July 28, 2007

Aquafina Scandal

The bottled water industry has come under increasing criticism of late, and not always from predictable sources. Its most obvious vulnerability, one might expect, is price. Lately, however, bottled water has been criticized by environmentalists for the resources used in packaging and transportation, and for the low rate at which plastic bottles are recycled.

Last night, ABC News, which frequently airs consumer-interest stories, telecast one about PepsiCo’s Aquifina. Viewers, apparently, were expected to be upset by the revelation that Aquafina draws its raw material from municipal water systems. PepsiCo has now agreed to acknowledge this on its Aquafina labels. This likely will not satisfy critics who charge that the advertising of the bottled water industry generally, which emphasizes purity and taste, is defaming municipal water systems and undermining consumer confidence in them.

Was this really one of the top news stories of the day? Are people actually staying awake at night worrying whether their tap water is safe to drink because Aquafina promises “Pure Water, Perfect Taste”? Not likely.

I am not a big consumer of bottled water, but bottled water is a product that has its place. It is certainly a healthy alternative to soft drinks, though I do object to paying the same price for a bottle of Aquafina as I would for a bottle of Pepsi Cola, which is surely more expensive to make. (We might be surprised to learn how little more.) I also feel manipulated when an establishment I might reasonably expect to have a water cooler sells bottled water instead.

I grew up in a family that always kept a container of tap water in the refrigerator for drinking. The water, perhaps, did not have Aquafina’s “Perfect Taste,” but it seemed good enough at the time. Whether because of maturation or the pernicious influence of advertising, I have more sensitive taste now, and I do prefer the taste of many bottled waters, but filtered water from a dispensing refrigerator isn’t such a bad alternative.

I do hope that no one was being “fooled” by Aquafina, with its label sporting a sunset beyond the mountains (or is it a water spot on a seismograph chart?). The packaging makes it perfectly clear that the water is not “mineral water” (from a spring, say) and has nothing added to it, as does Dasani, for example, which contains added salt. If the product is, as the label says, “purified drinking water,” it really makes no difference whether the raw product comes from a spring, a river, a municipal water plant, a wastewater plant, or is made directly from oxygen and hydrogen. The filtration, reverse osmosis, and other steps in Aquafina’s HydRO-7™ process frankly produces an excellent tasting water—perhaps I mean tasteless water—and I couldn’t care less where the water comes from. Anyone who insists that drinking water should come from a pure mountain stream or spring should buy a microscope and get outdoors.

July 24, 2007

Doing Consents Right Redux

The odd story of how consents are actually obtained for consecrations in The Episcopal Church that I wrote about yesterday saw further developments today. The Living Church posted a story by reporter Steve Waring, “Canonically Defective Testimonial Alleged in Virginia Coadjutor Request,” on its Web site today.

Based on remarks by the Rev. Jan Nunley, it appeared that “canonically defective” wording of consent testimonials has been in regular use for quite some time. Clearly, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori could not be responsible for this situation, as she has been in office less than a year. According to Waring, the canon to the Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Canon Carl Gerdau, sees no problem in using the “short form” recently used by the Diocese of Virginia for consents, rather than the one prescribed in Canon III.11.4(b). Presumably, Canon Gerdau has been regularly and intimately involved with the consent process. He is about to retire, but he served in his current position under former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold since 1998.

In my previous post, I quoted only as much of Canon III.11.4(b) as was quoted in the San Joaquin standing committee’s letter. Here is Canon III.11.4(b) in its entirety:
Evidence of the consent of each Standing Committee shall be a testimonial in the following words, signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee:

We, being a majority of all the members of the Standing Committee of ______________, and having been duly convened at ______________, fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order. In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands this _____ day of _________in the year of our Lord _________.
(Signed) _______________
Contrast this with the version sent out by the Diocese of Virginia to standing committees, as reported by the Rev. Dan Martins:
Having been duly elected on January 26, 2007, at the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia.

