House of Bishops’ decisions they found offensive. New affiliations were sought across all sorts of lines and the oceans into various dioceses that are Anglican but certainly not in the Episcopal Church.
By the late 1990’s, an old fabric was fully and finally rendered torn and worn out, one of somber respect for parochial and diocesan jurisdictions and diocesan episcopal authority. A new fabric was designing itself, and an odd matrix of grand variegated associations and authorities became a weaving. The Episcopal Church was being discarded in its once coherent matrix for a more elusive pursuit of very particular and atomized ecclesiastical options and autonomy, a patchwork of sorts. More of the story is unfolding. . . .