There's a lot of coverage out there right now on the tense gathering of U.S. Episcopal bishops down in New Orleans. You can go to the usual places on both sides to follow the maze of details. But I am constantly amazed that reporters seem not to understand some of the most basic elements of this complex local, regional, national and global story. There are times when you just want to beat your forehead on your computer screen.
There are basic questions here, seen from two directions. Will the Episcopal Church stand its ground and, rather than compromise, choose to exit the worldwide Anglican Communion -- if it cannot win support from the Church of England itself? Seen from the other direction, the question is similar: Can the large, growing Anglican churches of the Global South find a way to convince the Church of England to push the American church out, if the American bishops do not back down?
One way or the other, the issue has to do with the future of the Anglican Communion, with or without the U.S.A. (and perhaps Canada and New Zealand).
So you would think, after several years of covering this story, reporters would be rather sensitive to the various meanings of the word "Communion." They would also realize that, in a sacred and doctrinal way, the Communion is already broken.
But read this Chicago Tribune story from New Orleans, focusing on what was said in a crucial sermon by U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in a morning Eucharist for the U.S. bishops. There are several missing details.
Here is a crucial section near the end:
The global south accuses the Episcopal Church of straying from its biblical roots. American liberals say they are modeling Christian love and tolerance by accepting gays.
In her homily, Jefferts Schori called for honest communication between rhetorical foes, "particularly when we are unsure or uncomfortable about what others are saying." In a statement that appeared to address the position of gays and lesbians in the church, Jefferts Schori said, "I assure you that there are some in our midst who feel quite unwelcome, who have not known here what it is to be beloved," she said.
She declined to discuss her remarks with a reporter after the service. The service ended with the bishops singing a jazzy version of the song, "There's a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in this Place." The church faces a historic challenge in seeking to sustain that spirit amid talk of a split.
Like I said, I was amazed to reach the end of this story without reading one or two crucial details that a reporter must provide -- sadly -- after this kind of liturgical event in the Anglican Communion these days. Readers who want to know what is happening behind the closed Episcopal doors must know, when the bishops risk doing a Eucharistic rite, who (a) elected to attend the service and (b) who actually received Communion -- thus showing sacramental unity with the bishop or bishops who led the rite. Who was not present? Who was present but did not partake?
That raises another issue. With both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the presiding bishop present, who was the Celebrant? Who was at the altar?
If the story is about the future of the Anglican Communion, it helps to know the details of the Holy Communion. Yes? No?
Photo: The Anglican primates. (ACNS/Rosenthal)