The spectre of a disintegrating Anglican Communion
An Address Given at Theology House, Christchurch, New Zealand,
30 October 2007
First, some terms and abbreviations we may need to have in mind.
Global South = the Anglican Provinces of Africa and Asia, excluding Australia & NZ
The North = Anglican Churches of the British Isles and North America.
TEC = The Episcopal Church (USA)
TWR = The Windsor Report (the initial attempt to explain & respond to the crisis)
ACC = the Anglican Consultative Council
JSC = the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC
IDC = the Inter Diocesan Conference (Tikanga Pakeha, NZ)
Second, a time-line to keep before you as we trace the complexity of this past decade.
Third, the need to ask the basic questions that this lecture is built upon:
Is there really a threat of the Anglican Communion disintegrating?
What evidence is there for this?
How aware is the average ‘Anglican in the pew’ of a crisis in our world-wide Anglican Church that has been steadily escalating over the past decade?
The crucible for any crisis is The Episcopal Church in the USA. There the elements of schism are most heated. Last month 51 bishops met in Pittsburgh, representing American Anglicans who describe themselves as a ‘Common Cause’, discontented with the course TEC is taking in several different areas. They did not just meet to grumble - they met to plan for the creation over the next 15 months of an alternative Anglican structure in the USA. Several of those present were current diocesan bishops. Between them they represent over 600 Anglican congregations in the USA. Similar, though less widespread, unease exists in Canada.
The Church Times (Sept.) reports that by this January the Primates of Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria will have consecrated a total of 13 bishops specifically to minister to disaffected Anglican congregations in North America that have sought out episcopal oversight from other parts of the Anglican Communion because of their discontent. 250 US-based congregations are now directly affiliated with Global South Provinces, while the Southern Cone (basically, the Anglican Province in South America) has a further 45 parishes affiliated to one or other of its dioceses.
These protesting Anglicans are not by any means rabid, reactionary or rebellious malcontents. Among them, for example, is the Parish of Christ Church, Georgia, founded in 1733 with the establishment of the British colony of Georgia. This is Georgia’s oldest continuous Christian congregation, predating the establishment of The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Diocese of Georgia. Of even greater significance, at least three whole dioceses have indicated the distinct likelihood of their withdrawal from The Episcopal Church and their consideration of allying themselves with an overseas Province.
All this has repercussions elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. Just in the last few weeks the Nigerian House of Bishops has asked the ABC to postpone the Lambeth Conference next July-August because of the acrimonious spirit that has been generated by the current crisis. Earlier this month the Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) made a similar request to the ABC.
So crisis there is. ‘There’s trouble down at the mill’!
This lecture will attempt to explain the causes that have given rise to this crisis, the steps that are being taken to avert schism, the documents and decisions that are crucial to the developing troubles, and how different parts of the Anglican Communion view the situation.
What has brought this about?
Over a period of a decade or more there has been the convergence of a number of factors that have led to this crisis in unity.
1. The precipitating issue – the deep and seemingly irresolvable differences within the Anglican Church over what as a Church are to be considered acceptable standards of human sexuality. By many these are deemed to be matters of principle that Anglicans around the world need to agree upon. Others see these questions as adiaphora – matters of indifference that can be decided locally and over which disagreement can be allowed.
2. The emergence of the Global South as a confident and numerically growing body of Anglicans who are no longer content to be subservient to the Church in the declining traditional Anglican homelands of Europe and North America, or silent in the face of what they discern as the increasing infiltration of the American Church by the values and morals of Western secular culture. Numerically, both in Church membership and number of Bishops, the Global South greatly outvotes the ‘North’.
3. Confusion over what today identifies a church as ‘Anglican’. There is a call from all sides of the debate for a fresh understanding as to what is the essence of ‘being Anglican’. Is it an undifferentiated ‘inclusiveness’ that readily embraces contemporary culture, and accepts all and everything without distinction? Or is it adherence to a particular tradition of faith and worship, both catholic and reformed, that we have received from the past, a tradition in which Scripture critiques culture rather than in which culture interprets Scripture? Or is it something in between? The authority and understanding of the Bible is a core issue.
