Can we finally bury the Anglican Communion?

I’ve not paid attention to matters related to the world-wide Anglican Communion for some years. After the relative disaster of the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and  the apparent collapse of efforts to create a more binding relationship among the provinces by means of the Anglican Covenants, I suspected the Anglican Communion would continue to exist more as an idea than as reality. When Archbishop of Canterbury Welby announced he wasn’t going to convene a Lambeth Conference in 2018, the reality seemed quite dead.

Not so fast. When he made that announcement the ABC also said he was going to convene a Primates’ Meeting–for those unfamiliar with odd and obscure Anglican vocabulary, “Primates” are Archbishops and other heads of provinces; provinces being national, or multi-national branches of the church.

That group is meeting this week in Canterbury, England. There was much speculation in the run-up to its gathering about what might emerge. Tensions over matters related to full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians continue to cause friction. Would Archbishops from the Global South show up? Would they force action against the Episcopal Church over our decision to permit same-sex marriage?

The Primates have spoken. They have asked the Episcopal Church to temporarily withdraw (for three years) from Anglican and ecumenical bodies:

It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is representing the Episcopal Church at this meeting. Episcopal News Service offers these words from him in response to the Archbishops’ Communique:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.

“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”

Pain indeed. Whenever relationships are broken, whenever there is division in the church, there is pain. Archbishop Welby himself reportedly said in an address to the Primates:

We so easily take our divisions as normal, but they are in fact an obscenity, a denial of Christ’s call and equipping of the church. If we exist to point people to Christ, as was done for me, our pointing is deeply damaged by division. Every Lambeth Conference of the 20th century spoke of the wounds in the body of Christ. Yet some say, it does not matter, God sees the truth of spiritual unity and the church globally still grows. Well, it does for the moment, but the world does not see the spiritual church but a divided and wounded body. Jesus said to his disciples, “as the Father sent me so send I you”. That sending is in perfect unity, which is why even at Corinth and at the Council of Jerusalem, we find that truth must be found together rather than show a divided Christ to the world.

Powerful words, but they ring rather hollowly this evening.

The Anglican Communion may not seem like a big deal to many Episcopalians. It may not even seem real. And it may be that the Archbishops’ decision will have little impact. After all, the Episcopal Church is not going to revisit its decision concerning same-sex marriage. Other provinces already recognize and perform same-sex marriages and its likely that others will join that group. I’ve long expected that ultimately the communion would divide internally along such lines, even as the church in the US has with a parallel entity the Anglican Church of North America existing alongside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the powerful forces at work in our society that are changing how people relate to institutional churches. As denominations decline and denominational loyalty disappears, what might any of this matter in thirty or fifty years?

Still, there’s an important role for international relationships with Christians in other countries. Through such relationships we are reminded of the universal nature of the church and through such relationships we can cooperate with Christians in other countries in all sorts of ways. Grace’s membership includes people from England, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Barbados, and Jamaica. Just this past Sunday an African family recently relocated to Madison from another city in Wisconsin visited Grace. How will our congregation be affected by the Primates’ decision today?

IfIs the Anglican Communion whimpering to its end?

News reports today suggest that the Lambeth Conference, the meeting of Anglican Bishops from across the world that is scheduled to take place in 2018, has been postponed indefinitely. Although there’s no official word from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori of the Episcopal Church reported at the recent House of Bishops meeting in Taiwan that Archbishop Welby had informed her of the postponement.

The Lambeth Conference meets every ten years and has previously been postponed twice because of World Wars I and II. This time, the postponement is not due to world war but to conflict within the Communion itself. In fact, more than 200 of the 700-plus bishops boycotted the 2008 gathering.

Lambeth is understood to be one of the four “Instruments of Communion” that bind the Anglican Communion together (in addition to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meetings, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Jefforts Schori was quoted to say that Archbishop Welby told her that the next Lambeth Conference would not to be preceded by a Primates’ Meeting at which “the vast majority of are present.” Whether such a meeting is possible in the current climate remains to be seen.

If true, this seems to me a very big deal indeed. I’m rather surprised PB Jefforts Schori’s comments were not picked up and explored earlier. The Anglican Communion is knit together by means of very weak threads and the postponement of Lambeth can only mean further disintegration. In the meantime, other bodies are being created that bring together like-minded groups intent on creating their own version of Anglicanism.

What’s Up in the Anglican Communion?

