A pastoral letter from Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, quoting personal correspondence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, was to be read in diocesan churches on Sunday, October 21.
The letter concerned an agreement between Howe and the rectors and senior wardens of seven parishes and two church planters regarding "possible scenarios by which all or part of the congregations may disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church."
"All parties agreed to enter into these negotiations in good faith using Biblical principles in an effort to avoid litigation and scandal to the Church of Christ," Howe stated. "...We are developing a detailed protocol for dealing with those who wish to disaffiliate, and I will discuss it with the clergy at our annual Clergy Conference this week."
In his letter, Howe quoted a portion of an October 14 note from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
"Any Diocese compliant with [the Windsor Report] remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such..." the letter said, quoting Williams. "I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'National Church.'"
Williams' note says that he has committed himself "very clearly to awaiting the views of the Primates" regarding the status of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion, and urges disaffected conservatives "to recognize that this process is currently in train and that a separatist decision from them at this point would be irresponsible and potentially confusing."
The letter raised questions on Anglican and Episcopal Church email lists and blogs regarding its implications for the status of provinces in the Anglican Communion's structure.
"What is the point of having Provinces, Primates, Synods, or General Conventions, then? If each diocese is a free agent, the result will be complete chaos, with the Communion moving further from unity than ever before," remarked the Rev. Terry Martin on "Father Jake Stops the World."
"What the Archbishop does not seem to understand is that 'those who are rushing to separatist solutions' do not think that maintaining communion with his See is vital when compared to the theological concerns" that conservatives have, according to the Rev. Matt Kennedy of Stand Firm in Faith.
On October 23, Williams' press officer, the Rev. Jonathan Jennings, issued a clarification.
"It should be understood that the Archbishop's response to Bishop Howe was neither a new policy statement nor a roadmap for the future but a plain response to a very urgent and particular question about clergy in traditionalist dioceses in TEC who want to leave TEC for other jurisdictions, a response reiterating a basic presupposition of what the Archbishop believes to be the theology of the Church," Jennings told Episcopal News Service.
"The primary point was that -- theologically and sacramentally speaking -- a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses," he added. "The diocese is more than a 'local branch' of a national organization. Dr. Williams is clear that, whatever the frustration with the national church, priests should think very carefully about leaving the fellowship of a diocese. The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr. Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church."
The seven parishes contemplating separation from the Episcopal Church are Gloria Dei, Cocoa; St. Anne's, Crystal River; Good Shepherd, Maitland; St. Edward's, Mount Dora; Grace, Ocala; Trinity, Vero Beach; and Holy Cross, Winter Haven. The church planters are affiliated with St. Philip's, Lake Nona, and St. Nicholas, Poinciana.
The Diocese of Central Florida has 89 parishes and missions in 15 Florida counties.