4. The need to determine how the Church manages diversity in a post-modern world – not simply in moral matters, but also its social, ethnic and cultural diversity. In the world as we know it today ancient boundaries mean much less (such as preserving a uniformity of people’s language, faith or culture through expression in nation states). It is a much more multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic world. In such a world centuries-old church structures also may no longer be relevant (such as insistence on the territorial organisation of the church in parish, diocesan and provincial units, a concept directly taken over from the Roman Empire.) In a letter to the Anglican Primates the ABC describes the dilemma in these words:
What our Communion lacks is a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety. The tacit conventions between us need spelling out – not for the sake of some central mechanism of control but so we have ways of being sure we are still talking the same language, aware of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ.
5. A resurgence of conservative Christianity across Christian denominations within the West and as the dominant feature of expanding Christianity in Africa, Asia and South America. In part this has been a response to the perceived inadequacies of theological liberalism in the Western Church.
Bring all these factors together and then put to them the lighted match-stick of human sexuality and you have the makings of a conflagration. A crisis of unity. A spectre of disintegration.
Lambeth ’98 provided the stake in the ground.
Dissension and rumblings over widening differences of principle and practice within the Anglican Communion concerning human sexuality had been gathering momentum well before the Lambeth Conference of 1998 took place. The focus of this concern were the steps taken by North American Anglicans, in both the USA and Canada, increasingly to accept and approve
(1) the ordination of men or women in an open homosexual relationship, and
(2) the blessing in a rite of the Church of those entering into a same-sex marriage or union.
In our own Church in this country, prior to Lambeth ‘98, a Sexuality Commission had been established by Tikanga Pakeha to deliberate on this whole area. The Report of this NZ Commission seemed to be heading in the same direction North American Anglicans had taken. But, probably unaware of the limitations they were placing upon themselves, the NZ Sexuality Commission included an optimistic recommendation to the Inter Diocesan Council that received this Report. This read:
That the IDC continue to monitor the debate on sexuality following the Lambeth Conference … to ensure ongoing dialogue in the light of the Lambeth Conference response.
In other words: ‘We want to keep in step with the wider Anglican Communion.’ This recommendation was endorsed first by the IDC and then later by General Synod. So there was another stake in the ground. As a Church in this part of the world, we would move with the wider Anglican Communion as its mind was expressed through the Lambeth Conference. Bizarre as it now appears, it seems that the members of the NZ Sexuality Commission were as mistakenly confident of Lambeth approving a more relaxed attitude to questions of human sexuality as the RFU were of the All Blacks winning the World Cup!
As it turned out, the Bishops at Lambeth caught the Anglican world by surprise. Many in the older Anglican Churches had not done their homework well enough – or kept closely enough in touch with the newly matured and unexpectedly confident Anglicans of Africa and Asia - to discern the strength in conviction or the strength in numbers that these younger Churches would bring with them to Lambeth. Earlier this month Gerard Mpango, the Bishop of Western Tanganyika, was in Christchurch. He mentioned in passing that he confirmed between 8 -10,000 candidates each year. Many of these were newly baptised converts from Islam. When I visited his diocese thirty years ago there was only one bishop and a handful of scattered parishes. Now there are over 260 parishes and two assistant bishops, with a third about to be consecrated. We in the West have little idea of the growth and vigour of the Anglican Church in many parts of the Global South.
The Lambeth Resolution on human sexuality (I:10), after amendment and heated debate, was finally passed by a staggering 526 votes FOR to 70 AGAINST (with just 45 who declined to vote one way or the other). Two of the crucial clauses of the final resolution read:
This Conference, …
(b) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believe abstinence is right for those not called to marriage;
(e) cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those living in same gender unions.
This same resolution concluded by noting the importance of the resolutions of an earlier Global South conference of churches, set out in what is known as ‘The Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality’. This Statement had been approved by delegates to that Conference in 1997, a full year before Lambeth met or our own Human Sexuality Commission presented its Report. Those delegates to Kuala Lumpur represented in total over 80% of all Anglican Church members in the world.
