Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Americans are used to combinations of words ending in "-gate". It dates back to the Nixon-era Watergate scandals. It is now used for almost any scandal, such as "Travelgate", an almost-forgotten scandal in the White House travel office, during the Clinton presidency.

Lately, those of us active in TEC (The Episcopal Church), have been hearing about "Mitregate". The first half of this word is indeed about the headgear traditionally worn by a bishop, which is somewhat reminiscent of the top part of a bishop in a chess set. In the UK, it is always spelled "mitre". American reformers have managed to amend the spelling of many English words, so the usual form (even in the Episcopal Church) is "miter". If you look up that word in a dictionary, you will find that it also refers to a method of joining two pieces of wood together, by cutting off the ends of two pieces at a 45 degree angle, so that they will fit together smoothly - especially when glued.

Recently, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, attended a meeting in England, and was invited to preside and preach at a Eucharist (Holy Communion) service in Southwark Cathedral. Word then reached her from Lambeth Palace, where the Archbishop of Canterbury maintains his office and residence. She was told that she should not wear her mitre, although it would be in order for her to carry it!

Some commentators explained that visiting bishops should not wear their mitres: they were only appropriate in an area that officially recognized the wearer's authority as a bishop. Unfortunately for those theorists, there was ample photographic evidence of visiting American bishops, including our Presiding Bishop's predecessor, wearing their mitres while functioning in England.

There are now 28 Anglican women bishops, mostly in the US, but also in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Cuba. However, in the "Mother Country" of the Anglican Communion, there will be no women bishops until 2014 at the earliest, and already there is talk of some conservative male bishops "swimming the Tiber" (converting to Roman Catholicism) with as many of their flock as they can gather. The two Archbishops (Canterbury and York) in England have drafted a resolution (for the next meeting of Synod) which has drawn fire from both the proponents and opponents of women being admitted to the Episcopate.

This may sound like a "storm in a teacup", but articles about "Mitregate" have appeared in the London Times as well as in US church publications.

I think that Rowan Williams, to whom we refer in the convenient shorthand as "ABC", is the second least-admired Brit this week. BP CEO Tony Hayward is in first place, especially after going sailing in his fine yacht with his son, one day before we celebrated Father's Day here.