Walking Apart: The End of the Anglican Communion

So, it turns out it wasn’t the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada forced out of the Anglican Communion by the Global South Primates, but rather the Global Primates who have walked away. And they chose to do it on the same day that the Church of England General Synod voted to send the Covenant to dioceses for discussion.

For all the criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury, on this blog and elsewhere throughout the last weeks, criticism that continues even today, the effects of his statements and years of effort, however futile, seem to have preserved something of Anglicanism, in spite of it all. Oh, there are apparently those who are leaving, the GAFCON Primates who signed the statement yesterday that they will not attend the Primates Meeting in Ireland in January. But as others have observed, it’s never quite clear whether all the signatories of GAFCON statements have actually signed or even agree with the statement. They have also made clear that they are having nothing of the covenant. The full statement from that group is here.

Mark Harris’ comment on this development is spot on:

GAFCON is on its way to forming an alternate way to be Anglican in the world, one which the Covenant does not support and the existing unifying elements in the Anglican Communion are irrelevant.

His full commentary is here.

Here is what Tobias Haller has to say.

Oh, I have no doubt that this is not the end of efforts to keep things together. But the Covenant was the last best shot from Williams, et al, to hold things together, and with the GAFCON folks not playing along, I see no way forward. Unless something radical happens, the Primates Meeting will be a rump; the conservative Primates not attending, or forcing the ABC to disinvite our Presiding Bishop, which would also lead to others pulling out, I suspect.

Whatever they will say about the Archbishop of Canterbury down the line, they won’t be able to criticize him for not trying hard enough to keep the Anglican Communion together. In my view, the timing of the GAFCON statement was a direct attack on Rowan and on his vision for Anglicanism.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s address at General Synod

The ABC’s address to General Synod today is available.

He talks about the Anglican Covenant and decision facing Synod concerning the ordination of women bishops. Here is the heart of his defense of it:

The Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult. And it also recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some step are too costly. The question is how far we feel able to go in making our decisions in such a way as to keep the trust of our fellow-Anglicans in other contexts. If we decide that this is not the kind of relationship we want with other Anglicans, well and good. But it has consequences. Whatever happens, with or without the Covenant, the Communion will not simply stay the same. Historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted. They will survive and develop only if we can build up durable and adult bonds of fellowship. And in this respect, the Church of England is bound to engage in this process as one member of the Communion among others. The fact is that the mutual loyalty of the Communion needs work, and the Covenant proposals are the only sign at the moment of the kind of work that has to be done.

The ABC is rarely clear in his writing but the key sentences seems to be these: “The question is how far we feel able to go in making our decisions in such a way as to keep the trust of our fellow-Anglicans in other contexts. If we decide that this is not the kind of relationship we want with other Anglicans, well and good. But it has consequences.” One might turn the question back on him, because clearly the decision to ordain women bishops has led to the breaking of trust with some groups within the Church of England. He would undoubtedly say that he wants to keep the trust of those fellow-Anglicans, but they had no desire to do the same. So then what?

More interesting still is his decision to build his essay around John Wesley. A good Anglican, certainly, but when it became necessary, he took actions that led to the creation of the Methodist Church in the USA. That wasn’t an action taken lightly, but it certainly broke the trust with the Church of England and with Episcopalians in the US. And those actions had enormous consequences for both denominations, impoverishing each in some ways, but at the same time creating structures that would contribute to the enormous growth of Methodism in the US.

One might conclude that Rowan wants us to follow Wesley’s lead and go our separate way.


More developments in Anglicanism

Some interesting developments. An excellent essay by Jim Naughton on Episcopal Cafe; one of the more important observations:

One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to notice that the covenant contains no standards of evidence, and provides for nothing resembling due process, The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion can investigate complaints in whatever manner it sees fit. Perhaps this is unsurprising. If the only fact at issue is whether a party has given offense, the only evidence necessary is the offended party’s assertion that they are, indeed offended.