A warning bell should have sounded to the rest of the Anglican Communion as to where the voices and votes of the Global South bishops would be directed when they met in Canterbury for Lambeth ’98. Included in that Kuala Lumpur Statement were these clauses:
3. … we express our profound concern about recent developments relating to Church discipline and moral teaching in some provinces in the North – specifically, the ordination of practising homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
10. We are deeply concerned that the setting aside of biblical teaching in such actions as the ordination of practising homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions calls into question the authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is totally unacceptable to us.
11. This leads us to express concern about mutual accountability and interdependence within our Anglican Communion. As provinces and dioceses we need to learn how to seek each other’s counsel and wisdom in a spirit of true unity, and to reach a common mind before embarking on radical changes to Church discipline and moral teaching.
12. We live in a global village and must be more aware that the way we act in one part of the world can radically affect the mission and witness of the Church in another.
In the light of these resolutions from the Global South, adopted twelve months in advance of Lambeth ’98 and a decade ahead of the threatening crisis that is now troubling the Church as I speak, should anyone be surprised at the stance currently being taken by these same Global South provinces today. (But more of that later.)
Reflecting on both Lambeth Resolution I:10 and the KL Statement, the discerning eye can see the foundations for what would later lead to the Windsor Report of 2004, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s commendation of the concept of an Anglican Covenant (also in 2004), and the Primates endorsement of this proposal at Dromantine in 2005. The shape of things to come were becoming more apparent as the decade unfolded.
To move on in our grasp of what has led to the possibility of the Anglican Communion disintegrating, we need to understand the nature and role in the Anglican Church of what are familiarly known as …
The four ‘Instruments of Unity’
Over the last 150 years the island-bound Church of England has metamorphosed into the world-wide Anglican Communion. This in turn over time has led to the emergence of four ‘instruments of unity’ to hold together this increasingly complex and disparate organism – the ABC, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Meeting of Primates.
From the beginning there has been the Archbishop of Canterbury whose Primacy to Anglicans anywhere in the world has always been acknowledged and respected. His very mana, together with the personal skills, spirituality and wisdom that successive ABCs have brought to the office, up until now has served the Anglican Communion well and helped enormously to preserve its unity.
In 1867 the first Lambeth Conference was called, enabling the elected and appointed bishops of the wider Communion to reflect together on the Church, its mission, its challenges, its relationship to a changing world. Our own Bishop Harper was a participant in this first Lambeth Conference. This body of bishops has never set out to be a legislating body, but an occasion for the episcopal leadership of the Church to develop a common mind and strengthen the unity of the Communion as a whole. As Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has recently written:
Lambeth has a moral authority which is different to legal authority but not less;
it’s the authority of the common mind of Christ manifested in his Church.
So, resolutions of successive Lambeth Conferences have this moral authority to contribute to the unity of the Communion.
Then there is the Anglican Consultative Council. This is a body that brings together a bishop (preferable the Primate), and a priest and lay person elected by each of the 38 Anglican provinces. Its chair is our own Bishop John Paterson. This provides the Communion with a forum where a manageable group of the ordained and laity can meet together on an equal footing to work for the unity and community of the Church. Later we will hear how a ‘Joint Standing Committee’ of the Primates and the ACC have had a crucial role to play in first receiving a response from the House of Bishops of TEC and then providing a report to the ABC and Primates on this response.
But there was another Lambeth Resolution in 1998 that bears on the situation as we have it today. This resolution highlighted the role of the Primates in the anticipated rough waters that lay ahead before the next Lambeth Conference. This Resolution (III.6) encouraged a greater collegial role for the Primates’ Meeting, working with the ABC to (quote) ‘exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’.
It also specifically included (again I quote)
… intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.
