The course of the Anglican Communion continues to take twists and turns in the build up to the much anticipated Lambeth Conference for Anglican bishops in July/August this year. In North America, encompassing the Anglican Church of Canada (ACCan) and The Episcopal Church of the USA (TEC), a series of developments has seen an emerging Anglican movement solidify and sharpen its distinction from ACCan and TEC. This movement is not exactly new – some of its parts have been separated from TEC for a long time. Nor is it completely coherent – parts of it are under the direction of different African Anglican churches, part is overseen by an Anglican Church in South America. Though this movement is making effort through a grouping called Common Cause to be unified. And its not clear what kind of Anglican character this movement will have as mixed signals are being given about its relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury. But none of this detracts from the fact that alongside TEC and ACCan is emerging a significantly sized ‘new’ North American Anglican church.
These developments in North America have been a long time in gestation. They represent a reaction to the dominance of a school of theology which has exercised a remarkable influence in transforming the character of TEC and, to a lesser degree, ACCan. This transformation has led to the curious, and painful situation where Anglicans in North America simply believing what Anglicans have always believed feel they have to leave the ‘official’ Anglican church. We are not just talking people who might be explained away as disaffected individuals. Whole parishes, and in a development in late 2007, even whole dioceses of TEC are leaving or signalling their determination to leave.
All of this is deeply troubling, for none more so than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He has had to wrestle through a whole series of dilemmas in 2007 thrown up by protagonists and antagonists among the bishops in North America and in other countries deeply caught up in the developments outlined above. In the process he has been praised by some as one of the most intelligent and wisest of Archbishops of Canterbury. But others have been cruelly biting in their criticism of him. There is no doubt that Archbishop Rowan is between a rock and a hard place. If he withdraws invitations to Lambeth already made to many North American bishops the Anglican Communion will be split asunder. If he does not make this decision then some, perhaps many African bishops will not attend Lambeth. The more bishops who stay away the more the Communion will be divided. Either way a major conference for ‘conservative’ Anglican leaders has been called for June 2008, about a month before Lambeth. The Global Anglican Future Conference is scheduled to take place 15-22 June in the Holy Land. Archbishop Rowan has not been consulted about this, and it is not clear whether he will be invited to it.
It might be tempting to draw the conclusion that perhaps by the end of 2008 a simple even if unsatisfactory conclusion will be reached, a neatly divided Anglican Communion. But that is unlikely. If there is division it will not be neat and tidy, and it may be a multiple fracture. Nevertheless it is not clear that division will take place. The twists and turns in the events of the last year have been so confusing, and at times so unpredictable, that it would be either a canny gambler or a remarkable prophet who forecast what the shape of the Communion will be in December 2008.