A news release from No Anglican Covenant.


Keeping track of all the words written in the last few weeks would be a full-time job. The Church of England General Synod will be debating the covenant tomorrow. It promises to be interesting.


Covenantal Developments

Canon Alison Burnett-Cowan, Directory of Unity, Faith, and Order of the Anglican Communion Office defends the Covenant, arguing that we should read it before criticizing it.

Responses: from the Mad Priest:

From the Episcopal Cafe: “It seems to this writer that people have read it very carefully and are not so willing to gloss over the words as easily as the ACO.”

And from Tobias Haller:

What sense, after all, does it make to turn an ad hoc impairment in communion into something that looks very much like an institutional severance in communion? Since participation in the Instruments is at least in part definitive for membership and participation in the Anglican Commuion, and as the Covenant declares as well, the means by which the members “are enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ” (3.1.2), anything remotely resembling permanent suspension by or from those Instruments as a “relational consequence” seems to indicate a serious and debilitating breach in the Anglican Communion and the body of Christ. And the Covenant provides a mechanism to promote it, and little in the way of helping to prevent it. It is the schema for an autoimmune disease in the Body of Christ.

This is a Bad Idea. Please, England, put it down.

And from the No Anglican Covenant blog: A point by point response to some of the more tendentious assertions


Covenantal Commentary

More blogging and op-ed pieces about the Covenant, especially from England. General Synod will be convening soon and this will be high on the agenda.

Paul Bagshaw: “What is the Covenant for?”

Bishop Alan Wilson: “Will the Covenant kill or cure?”

Some statistics on the covenant and other Anglican matters from the Simply Massing Priest

From the Modern Church:

This reveals their main dilemma: how to produce a text which on the one hand is forceful enough impose its demands on the provinces, but on the other will persuade them to sign it. Their solution is to present the Covenant as an entirely voluntary agreement which does not affect a province’s governance or autonomy. Provinces signing it would, as before, act as they wished – so long as no other province objected. Once the Standing Committee upheld an objection, it would impose ‘relational consequences’, which would generally mean treating them like non-signatories.

And more (written for the Church of England)

How would it affect my church?

Will the Primates meet?

Quite the hubbub over this question. The primates of the Anglican Communion are scheduled to meet in Dublin in January 2011. A report by George Conger puts this meeting in question, and indeed raises issues about the Primates Meeting itself. It is important because it is one of the “four instruments of communion” so often discussed in the last 10-15 years. The meetings have at times been acrimonious, and recent ones have featured, if not outright boycotts, then pointed refusals on the part of some, to participate in joint Eucharists.

According to Conger, who tends to be a reliable source, the Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed smaller meetings of “like-minded” archbishops before the Dublin meeting itself. This report received confirmation from a number of sources. Conger goes on to say that Williams is proposing a restructuring of the meeting itself:

suggesting that an elected standing committee be created and the powers and responsibility of the meeting of the communion’s 38 archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators be delineated.

The problem here is two-fold. How can the primates be an “instrument of communion” if they cannot gather together? The second problem is an ongoing one as the ABC attempts to tinker with Anglican structures and create a more cohesive body. An elected standing committee would seem to further narrow and centralize powers within this group and decrease democratic representation. One can see similar attempts at work in the proposed restructuring of the Anglican Consultative Council–which would increase representation from the Primates, at the expense, as always of the laity.

The structures of the Anglican Communion, the “instruments of communion” are unwieldy. The alternative is to create a centralized bureaucracy that holds all power and makes the decisions. That sounds a great deal like the Vatican to me.

According to late reports, the Anglican Communion Office vehemently denies that the Primates Meeting has been canceled or postponed.

As always, you can follow the discussion on Thinking Anglicans and the Episcopal Cafe.