This is important to understand as the Primates (as we shall shortly see) have had to play a leading role in dealing with the growing crisis facing the Communion. Some however, including notable Anglicans in this country, have vilified the Primates for the initiatives they have taken, claiming that they have overstepped their authority and that they have acted improperly, setting themselves up as a kind of Anglican curia with the demands they have placed upon the American Episcopal Church. But it is hard to justify this criticism in light of the resolution I have referred to – unless one also diminishes the importance and moral authority of the Lambeth Conference as well. If that is done, then one is left not with an Anglican Communion but an Anglican Confederation in which each Province is a law unto itself, and independence is advanced at the expense of interdependence.
Similar to a democracy, the four ‘instruments of unity’ offer an interconnection of checks and balances, where to work well each must have the goodwill of the others, and no one can act contrary to the mind of the others. Not an Anglican curia, but an Anglican common mind.
The Challenge to Lambeth
The 1998 Lambeth Conference had expressed its mind clearly and strongly. This was the ‘stake in the ground’ that any Anglican Province around the world needed to respect and take its reference from when making decisions that involved issues of human sexuality.
However, both the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church in the USA strongly challenged the stance Lambeth ’98 had taken. The Canadian Church through its continuing widespread support for the legitimising and blessing of same-sex unions, and by the pressure some of its bishops then put on their parishes and diocesan clergy who would not cooperate with this policy. The Episcopal Church not only in its support at its General Convention for the practice of same-sex blessings, but in one further dramatic action that flew directly in the face of the resolution of Lambeth.
This was the confirmation by General Convention in 2003 of the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Gene Robinson had been a married man, but before his election had parted from his wife to form a public partnership with another man in a same-sex union. It was the acceptance of his election by General Convention that really precipitated the current crisis, raising it to the level of a threat to the unity of the whole Anglican Communion and creating the distinct possibility of schism. This same Convention also noted with approval that (to quote):
local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.
Even within The Episcopal Church these decisions presented a problem to a number of parishes who in all good conscience and conviction of faith could not accept such a policy. They believed General Convention had both flouted the advice of Lambeth and defied traditional Anglican faith and practice. Some of these parishes determined as a consequence to look beyond TEC to the wider Anglican Communion for their episcopal oversight and accountability. In some situations, the dioceses of which they were part instituted heavy-handed and punitive legal action against them. As we have earlier noted, overseas provinces immediately began responding to these requests for pastoral care, much to the annoyance of most in TEC and, to be fair, to the disapproval of many in the wider Anglican world. It was these two sets of actions that led to …
The Lambeth Commission and The Windsor Report
In response to these acts of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, the Anglican Primates met in an emergency session at Lambeth later in 2003 and warned of the consequences of proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson. They requested the ABC to create a Lambeth Commission on Communion to recommend ways that would strengthen the ‘bonds of affection’ of global Anglicanism (as they are called), especially where differences threatened disunity and even schism. This Commission was to take as its base position the resolutions of Lambeth ’88 and ’98, and subsequent communiqués issued by the Primates.
In 2004 the Commission published its findings in ‘The Windsor Report’ . This took the form of a lengthy analysis of the crisis facing the Communion with recommendations to overcome this crisis for the various provinces to consider and respond to. The Report made it quite clear that if the challenge its proposals presented were not taken seriously, and its recommendations were not implemented, it was doubtful if the Anglican Communion in its present form could survive. It made three specific requests of the North American Church:
1. That there be an expression of regret for its action in ordaining Gene Robinson;
2. That there be better pastoral protection of parishes opposed to GC’s actions;
3. That there be a moratorium on same-sex blessings and further election and consecration of same-sex partnered bishops.
But at the heart of the Commission’s recommendations was the proposal that a ‘Covenant’ be created to which member Churches would be invited to enter. This would serve as a mark of their willingness to recognise that essential to an ‘Anglican Communion’ there needed to be the acceptance of a shared ground of faith and practice that was common to all and equally honoured by all. The Covenant would therefore serve in effect as a fifth and new ‘Instrument of Unity’, governing relationships between the various provinces of the world-wide Church.
The members of the Lambeth Commission were under no illusions as to the critical need for this Covenant. In TWR they wrote:
This Commission believes that the case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant is overwhelming: The Anglican Communion cannot again afford, in every sense, the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that
engendered by the current crisis. Given the imperfections of our communion and human nature, doubtless there will be more disagreements. It is our shared responsibility to have in place an agreed mechanism to enable and maintain life in communion, and to prevent and manage communion disputes.