We, being a majority of all the ____ members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of ____, having been duly convened at ____, give our consent to the ordination and consecration of the Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Virginia.

In witness whereof, we have here unto set our hands this ___ day of ___, 2007.
(I rendered the above in boldface for easy comparison.) Although this “short form” lacks an explicit signature line, it, like the canonical version, is intended to be followed by signatures of a majority of standing committee members.

A clarification should be made at this point. The electing diocese sends requests for consent to the standing committees of all the dioceses of the church. Apparently, these requests invariably contain wording for what the canons call a “testimonial,” which the standing committees use to communicate their consent to the proposed consecration. (The canons are vague about what a standing is supposed to do if it does not consent. Some send a letter to the electing diocese, but others simply do not reply.) If an electing diocese sends a “defective” version of the testimonial, standing committees are, of course, free to use the canonical form. Their members can read the canons as well as anyone else.

Some observations:
  1. The first “sentence” of the “short form” makes no sense. There is no verb.
  2. The “short form,” unlike the canonical form, requires the recording of the number of members on the standing committee. Although this information is, in a sense, inessential, it does help prevent the misunderstanding that any majority vote of a standing committee with a quorum present is sufficient to render consent. It would not be surprising to learn that the origin of the “short form” is somehow related to this feature.
  3. The “short form” omits boilerplate presumably intended to impress on standing committee members that they should take their role seriously: “fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God… .” This isn’t exactly 21st-century language, but the meaning is clear and, as they say, it can’t hurt. The words “without partiality” emphasize that the decision should be an objective one, which, in these times, may need to be said.
  4. The real difference, of course, is that the canonical form has standing committee members declaring that they “know of no impediment” to the proposed consecration, whereas, in the “short form,” members merely “consent” to the consecration, irrespective of what they may know or not know.
Are these differences significant? I think so. To begin with, there can be a real difference between assenting to a consecration and testifying that you know of no reason why it should not take place. In the case of South Carolina’s quest to consecrate the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, one has to doubt that any standing committee member did not know of impediments to his consecration. Clearly, however, some people voted for him anyway. The “short form” would have made that even easier to do.

Steve Waring’s story, however, makes it clear that South Carolina, contrary to Nunley’s assertion, did use the proper form, although it was only at the urging of the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development, that its standing committee did so. (Nunley has updated her post and corrected her original statement, which seems to have been based on a David Beers letter. It is unclear as to where Beers got his information. Perhaps it was from Canon Gerdau.)

Following the constitution and canons also matters because we have agreed that we will do so, and we seek (I presume) to be people of integrity. Moreover, if everyone retains a right to follow the rules only when, to him or her, it seems important, then no one can ever call anyone else to account; in essence, there will be no rules.

What is so hard to understand in this case is why anyone would feel the need to substitute a “short form” for the canonical testimonial. In actual practice, one almost never expects an episcopal election to be invalidated by a failure to achieve the necessary consents, so that subtle differences in wording are unlikely to change the outcome of the consent process. Have dioceses been using the “short form” because it involves typing fewer keystrokes?

The difference in attitude between Gerdau and Matthews, both of whom work directly under the Presiding Bishop is striking. Whereas Waring reports that Matthews “cautioned the diocese about the language in its consent request,” Gerdau is quoted as saying, of the “short form,” that it has been “used for a long time and no one has ever objected to it before.” Gerdau’s statement sounds like something a policeman accused of having conducted an illegal search might say: “No one objected to the lack of a search warrant before.”

Clearly, the Presiding Bishop needs to communicate to everyone working at or for the Episcopal Church Center that adherence to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church is not optional, just as it is not optional for bishops, clergy, and laypeople outside of New York City. That the consent process is cumbersome and opaque to most of the people in the church is unfortunate. A more open process would, among other things, expose quickly deviations from canonical procedures. Had Virginia posted its requests for consents on its Web site, for example, I doubt that 24 hours would have passed before bloggers noted its inconsistency with Canon III.11.4(b). The church should develop carefully written procedures to guide standing committees through requesting consents, and those procedures should be posted on the Web, along with—as I suggested in my previous post—a PDF version of a proper consent testimonial. A church with millions of members and a multi-million-dollar budget should not act like a bunch of kids who decided to put on a musical in someone’s back yard.