Goings-on in Anglican-land

The last few days have seen several developments related to matters Anglican and Episcopal. On this side of the pond, the Diocese of South Carolina has acted to remain in the Episcopal Church, but not of it (or vice versa, precisely what they are trying to do remains unclear). On the other side of the pond, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, Kenneth Kearon, has disinvited representatives from the Southern Cone from attending certain meetings because of that church’s boundary-crossing and intervention in North America (no word on Rwanda or Nigeria). And an Anglo-Catholic Bishop has announced his intent to join the Ordinariate being set up by the Roman Catholic Church for disaffected clergy in the Church of England (in other words, he’s swimming the Tiber). In addition, the Diocese of Sidney is going ahead with its long-announced plans to introduce Eucharistic celebration by deacons.

There is plenty of comment on all of these developments and usual, you can follow the hullabaloo at Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans. For the latter’s coverage of the Ordinariate, click here. For its article on the letter from Kearon, go here.

With the regard to the actions of the Diocese of South Carolina, Bishop Mark Lawrence’s vitriolic letter against the Presiding Bishop is available on-line. So too is a response from Bishop James Mathes of the Diocese of San Diego. A number of commentators, including Bishop Mathes, draw a parallel between this development and the events leading up to the Civil War. I have no idea what precisely is taking place. I know little about that diocese except through encounters with students I had while teaching at Furman. I know they were warned by their clergy about those liberal Episcopalians in the upstate–a warning that amused me to no end.

It is clear to me that realignment of some sort, or perhaps several sorts is underway in the US church, but across the world as well. One thing that has struck me while reading those who fulminate against the Diocese of South Carolina’s actions, is their commitment to the diocese as the basic unit of the church. Granted it has been that for over a thousand years, but it is not necessarily a biblical notion, nor one practiced in the earliest church. In fact, the diocese as such is borrowed from the imperial restructuring that the Emperor Diocletian undertook in the late third and early fourth centuries.

Readers of this blog know I am interested in how Christianity is being affected by contemporary cultural changes, and how those changes will lead to restructuring.  It seems to me that all of these developments are contributing to that restructuring in the Anglican world, and that what will emerge down the line is something very different than the Anglican Communion we have had for the last few decades

The Presiding Bishop’s visit to the Diocese of Milwaukee

This weekend was Annual Convention for the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefforts Schori and her husband Richard Schori were in attendance. Yesterday morning, the PB spent two hours with diocesan clergy while her husband met with clergy spouses. She began her session with us by asking us to meditate on the words Jesus heard as he came out of the Jordan River after being baptized, “You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.” After meditation and conversation in small groups about what we heard during our time of meditation, and how we responded to those words, we had the opportunity to ask questions of her.

During that time, and later in the afternoon during an open conversation with clergy, lay delegates, and other interested people, the Presiding Bishop spoke about what she saw as she traveled around the church in the US and the world. One of the things she stressed repeatedly is that the Episcopal Church is a world-wide church. It is not just an American, or even North American denomination.

She was honest about all of the ways Episcopalians do mission, both here and abroad, and she had a lot of positive things to say about the impact of the emergent church on our denomination. But she was also honest about the challenges facing us. One of the greatest may be demographic. According to her, while the average age for Americans is 37, the average age for Episcopalians is 57. Another theme that came back both in her remarks and in questions from the floor was the challenge we face with our aging physical infrastructure. To one question, she answered bluntly that some buildings need to be abandoned, given over to other purposes, while others can be revitalized and can continue to be the focal point of ministry. She also stressed that we have to get out of our buildings to do ministry in new places and in new ways. “Those churches that thrive,” she said, “are more than a worship space; meaningful to the larger community; while some of them are albatrosses.”

There were questions concerning the Anglican Covenant, to which she pointed out that “covenant” can mean very different things in different cultural contexts. For the Maori of New Zealand, who were victimized by a treaty that the settlers labeled a “covenant,” the term is deeply painful.

It was a good visit, an opportunity to hear from someone who has a much wider perspective on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion than we can have in the local parish. It was also a powerful reminder of the challenges that we face as well as the world of possibilities that lies before us.