In an Advent Letter of November 2004, the concept of a ‘Covenant’ suggested in The Windsor Report was further commended to the Primates by the ABC. In the words of Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, addressing the Church of England General Synod, the Covenant was intended
to identify the fundamentals that we share in common, and to state the common basis on which our mutual trust can be rebuilt.
The Primates met in February 2005 at Dromantine, Ireland,
where they received The Windsor Report and its recommendations. They added their weight to the proposal of a Covenant to rebuild trust and identity as an Anglican Communion, and asked for its careful consideration by the 38 Anglican Provinces around the globe as a lead-in to further deliberation at the Lambeth Conference next year. They also endorsed the three requests made in the Lambeth Report.
One of the principle criticisms of TWR (and later, of the draft Covenant) is that to implement its recommendations would require an Anglican bureaucracy (possibly of Primates) that would take away from dioceses and diocesan bishops their independence and some of their authority, that is, it would set in train a move towards ‘centrism’, with eventually the emergence of an Anglican ‘curia’ or ‘collective papacy’. But TWR is quite adamant on this point. To quote:
We do not favour the accumulation of formal power by the Instruments of Unity, or the establishment of any kind of central ‘curia’ for the Communion. However, we do believe that there are several ways in which the nature of the moral authority of the Instruments of Unity could be more clearly articulated.
The Draft Covenant
Later in 2006 the ABC advised the Primates of the appointment of a ‘Covenant Design Group’ under the chairmanship of Archbishop Gomez. In January this year a draft Covenant was published for discussion and debate in all the provinces. In its Introduction, the nature of the Covenant is described as
not the invention of a new way of being Anglican, but a fresh restatement and assertion of the faith which we as Anglicans have received, and a commitment to interdependent life such as always in theory at least has been given recognition.
The draft Covenant has three main sections: first, a description of our common Anglican inheritance – that is, what is the historic basis of Anglicanism; second, a description of our common Anglican mission – that is, what is our vocation as Anglican Christians, using the familiar Five Marks of Mission; and third, a description of our Communion life, what holds us together as an Anglican Communion – including the four ‘instruments of unity’ (here called ‘instruments of Communion’) that have been developed over the years.
Based on these three affirmations there follow three sets of commitments that we as Anglican Churches are each asked to make. First, to live out our faith with mutual respect and awareness of our interdependence. Second, to engage in our mission together. Third, to value the ‘instruments of communion’ and the leadership they provide in preserving and strengthening our unity.
(The current status of this draft Covenant is that it is being considered as a proposal to which each province will respond, with a view to a fuller consideration at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.)
The Primates’ Meeting, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, February 2007
By the beginning of this year the Primates of our Church were deeply aware of the seriousness of the situation the Communion was facing. The Communiqué issued from this meeting spoke of
the reality of increased tension in the life of the Anglican Communion – tension so deep that the fabric of our common life together has been torn.
Yet again this gathering reaffirmed the 1998 Lambeth Resolution I:10 as ‘the standard of teaching’ from which they, together with the Windsor Report, have worked, and the proposed Covenant as the way for for the Church in its several parts to agree upon.
This Tanzania meeting also acknowledged gratefully the consideration given by TEC in its General Convention to the recommendations of TWR. But it felt that the response of TEC showed that ‘there remains a lack of clarity on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions.’ The Primates were crystal clear in the reservations they expressed, stating
It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
Some of the Primates went further and indicated that to their minds the response of the General Convention does not in fact give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report. As a whole body, therefore, were persuaded that they were not yet
in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships.
The Primates reported in this Communiqué that they had become aware that a number of Episcopal dioceses were no longer able to accept the primacy of the Presiding Bishop and had asked the ABC to arrange some alternative primatial ministry. The Communiqué recognised the difficulties created by ‘interventionists’, that is, bishops from outside TEC taking discontented parishes under their pastoral wing, but the Primates recognised that
for interventions to cease, what is required in their view is a robust scheme of pastoral oversight to provide individuals and congregations alienated from The Episcopal Church with adequate space to flourish.
