The Diocese of South Carolina continues to traipse lightly down the garden path of surmised diocesan sovereignty — a notion that could not be further from catholic tradition if it tried, and plainly at odds both with history and canon. In addition to all of the things for which a diocese, its bishop and clergy, are answerable under the canons (gainsay them how they will), if we are to define a diocese as the “bishop, clergy and people in a given place,” then at this most fundamental level every diocese is beholden to the rest of the church in order to obtain a crucial element in that triumvirate: the bishop. (To say nothing of the need for the trio to be in union with some larger general church in order truly to be catholic — otherwise many a storefront church could claim to be a “diocese.” As I have observed in the past, the diocese is the “basic unit of the church” only in the sense that a brick is a unit in a building.)
But to return to my primary observation: no diocese can consecrate a bishop without the consent of a majority of all of the other dioceses (either meeting at General Convention or in the more diffuse times between its sessions; diocesan bishops functioning in both cases, but the deputies and standing committees taking the role in alternate performances.) And no new bishop can be confected by a single predecessor — the priest can only be rendered a bishop by the concerted action of at least three bishops. A diocese in isolation is thus not the church in its fullness; and if it remains alone, it is as fruitless as that unplanted grain of wheat, as it cannot pass on the apostolic succession apart from the collegial nature of the apostolic ministry. The diocese must die to itself, and be buried in the life-giving soil of the church, if it is to bear fruit in time to come. Those who seek to assert their sovereignty will lose it, but those who die to it will gain immeasurably.
Compare this to the actual sovereign status of the various states in choosing their leaders. Can you imagine the outcry were it to be suggested that every state’s governor, in order to be installed as such, required the consent of the majority of all the other governors, and a majority of the legislatures of all of the other states, or of congress? For those who, bemused by superficial resemblances, think the polity of the Episcopal Church is based on or mimics that of the Federal government, compare and contrast!
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
ps, blogging may be light, and comment approval slow as I will be away for the next week.