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about world-wide Anglicanism and I’m only prompted to do this because several people asked me to lead an Adult Forum on relations between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. So as I prepare for Sunday, I’m writing some of my thoughts down in this blogpost.

Jesse Zink, whose book Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity will be published in January, 2014, points out the limited perspective of much of the press surrounding the discourse of crisis. He observes that this discourse is driven largely by male English-speaking Bishops who are able to travel from their dioceses to conferences and meetings around the world. Zink himself has spent considerable time in South Sudan and his new book tells stories of deep relationships and close cooperation among Anglicans in specific local contexts.

Just such relationships are being developed between the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Newala in Tanzania. You can read about the recent trip Bishop Miller took with Rev. Paula Harris and Rev. Miranda Hassett via Rev. Miranda’s notes here.

In recent weeks, the Church of Wales, the Church of Ireland, and the Church of South India have all moved towards the consecration of women bishops. This is an issue on which there is disagreement in the worldwide Anglican communion and the Church of England continues to struggle to find a way forward.

However, there are more pressing problems for the Church of England in the decisions of the Church of Wales and Ireland. Priests ordained in those places do not need the formal permission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to exercise their ministry in England. Kelvin Holdsworth points out that there is no current bishop in the Episcopal Church of Scotland who hasn’t been involved in some way with the consecration of women bishops. Thus, “the theology of taint” which reactionaries worry about has completely infected the Scottish Church, and he wonders whether it is still in “full communion” with the Church of England.

Finally, the conservatives are gathering in Kenya at the end of the month. This conference, called GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) brings together some of the most powerful primates and archbishops from the conservative wing of Anglicanism as well as conservatives from North America and elsewhere across the communion. Many of these same primates have distanced themselves from the “official” instruments of Communion. Some boycotted the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and it was at an earlier conference that an alternative Church in North America (The Anglican Church of North America) had its institutional origins.

Earlier this month, there was talk that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby might attend the conference. He is traveling to Kenya to underscore his solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attack. In fact, he will videotape a greeting to the conference. You can read all about it here.

If one reflects on the history of the Anglican Communion, something interesting begins to emerge. It began with a series of ad hoc moves–the Episcopal Church in the US which came into existence because of the Revolutionary War, the Lambeth Conference, et al. There was an effort at building tighter structures in the second half of the twentieth century as part of the larger wave of institution-building. But the Anglican Communion remained rather amorphous, lacking clear lines of authority.

When conflict came in the 1990s, there were efforts to establish the Communion on firmer ground, to centralize it and to vest its central institutions with clear authority. At the same time, conflict caused fissures within and across churches. With the rise of the internet, increased travel, and communication, new relationships could easily be created that circumvented traditional institutions and the “instruments of communion.” There was even an effort to create a parallel body–GAFCON–that might seize from the old Anglican Communion the authority and prestige of being the “true” Anglicans.

Then came social media and other cultural developments.  GAFCON may indeed one day become a parallel body and jurisdiction to the Anglican Communion. But my guess is that informal, lateral relationships will become more important, more powerful, and more life-giving than either hierarchical entity. Relationships like the developing one between the Diocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Newala and many others across the world will bulid trust, community, and a shared sense of being the Body of Christ that might be able to bridge deep cultural and theological differences. Such relationships and the communion that emerges from them will be more organic and dynamic than the structures that bound the Anglican Communion together in the twentieth century.

An Anglican Pope?

Well, not quite.

The Telegraph has an interview with Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he says something like this:

The outgoing leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans suggested a form of job share after admitting that he had failed to do enough to prevent a split over homosexuality.

Dr Williams said a new role should be created to oversee the day to day running of the global Anglican communion, leaving future Archbishops of Canterbury free to focus on spiritual leadership and leading the Church of England.

Denials came quickly, beginning with Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office.

I doubt very much that such an office is under consideration or would ever be instituted. After all, the relatively minor effort to strengthen the power at the top evidenced by the Anglican Covenant demonstrates how little interest there is in such power grabs. Still, the very fact that such an office could be proposed reflects something of the overall tendency toward centralization and increasing hierarchy that seems to dominate thinking about the Anglican Communion in many quarters.

Thinking Anglicans links to the Telegraph’s articles and the audio interview.