July 23, 2007

Doing Consents Right

Not every church has the formal legal structure of The Episcopal Church. Its ultimate governing authority, a triennial gathering of bishops, priests, deacons, and laypeople, is called the General Convention. The church overall has a constitution and canons (church laws), and its constituent dioceses are similarly governed by conventions, constitutions, and canons. The nominal leader of the church is the Presiding Bishop, who might properly be described as an extremely weak executive. Dioceses, on the other hand, are led by bishops, who are quite powerful.

If I were inventing The Episcopal Church today, I would change some of the details of its organization, but I certainly would preserve its democratic ethos and, particularly, its rule by law, which acts as a bulwark against the goofiness and cultism to which Christianity seems especially susceptible.

Unfortunately, legal systems, whether secular or ecclesiastical, necessarily create tensions and require constant attention. How literally should laws be interpreted? What should be done when the spirit of the law and the letter of the law appear to be in conflict? What is the proper threshold for invoking disciplinary action? The United States has always had to deal with such issues, and it even has an institution, the Supreme Court, that might be viewed as a body whose major concern is dealing with them. By comparison, The Episcopal Church has been less contentious, legally speaking, and it has fewer structures and precedents to guide it when the inevitably messy issues of law present themselves.

When the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence failed to achieve sufficient consents from standing committees to be consecrated the next bishop of South Carolina, two canonical issues made the outcome of the consent process controversial. First, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori allowed, apparently in clear violation of the canons, 123 days, rather than 120 days, for consents to be received. By no one’s reckoning were sufficient consents received within 120 days. Three days later, however, a sufficient numbers of reputed testimonies that standing committees had consented to the consecration had been received. The Presiding Bishop declared that Lawrence’s bid to become a bishop had failed, however, because some of the consents were improperly executed, lacking, for example, signatures of standing committee members. (See the ENS story here.)

The Rev. Dan Martins, a Stockton, California, priest from the same diocese as Mark Lawrence (San Joaquin) and a former member of his diocese’s standing committee has raised a troubling issue on his blog. It seems that, when the Diocese of Virginia requested consents for the Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston to be consecrated bishop coadjutor, the wording of the testimonials requested by the Diocese of Virginia differed from that prescribed by canon. Martins reports that the San Joaquin standing committee has raised this issue with the Presiding Bishop and her chancellor in three separate letters and has received no answer. The letter suggests that the Presiding Bishop is applying the canons of the church selectively, and, perhaps, prejudicially. In what follows, I will assume that what the standing committee asserts was done by Virginia is true; its members are in a position to know, whereas I am not, and I believe that Martins is an honorable priest.

It is, I think, incumbent upon the Presiding Bishop to provide an explanation for her decisions. She should do so promptly. I would expect her to say that she extended the consent period for the Lawrence consents out of Christian charity, and that the defective consents raised questions as to whether certain standing committees had, in fact, validly consented as required by canon. This explanation necessarily raises the question as to why, having already bent the canons to allow more standing committees time to respond, she did not take the extra time to query the standing committees that submitted defective testimonies and give them the opportunity to correct any “technical” errors they may have made.

