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.

Do buildings matter, or don’t they?

We have begun a master-planning process to envision how we might adapt our space to the possibilities of mission and ministry in the twenty-first century (I know, we’re already 12 years into the century, but still). Such an effort might seem silly, even foolhardy given the times, the economic realities, and the decline of mainline Christianity. And then there is the question whether we should put time, effort, and money into buildings at all. As one Episcopal site recently explained “Why our buildings don’t matter.”

But let’s face reality. At the end of the day our buildings just don’t matter. The people outside our beautiful buildings are what matters. Because let’s face it—it’s all about relationships, not real estate.

Now, I’ll be the first person to say that our buildings don’t matter–“Where two or three are gathered” and all that. On the other hand, I recently saw a documentary on the architect who was responsible for what became the model downtown hotel–the Hyatt in Atlanta, with a multifloor open atrium and glass elevators. He said something like, in our society, public space is created by private people and policed privately. He was thinking about hotels and malls, of course. But it’s true.

Human beings have sought to delineate space for special uses from the earliest times. The great scholar of religion Mircea Eliade pointed out in The Sacred and the Profane, that one of the key aspects of human religious experience is the demarcation of the sacred from the profane. In traditional societies, even in pre-modern societies, sacred space was set off from ordinary space. He also argued that in the modern world, we’ve lost that sense of distinction between the sacred and profane. Our cities are planned on the grid system with each plot or block of equal importance. Madison differs from that norm in some respects, but the recent conflict over the right to demonstrate in the State Capitol suggests an ongoing battle between the notion of private and public space, space for civic engagement.

One of the remarkable things about church buildings like Grace is the way in which they continue to convey and communicate a sense of the sacred to people who have no sense of the holy. I’ve blogged about it before, but just this week, I saw it happening in the visit of a high school class from Lodi, WI, and in a funeral that was attended by hundreds. When people enter Grace, they encounter the sacred. That doesn’t happen in malls or schools or even in many churches that have been designed to look like movie theaters.

The question for us is how we can adapt our space to enable such encounters with the sacred, and to develop ways of helping people to move beyond an encounter with the sacred to encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’ve been interested to read about a recent report about the significance of Anglican cathedrals in English life and culture. The full report is here. Media reports are here and here. Remarkably, eleven million residents of England visited the cathedrals during the period surveyed. The report details how cathedrals have become sacred space for the nation, even for non-religious or non-Christians.

This report should give us Episcopalians pause as we reflect on the future of Anglicanism in the US but I’ve not seen much engagement with it on this side of the pond. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mary’s in Glasgow, Scotland, ponders the role of cathedrals in the rather different context of Scotland.