This week’s Anglican Covenant Round-up: It’s looking grim for the home team

There was more voting in Church of England dioceses. The tally now stands at 20 against, 12 in favor. Twelve more dioceses need to vote. A total of 23 yes votes is required for the Covenant to come before General Synod.

The Bishop of Liverpool gave an address at his diocesan synod outlining his concerns with the covenant. He concludes:

The Church of England and the Anglican Communion have over the centuries developed a generous embrace allowing seekers to taste and see the goodness of God. Within our borders, within the borders of what Cranmer described as that “blessed company of faithful people”, there is a generous orthodoxy. There is space for the seeker to breathe, to enquire, to ask questions, to doubt and to grope towards faith and to find God. That I believe is a space within the Body of Christ worth preserving. The
Covenant will change the character of the Communion and, I fear, the Church of England.

Five of the seven dioceses in the Scottish Episcopal Church have rejected the covenant, meaning that it won’t be participating in any structures created if the Covenant succeeds, although the provincial synod could still move towards approval.

More covenant commentary here.

More hijinx in Anglicanland

The General Synod of the Church of England will be meeting next month. It offers to be fun for those of us interested in matters Anglican. The big issue will be the ordination of women bishops. In the run-up to the meeting, various reports and position papers will be produced. Just released is a document published with the signatures of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York discussing the relationship of the CoE and the Anglican Church of North America. This was produced in response to a motion that originally was intended to express the CoE’s ongoing commitment to relationship with ACNA. Here’s the document: gs misc 1011 – acna

It’s short, rather odd and a classic example of episcopal (i.e, of bishops, not of our church) fence-sitting:

18. We would, therefore, encourage an open-ended engagement with ACNA on the part of the Church of England and the Communion, while recognising that
the outcome is unlikely to be clear for some time yet, especially given the strong feelings on all sides of the debate in North America.

19. The Church of England remains fully committed to the Anglican Communion and to being in communion both with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church (TEC). In addition, the Synod motion has given Church of England affirmation to the desire of ACNA to remain in some sense within the Anglican family.

Just what is the ACNA? And in what way is it Anglican in structure and polity? Mark Harris goes through some of the jurisdictional quagmire that exists among the dissenting Anglican communities in North America here.

Of course the core problem is that ACNA, CANA, AMiA, ex Recife, all believe these interventions by Provinces in the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are “jurisdictional participation in a way that is fully Anglican.”
Where the hell did they get that idea?  One hopes not from Lambeth Palace, but if not there where?  Who knows?
But one thing is for sure. Who ever thought that propping up deposed bishops under new flags in jurisdictions already having Episcopal / Anglican oversight was “fully Anglican” was full of it.
If ACNA bishops are not in “jurisdictional participation in a way that is fully Anglican” well, the deck of cards begins to collapse. And they are not. Archbishop Duncan admits as much when he writes, “The present reality is brokenness. The vision, however, that governs our fledgling Province remains unchanged…”
ACNA is not yet a “province” of anything, no matter that the Episcopal Church in the Sudan recognizes it as and “orthodox” partner and the GAFCON / Global South folk considers ACNA a full fledged partner.  This is because not being a recognized province these bishops and people understand that to be “fully Anglican” they need to be under the jurisdiction of an existing Province.

AMiA bishops who have left Rwanda are clearly not under jurisdiction now. ACNA bishops in Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin and Pittsburgh are not with the Southern Cone. If not there where are they?

Confused? Don’t worry. You should be. It’s all quite confusing. The structures and jurisdictional relationships of these various dissenting Anglican bodies have never been clarified, and in the last few months, things have gotten even more jumbled. That the Archbishops could have written a document concerning the relationship of the CoE to ACNA without addressing ACNA’s origins, history, and current status is mind-boggling.

Update on the Anglican Covenant

Well. Things seem to be getting interesting (if only behind the scenes in the Episcopal Church) ENS reports that Executive Council received a report from its Anglican Covenant Task Force. Among other things, it was said that they would not publicizea paper from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons detailing the necessary changes to the Constitution and Canons in order to comply with the Covenant. This has raised more than a few eyebrows. The Episcopal Lead’s take is here. The ENS report is here.

Unlike our leadership, our friends to the north have released both their full document and an executive summary.

The Episcopal Church of Scotland has also begun its discussion of the Covenant. Thinking Anglicans reports. In his introduction to the conversation, the Primus of that Church, said:

What matters is whether we in this church – the heirs to those who consecrated Seabury – feel that the Anglican Covenant is a reasonable and proper step to safeguard and enrich the life of an ever more diverse Communion – or whether we feel that it makes less likely the very quality of Communion life which we seek.