As to the Virginia consents, I would expect Jefferts Schori to explain that we all know what consents are all about, and sufficient testimonials with valid signatures were received to allow Johnston’s consecration. Perhaps, with the help of David Booth Beers, her chancellor, she will offer a better explanation. She needs one. The wording required by canon includes the following:
[We,] fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order. In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands… .
The wording of the Virginia declaration was much shorter and to the point:
[We] give our consent to the ordination and consecration of the Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Virginia.
What should we make of this difference? One can certainly argue that the flowery language about standing committee members being persuaded as to what their duty is is really just so much fluff. It is difficult to overlook the difference of substance here, however. Whereas standing committee members are supposed to certify that they “know of no impediment on account of which [the Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnson] ought not to be ordained” a bishop, Virginia only asked for “consent to the ordination and consecration” of Johnston. In principle, one could know of an “impediment” to Johnson’s consecration that would impel a vote against consecration if one had to sign a document containing the wording in the canons. Virginia’s wording would allow a signature, however, in spite of such an impediment.

I have the greatest respect and affection for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, but I do think that she has gotten herself into a muddle of her own making. I do not suspect that she acted out of any but the best of motives, but, like many new executives, I believe that she stumbled on her way up the learning curve. Here is what she should do:
  1. Admit that allowing 123 days for consents to be received was a mistake, for which she begs forgiveness. The canons are clear that the proper number is 120, and the wording makes it clear that the General Convention intended the starting date to be unambiguous. The time period is arbitrary, but its length and beginning point is intended to be fixed. The Presiding Bishop should declare that, in the future, only 120 days will be allowed and, within 7 days of the start of the consent period, the day on which the clock started with be announced publicly, so that everyone knows when the deadline is.
  2. Explain again that sufficient valid consents for Lawrence’s consecration were not received within 120 days. Whether or not sufficient consents were received in 123 days is moot. (This declaration will likely be criticized, and a public relations expert might question my advice. I cannot see a viable alternative, however.)
  3. Admit that the Virginia consent form was defective, but that the consent process cannot really be undone. Beg for forgiveness again. Declare that, in the future, the Office of the Presiding Bishop will work more closely with standing committees to assure them that the steps in the consent process for which they are responsible are carried out properly. Promise that, within 30 days, The Episcopal Church will have a downloadable, fillable PDF form on its Web site for standing committees to use in the future. All consents should be required to be executed using this form. (Actual signatures, of course, will still be needed.) Additional clarifications as to how consents may be submitted might need to be made. By canon, consents from standing committees are sent to the Presiding Bishop only after a sufficient number has been received. The Presiding Bishop should offer to pre-certify consents for a standing committee as they are received, however.
  4. Apologize in writing to the San Joaquin standing committee for failure to reply to its correspondence, and thank its members for their contribution to improving important church procedures.
  5. Beg for forgiveness again and promise to do better in the future.


A few hours after I posted the foregoing, the Rev. Jan Nunley reported on EpiScope that both South Carolina and Virginia used the same form. Moreover, she says that this short form, whose wording differs from that specified in Canon III.11.4(b), has been in general use for 10 years or more. If indeed this is the case—I presume that she has checked, something I would have difficulty doing—then the Office of the Presiding Bishop is almost assuredly the source of the wrongly worded consent form. In this case, the current Presiding Bishop (and perhaps even the previous Presiding Bishop) may not be responsible for the church’s having run off the rails here. It does seem incumbent upon Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to fix the problem, however, and to fix it quickly. My advice as to what she should do still stands, but at least part of her apology must be for past church administration, rather than for her own mistakes.

If you want to read the canons for yourself, you can find the latest version of the church’s constitution and canons here.

Note: More developments in this story led me to write another essay on the subject the next day. You can read “Doing Consents Right Redux” here.

July 5, 2007

“Why Others Stand as Well”

Because my Web site and blog were always intended as outlets for my own work, I am not in the habit of calling attention to what others have written, except insofar as I want to offer my own criticism of it. In this post, I want to make an exception.

As many readers know, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is contemplating its future. (See the stories on the diocesan leadership meetings of May 20–21 and June 29.) Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan seems determined to lead a significant portion of his flock out of The Episcopal Church, which has been the very conspicuous object of his contempt since the 2003 General Convention.

