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.