Their proposal was to establish an outside ‘Pastoral Council’ to supplement the oversight from within TEC.
Two further specific requests were made to TEC, requiring a response by 30 September this year:
1. That the House Of Bishops of TEC (General Convention not due to meet by that date) make an unequivocal commitment that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention.
2. That a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.
If these requests were not complied with, it was indicated that the invitations to TEC bishops to attend Lambeth ’08 would be in jeopardy. This could well be the first step towards the withdrawal of TEC from membership of the Anglican Communion!
The Invitations to Lambeth ‘08
Four months later, while Episcopalians were considering the ultimatum of the Primates’ Meeting, with its deadline of 30 September, the invitations to attend the next year’s Lambeth Conference were sent out. The Global South was dismayed to learn that while none of the bishops some of their Primates had consecrated for ministry to congregations in North America had received invitations, all the Episcopalian bishops had been invited – with the one exception of Gene Robinson.
The Global South Steering Committee issued a statement deploring this decision and signalling their inability
to take part in an event from which a number of our own bishops have been arbitrarily excluded while those whose actions have precipitated our current crisis are included.
After 30 September this was to become even more forthright.
The response from TEC House of Bishops.
TEC bishops met in New Orleans and formulated their response to the ABC and Primates just five days before the deadline of 30 September, expressing the hope that this reply would ‘mend the tear in the fabric’ of Anglican unity.
In effect, the HOB said Yes, No, and No. Yes – that they would not sanction the episcopal ordination of ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons’. No – while prepared to not authorise public liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions, some of their bishops would continue to allow private blessings as a local pastoral option for their clergy. No – they did not accept the Dar es Salaam proposal for a measure of external pastoral oversight of dissident parishes, but would make their own arrangements for this, thank you all the same.
Interestingly, what received no mention at all in the HOB reply was their response to the proposal for a Covenant to which all Anglican provinces would be invited to subscribe! So this crucial measure to strengthen the unity and identity of the Anglican Communion remains hanging in the air so far as the American Church is concerned.
Attending this meeting in New Orleans as observers was the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. After the meeting concluded, the reply of the HOB was handed to the JSC and incorporated into their own report of the occasion to the ABC and Primates. On the whole, the JSC has welcomed this reply from TEC and given it a positive spin. Their judgment is that the New Orleans statement of the HOB meets the request of the Windsor Report on the issues of episcopal ordinations and rites of blessing, but they express dismay at both the continuing use of law courts by TEC in property disputes with dissident episcopal parishes, and in the continuing intervention activities in TEC by certain other Anglican Primates and Provinces.
However, the optimism of the JSC’s favourable commendation of the HOB reply is significantly undercut by a letter from one of their number, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, who had to leave the meeting early because of commitments with the ABC in Syria and Lebanon, and who was not given an opportunity to contribute to the JSC assessment of the HOB reply. In an open letter to The Times he expressed his view that TEC response was no more than a superficial shift and did not signal any real change in its position since 2003. He disagreed with the JSC assessment that
The Episcopal Church has clarified all outstanding questions relating to their response to the questions directed explicitly to them, and on which clarifications were sought by the 30th September, and given the necessary assurance sought of them.
He gives his detailed reasons for this conclusion. He indicated that he was ‘incredibly disappointed and grieved’.
So some significant Anglican leaders as of now do not believe the threat of disintegration has at all been averted by the response of TEC HOB.
How has the rest of the Communion responded to this?
In September the Nigerian HOB wrote to the ABC asking for this Lambeth Conference to be cancelled.
Several prominent bishops of the C of E, including the Bishops of Liverpool, Winchester and Rochester are doubtful as to how many will in all good conscience feel able to participate in the Lambeth Conference while such a state of distrust
exists. The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, has claimed that more than half of the English bishops are now considering whether to attend.