The diocesan leadership has correctly concluded that most Episcopalians in the diocese are not well informed about what has been taking place within and beyond the Pittsburgh diocese. Many people, irrespective of their theological views, simply have not wanted to get involved. At many churches led by allies of the bishop, however, people have been deliberately kept in the dark or have been exposed only to diatribes against The Episcopal Church. As a split in the diocese becomes increasingly inevitable, everyone seems to agree that it is time to choose up sides, time to appeal to the hearts and minds of everyone occupying a pew within the diocese.

While the diocesan leadership has talked of the need for “education,” it has promoted an “interview” with the Rev. Dr. Leslie Fairfield called “Why We Stand.” Fairfield is professor emeritus at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, the Evangelically-oriented Episcopal seminary whose raison d’être has always been the winning over of The Episcopal Church to its narrow, reactionary theology or, failing that, the creation of an Evangelical replacement for it. “Why We Stand” misrepresents church history and paints a picture of The Episcopal Church, which, if true, would make me want to leave it.

When the Fairfield essay appeared on the diocesan Web site in early June, I saw it as yet another biased, self-serving contribution to church strife. Its distortions made me mad, but I tried to put it out of my mind. I had lost all respect for Fairfield’s “scholarship” after viewing the DVD “Choose This Day,” in which he says, among other things, “The choice facing the laity in the Episcopal Church is to choose between authentic Christianity and this alien religion which has permeated the leadership of the Episcopal Church in the last generation.” He also describes that “alien religion” as “foreign and alien and pagan” in his appearances on the DVD.

“Why We Stand” was hard to ignore, something I became aware of when I telephoned a young priest I have known since he first attended elementary school with my son. He told me that Professor Fairfield exactly captured his understanding of the present church conflict. I then discovered that other traditionalist priests are distributing the Fairfield interview to their parishioners to explain the conflict. The interview next showed up in Trinity, the diocesan newsletter, and I understand that it will be part of a packet of materials to be made available for Pittsburgh Episcopalians. Clearly, many nominal Episcopalians would be unmoved by being exposed to another point of view, but it was beginning to seem urgent that a rebuttal to Fairfield’s assertions be made available to those who might still be willing to listen to reason.

I did not feel qualified to write such a rebuttal. I am not a priest, a theologian, or a church historian, but I did know that The Episcopal Church as I experience it bears little resemblance to the one Fairfield describes in either “Choose This Day” or “Why We Stand.” In my search for a qualified author for an essay that would provide an alternative view, I discovered that Tobias Haller, Vicar of St. James, Fordham, in Brooklyn and author of the blog “In a Godward Direction,” had already written a brief piece about “Why We Stand” called “Stuff and Nonsense.” This was not the essay I thought was needed in Pittsburgh, but Tobias is a good writer and clearly viewed the Fairfield essay in the same light as I. After suggesting someone else who might write a good essay, Tobias agreed to try writing something himself. I soon had an essay from him in my inbox titled “Where Others Stand as Well.” It was not what I had been looking for—it was too short and not scholarly enough—but, upon reflection, I realized it was perfect for the task at hand.

But I said that I was calling attention to someone else’s work, not evaluating it. In spite of my extended introduction, I intend to stick to that pledge. You can find “Where Others Stand as Well” here or, as a PDF, here.

July 4, 2007

Missing Episcopal Words

Episcopalians have a reputation for—and perhaps even pride themselves on—having names for everything. Every architectural detail of a church and every liturgical object seems to have a special name, as do our rules, our meetings, our officers, and our very movements during worship. When writing about the church, however, I sometimes discover that we have failed to create a word where one is needed.

I got to thinking about this when I tried to write about church members resident within a particular diocese. Members of a parish, of course, are parishioners, but what are they vis-à-vis their diocese? If a bishop wants to send a letter to all laypeople under his or her care, what do we call the people being addressed?

Church Structure and Episcopalians. These questions are trickier than one might imagine, and it helps to begin by talking about church structures, which can provide a framework for understanding what some of the words are that Episcopalians have and, perhaps, need.

