Rethinking and Restructuring the Anglican Communion

Various dioceses (Eastern Oregon, California, and the executive council of the Episcopal Church have weighed in, urging rejection of the Anglican Covenant at General Convention next summer.

In New Zealand, the Maori have rejected it as well. Because of the complicated structure of the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Polynesia, that decision means that the province as a whole rejects it as well.

In the Church of England, dioceses are also rejecting it (St. Edmondsbury and Ipswich, Birmingham).

In fact, there is considerable discussion about the Covenant both here and abroad.

Michael Poon, in Rebooting the Anglican Communication, asks three important questions:

1. To Church leaders in sub-Saharan Africa: Do strong protests against Western decadence in fact reveal a deep anxiety about ecclesial identity?


2. Is GAFCON the only valid expression of Anglican evangelicalism?


3. Are North American Christians in fact using the churches worldwide as theaters for their domestic religious wars?

For Poon, the heart of the problem is communication: “Sound bites mask private ambitions and secular undercurrents that in fact shape our disputes.” His analysis of the situation among Anglicans suggests that we mirror the political discourse in secular culture. Of course, he is correct that “communion” points to a deeper relationship, a deeper reality, and whatever Anglican Communion ought to be, it ought to embrace and incarnate the mystery of God’s love.

Tobias Haller spoke at a meeting of the Diocese of Albany on Anglican Disunion: The Issues behind “the Issue.” He outlines there what he calls the “Anglican Triad:” humility, provinciality, and variety, distinguishing these three characteristics from the “Instruments of Communion” stressed in the Anglican Covenant and elsewhere as providing the unity of the Communion.

Savi Hensman points to an earlier attempt to define what unites us as Anglican. The 2005 Anglican Consultative Council said this:

Nourished by Scripture and Sacrament, we pledge ourselves to:

1. Recognise Jesus in each other’s contexts and lives
2. Support one another in our participation in God’s mission
3. Encourage expressions of our new life in Christ
4. Meet to share common purpose and explore differences and disagreements.
5. Be willing to change in response to critique and challenge from others
6. Celebrate our strengths and mourn over our failures.
7. Share equitably our God-given resources.
8. Work together for the sustainability of God’s creation.
9. Live into the promise of God’s reconciliation for ourselves and for the world.

We make this covenant in the promise of our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ.

All of this discussion has to do with our relationships with Anglicans world-wide. Meanwhile, here at home, there are lively and creative conversations taking place around restructuring the church. Most of the latter have to do with de-emphasizing the centralizing structures in order to focus on ministry and mission at the local level, and create ways of communicating and relating horizontally. The impetus for this discussion is partly financial, partly in response to changing demographics, and partly a function of a rapidly changing culture.

It seems to me that what is taking place locally and horizontally is also, in some ways, occurring globally. The Anglican Covenant was an attempt to respond to one set of elements in our rapidly changing world–globalization and the communications revolution–but did so without reference to some of the other elements in the changing context even though those elements were also driving much of the conflict (non-official relationships among like-minded people throughout the world, for example).

I would be curious to see how all of those folk currently ruminating on re-structuring in the Episcopal Church would imagine re-structuring of the Anglican Communion.

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