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, said he would find it difficult to attend the Lambeth Conference alongside those who consecrated or approved the appointment of Gene Robinson. He is also reported in the Daily Telegraph this month as saying that the sort of divisions tearing the Anglican Church apart in the United States, where whole dioceses are preparing to break away, could not be ruled out in England.
The Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa meeting in Mauritius earlier this month issued a Communiqué indicating that they find the report of the JSC ‘unsatisfactory’ and the assurances offered by TEC ‘without credibility’. (CAPA then calls for a postponement of the Lambeth Conference, and the completion and acceptance of the Covenant as the condition on which fresh invitations to a later Conference will be issued.)
Replies to the Lambeth invitations at this moment are reported to be ‘very thin’ as other bishops, not just the more conservative, now weigh up their options.
Reports coming in now from the USA suggest that between three and five dioceses in the near future will attempt to split off from TEC and come under the jurisdiction of one or other African province.
But what complicates matters even further is that three of these Episcopal Dioceses are principally animated by another and entirely different cause of dissatisfaction with their parent body, TEC. Within this past week The UK Church Times has reported a presentation one of their bishops, the Revd Jack Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth, has just made to the National Assembly of the Forward in Faith movement in the UK.
His claim was that his diocese and the dioceses of Quincy and San Joaquin were well advanced in negotiations to affiliate with another Province of the Communion, one that he describes as ‘orthodox’. By this he means not simply ‘Windsor compliant’ but holding to the policy of not ordaining women to the priesthood. Bp Iker told the Assembly, ‘it is our contention that the Episcopal Church has decided to walk away from the Anglican Communion, and our Forward in Faith dioceses will walk with the Anglican Communion.’ He added that these three dioceses, their bishops, clergy and laity, were aware of what would follow. In his words: TEC “would declare those sees vacant, depose the bishops, and call a convention to reconstitute what it called ‘continuing dioceses’.”
And in this regard a striking new option has also emerged over the past two weeks. Following the meeting of TEC HOB at the end of September, John Howe, the Bishop of Central Florida, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury and indicated that a number of his clergy and parishes, if not the diocese itself, were considering withdrawing from TEC and associating with an overseas Province. The ABC immediately replied and suggested another option – that of a diocese looking direct to Canterbury rather than to another outside Province. The heart of his letter, dated 14 October, read:
I would repeat what I’ve said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor.
Where will all this lead? Is disintegration inevitable?
Who knows what will come next. Personally I believe neither that disintegration will be the certain outcome of the present crisis, nor that postponement or cancellation of next year’s Lambeth Conference will occur. I hope I am correct!
But the price for this optimism will certainly be the completion and embracing of an Anglican Covenant such as has already been provided in draft form, and the acceptance of the reality that each part of the present Anglican Communion must then decide whether or not it signs up to this Covenant. Clarifying our identity as Anglicans in a post-modern social and ecclesiastical climate, and accepting that interdependence may at times mean curbing some of our local preferences and practices, are likely to be the price attached to a continuing Communion. Those who accept this will be ‘in’; those who do not are likely to be ‘out’.
In our own Church in this part of the world this issue has still to be settled. But it is already clear that there are those here in New Zealand who are strongly sympathetic to the position taken by TEC, believing that ‘wherever America is today, we will be tomorrow’, and that there are those whose sympathies lie with the Windsor Report, its recommendations, and the proposal of the adoption of a Covenant to clarify what it means to be an Anglican Church and part of an Anglican Communion of Churches today.
In the end it comes down to whether the future of Anglicanism is to be an Anglican Communion, where a family of autonomous Churches are interdependent and act together, or an Anglican Confederation, where each Church that calls itself Anglican has the liberty to take independent courses of action, without regard for the rest. I was interested in the comments of our city’s new mayor, Bob Parker, last week when receiving the chains of office. He is reported as calling for unity on the council and for the ‘desire of the individual to be given over to the collective decision-making process’. He could have been speaking to the world-wide Anglican Church concerning its future.
Decisions taken at our General Synod in May next year, before the Lambeth Conference is due to meet, may well reveal in which direction this Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia will be heading.
+Brian Carrell, 30.x.’07.