The Episcopal Church is often spoken of as a hierarchical church. We can, in fact, identify three distinct structural levels of the church. The most visible level is the one on which everyday worship and mission take place, the level of what we normally refer to as churches. Episcopalians certainly use this word—I attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon, for example—but they also use the more precise words parish, congregation, and mission. The most general of these terms is congregation, which simply denotes a worshiping community. A parish, on the other hand, is a financially independent congregation, and a mission is a congregation financially aided by the diocese. Congregation is used in two other ways. It may refer to the people of a worshiping community, as opposed to the local institution of which they are a part. There are also parishes (and perhaps even missions) that have more than one worship site, each of which has a separate congregation, though under common leadership.

At this local-church level, we speak of a parish’s parishioners. We might speak of congregants of any worshiping community, though, in practice, Episcopalians usually don’t. As far as I can determine, there is no special word for members of a mission. Missioners would seem to be a candidate, but I have never seen the word used this way. A canon missioner is often a person on a diocesan staff responsible for such matters as congregational development, however, which, I think, makes missioner a poor choice for designating a worshiper at a mission.

The geographical area served by The Episcopal Church is partitioned into dioceses, each led by a bishop. This is the next level in the church hierarchy, and considering it brings us back to our original question of what to call the laypeople of a diocese. They are not parishioners because not all of them belong to a parish. Although one could call them congregants, this would not distinguish them specifically as residents of a diocese. The Episcopal Church does talk about members (of a parish, say), but, technically, laypeople are not members of their diocese. Clergy, who are not considered members of the parishes they serve, are considered members of a diocese, though not always the one in which they live. Parishes and missions are not members of a diocese, by the way, but are described as being in union with the diocese, a quaint Episcopalian formulation.

The size of a diocese is often given as the number of communicants within diocesan congregations. There is a technical definition of communicant given in Canon I.17 which has to do with members who actually take communion in their local church, but this word, too, is not specifically tied to the diocese; one can speak of the number of communicants in a parish or in the entire church. Our missing word is still missing.

We can speak of Episcopalians in the diocese or Episcopalians of the diocese, but it would be handy to be able to use a single word instead. Dictionary.com suggests that diocesan can be used of clergy or laypersons of a diocese, but I have never encountered this usage within The Episcopal Church, and it invites confusion with usage of the same word to mean diocesan bishop. (Speaking of diocesans would be confusing indeed, as only one bishop in a diocese can be the diocesan bishop.)

I should mention that dioceses in The Episcopal Church are organized into provinces, not to be confused with the regional-church members of the Anglican Communion sometime referred to by the same term. The nine provinces of the church represent something of a degenerate level—in the mathematical, not the moral sense—of the church hierarchy. Dioceses usually interact directly with the top level of the church hierarchy, although some interactions are mediated by provinces. Nobody speaks of Episcopal provincials—the members, say, of Province III—or seems to have any pressing need to do so.

At the top level of our Episcopal hierarchy are what we might call the trans-diocesan elements of the church, those people and institutions concerned with the church as a whole: the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, the Presiding Bishop, the General Convention, and so forth. We refer to all the structures and people of the church as The Episcopal Church, but we often need to speak specifically of the top level of the hierarchy. Episcopalians used to speak of the National Church, but this term has fallen into disfavor, as The Episcopal Church has dioceses in areas outside of the United States. One could hardly refer to the International Church, as this would invite confusion with the Anglican Communion, which is “more” international, even though it isn’t a church at all. There is, I think, a pressing need to find a replacement for National Church, though I don’t know that many people are working actively on the problem. The recent appellate court decision in California refers to the general church. I’m not sure this phrase has a chance of catching on, but it (or, perhaps, General Church) is not an unreasonable substitute for the politically incorrect National Church. at least until someone comes up with something better.