Mark Harris has this to say.

Lionel Deimel comments on the developments in Canada and in our own Executive Council here. He also muses here and comments extensively on sections 1 and 2 here and here. No Anglican Covenant keeps track of developments and resources.

Like others, I find it worrisome that the report about the necessary constitutional and canonical changes has not been released. That suggests to me that adoption of the Anglican Covenant would require significant restructuring of the Episcopal Church. To make such changes is not simply a matter of organization, it gets to the heart of what we understand our Church to be, how we attempt to incarnate the Body of Christ as the Episcopal Church. It goes to the heart of our theology, faith and life together.

The nature of religious authority

There has been considerable discussion about the nature of authority in the Anglican Communion, precipitated by the recent Primates’ Meeting. These discussions often focus on the locus of authority (is it the bishop, the national church, the local congregation); less often do they focus on the origin of that authority. The lack of conversation about the source of authority is largely due to the notion of apostolic succession, although the challenge to that idea comes from those who view scripture or adherence to some doctrinal formulation to be more important than a genealogy that can trace authority to the apostles.

It’s interesting occasionally to compare the sources and loci of authority in one’s own religious tradition to those in others. There is currently something of a debate taking place within American Zen Buddhism that can shed light on our controversies. The source of the current conflict is described here. Here’s a call from one Zen practitioner for a “Protestant Reformation.” But the problem in Zen predates the current controversy. There’s a fascinating book that describes similar developments in the San Francisco Zen Center, entitled Shoes outside the Door.

Given the apparent centralizing and bureaucratizing tendencies in the Anglican Communion, it’s important for us as Episcopalians and Anglicans to do all that we can to resist such efforts. An interview with Bishop Mark Sisk of New York details some of the issues, and the cultural/political differences between the American church and other branches of the Anglican Communion.

The dust settles on the Primates Meeting

It didn’t take long, for there wasn’t much dust. It seems little happened, or in ABC-speak, “conversations took place, relationships were deepened, yada yada yada.” George Conger, Paul Bagshaw, and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church comment.

There seem to have been some important developments, not least the recognition (finally, what took so long) that the role of the primates differs widely from local church to local church, that their power and office are often structured quite differently, all of which make unified action impossible.

Bagshaw makes two comments which seem on target, and which reflect on ongoing development in the Anglican Communion. One is that “it is an ever more clerical communion.” It’s not clear to me why, and given the enormous cultural shifts throughout the world, a narrowing of the power and role of the laity seems both wrongheaded and against the tide of history. The second comment is that, given the changes in roles for the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting, and the sidelining of the Anglican Consultative Council (all of which I think are taking place and have been taking place for the last decade), power is centralizing in the Archbishop of Canterbury and in the Anglican Communion Office–as Bagshaw terms it, an international bureaucracy. This, too, seems odd to me, and somehow roughly parallel to developments in the European Union, where power has centralized in the bureaucracy, not in any deliberative bodies.

But more important than any of this may be the absence of a significant number of Primates, for whatever reason. For many of them, what the Archbishop of Canterbury does, the meetings he calls, are meaningless. Conger and Bagshaw agree that “the Anglican Communion as we knew it no longer exists,” what isn’t clear is what precisely is coming into existence. And so long as there is no lay voice at the highest levels of international meetings, I don’t think the Episcopal Church should spend time, energy, or money, trying to remain a part of it.

Tactics and Strategy in the Anglican Wars

It turns out that the so-called Oxford Statement was written over a month ago, but released on November 24. In it, a number of Primates declared their intentions not to attend the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin in January. The timing of the document’s publication is odd, however. It appeared on the day of the vote in General Synod to send the Anglican Covenant to the dioceses. According to Thinking Anglicans, it came out during the debate in General Synod, but too late to affect the voting.

One wonders whether GAFCON meant to upstage the Church of England’s meeting; whether they were asserting their independence, and the irrelevance to them of the Church of England’s position; whether they meant to release it earlier in order somehow to affect the voting (what we in the US call an “October surprise”).

Whatever the case, it seems to me that their actions have undermined all those, beginning with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who are trying to hold the Anglican Communion together; indeed all those who think the Anglican Communion is worth preserving, in whatever form.