Is the Anglican Communion Dead?

Andrew Brown thinks so.

He’s writing about the recent GAFCON conference and how it is playing back home in England:

What’s new is that no one any longer cares. The split has happened, and it turns out not to matter at all.

This is in part because the movement of public opinion on sexuality has completely overwhelmed that of church politicians. Congregations by and large have moved on, too. They are part of the public, too. But until very recently the conservative evangelicals in the Church of England lived in a bubble of self-importance, whose boundaries were respected by Rowan Williams. And from within the bubble, the outside world could not be clearly seen. Only, the fight about gay marriage made it apparent to the main body of the church – and to Justin Welby – that their attitudes were repulsive and immoral to the majority of people in this country.

Thinking Anglicans’ coverage is here.

Skimming some of the documents linked at Thinking Anglicans is like entering an alternative universe. In fact, it is entering an alternative universe. For Africans, the cultural context is utterly different than in the West, and the Gospel is adapted rather differently to that context. But in the West, the language of GAFCON sounds surreal, inscribing a language and experience that seems utterly divorced from the reality that we encounter on the streets of our cities and in the hearts and minds of many people. Of course, those different cultures do not exist in isolation. We bring them with us when we enter new places and globalization means that cultural clash is not only between discrete peoples, religions, or continents, it is also internal to our societies, and internal to ourselves.

I’m struck again by the similarities between the polarization within Anglicanism and the polarization within American politics and society. Just as compromise seems impossible in Washington or even Madison, so too is unity in global Anglicanism. We have come to inhabit different worlds and because of that it seems that the Gospel we proclaim is utterly different, and the Jesus Christ whom we experience almost unrecognizable to others.

I think that’s what Brown is getting at and why I think he’s right.

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.

Robert Farrar Capon, 1925-2013

One of the great theologians of the Episcopal Church has died. Robert Farrar Capon was the author of one of my favorite books, The Supper of the Lamb, in addition to many others. His vision of grace and of the heavenly banquet continues to inspire and influence me, more than thirty years after I first read it.
“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.” ― Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace

“The bread and the pastry, the cheeses and wine, and the sugar go into the Supper of the lamb because we do. It is our love that brings the city home. It is I grant you, an incautious and extravagant hope. But only outlandish hopes can make themselves at home.” ― Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

“My life is a witness to vulgar grace–a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up a ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying theif’s request–”Please, remember me”–and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mind.  This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.” (Source: http://rockedbygrace.blogspot.com/2012/07/robert-farrar-capon-vulgar-grace.html

An interview with him from Mockingbird (Sept. 2, 2011)

Archbishop of Canterbury is Enthroned

There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country. Optimism does not come from us, but because to us and to all people Jesus comes and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed.

The entire sermon is available is here.