A different Problem. as long as I’m talking about names for church structures, the matter of the name of the church itself is, I suppose, unavoidable. In this instance, rather than having a dearth of names, we have a surfeit. One need only read a handful of newspaper articles on The Episcopal Church to know that there is confusion about what to call it. At the time that people were referring to the National Church, the church was commonly called ECUSA, the Episcopal Church (USA), or the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. In actuality, none of these was quite appropriate. The official name of the church is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. This is the name in the constitution of 1789 and all of its successors. In times past, therefore, the church was sometimes referred to as PECUSA, although the acronym is seldom used today.

In fact, Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America seems to have been a good name choice for what had been part of the Church of England but suddenly found itself in a new, independent Republic. It reflects both the Protestant and Catholic (in the word Episcopal, of course) heritage of Anglicanism. Over the years, Episcopal became less of a description, however, and more of a brand name, which gradually made Protestant seem like a denial of any Catholic heritage, hence ECUSA. Anglicanism has always seen itself as neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but as some synthesis of the two.

In fact, the Preamble to the church’s constitution, which was added in 1967, and which has been used by traditionalists to claim that acting contrary to the wishes of the Anglican Communion—however one might determine that to be the case—is a violation of the constitution, actually had virtually nothing to do with the Anglican Communion and everything to do with what to call the church. For years, Anglo-Catholics wanted to remove Protestant from the church’s name, and Evangelicals passionately opposed the change. Various other alternatives were proposed and rejected over the years. By the time the church seemed able to change its name without inviting schism, questions were raised as to whether a name change would have any untoward legal consequences. The “solution” was to keep the original name and to make official the common name of the church: “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church)….” The business about the Anglican Communion in the preamble was thrown in as lagniappe without any substantial discussion by the General Convention.

A new sensitivity to the constitution’s Preamble has led to the church’s being officially called The Episcopal Church or TEC, as opposed to all the forms discussed above, and as opposed to the Episcopal Church, which, all things being equal, seems more natural. (It used to be common to include The in front of institutional names—think of The Borden Company, for example—but, in 21st-century America, the church is bucking the trend.) The change seems to have been the brainchild of the director of Episcopal News Service—perhaps this organ now should be called The Episcopal News Service—and one could argue that it has only led to confusion and occasional derision. In any case, the capitalized article in the Preamble, although a product of the mid-20th century, probably reflects 18th-century orthography more than it does the intention of the General Convention always to put The before the name of the church.

As if the foregoing was not confusing enough, one sometimes encounters the name Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. (One can reach the church’s Web site using either the URL http://episcopalchurch.org or http://dfms.org. I tend to use the latter, which is shorter.) The Episcopal Church, governed by the General Convention, has never been incorporated. The DFMS was created in the early nineteenth century by the General Convention and incorporated in the state of New York. For all practical purposes, the DFMS is The Episcopal Church, although the distinction matters in certain legal contexts.

A Side Issue: In enumerating the circumstances of people overseen by a diocesan bishop, all of whom may be called Episcopalians, the general name for members of the church, I began to wonder if there might be Episcopalians in a diocese who are not members of a specific worshiping community. I think the answer is no, but the matter isn’t clear-cut. According to church canon, a church member moving from one parish, say, to another, should execute a formal transfer. This does not always happen, so that, technically, the person remains a member of his or her old parish. The canons do not address the possibility of leaving one congregation and going nowhere in particular, but people do ask to be removed from parish registers without joining another church elsewhere, be it Episcopal or otherwise. A person doing this may have a self-image as an Episcopalian, but the church has no way of counting that person among its members.

Update, 8/22/2014. Since I wrote the above post, http://dfms.org/ has ceased to take the visitor to the Episcopal Church site. Instead, a page is displayed whose title is “Home” and which displays “DFMS” and “Welcome” in large letters. The page directs the visitor to “www.episcopalchurch.org.” Unhelpfully, the (incomplete) URL is not actually a link, so getting to the real church site is not as easy as one might like. There are also icons at the left edge of the page for Facebook, Twitter, etc., the purpose of which is something of a mystery. See my post “Home at the DFMS.”