Monday, October 20, 2008

Communion or Church?

Mark Harris of Preludium, critiquing Bishop Bob Duncan ('the Moderator') says this:

"The Moderator wants "to be part of a global church." As far as he is concerned the current Anglican Communion structures and systems are unequal to the task. In that he is right. That is because the Anglican Communion is not a global church. It is a fellowship of churches.

If the ACC authorizes three provinces in North America - the existing two on the one hand and the Common Cause Partnership Province on the other - with it being clear that the CCP exists because of the "the American situation and the American outrage" and that it is not in communion with the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada - the ACC will contribute to the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it."

If the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches and not a global church then it can be a fellowship of churches with as many as it wishes to fellowship with, including two churches existing in the same geographical location. If it makes a rule as a 'Communion' re the basis for fellowship, then it seems to be acting like a church (because a gathering needs to take place for the rule to be made)!

If it is a global church it could make a rule: only one diocese or province counted 'in' per geographic region. It could make a rule with exceptions: only one diocese or province per location except for the two dioceses in Europe, and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (which has two (jurisdictionally distinct) bishops per location in most of its territory and three in metropolitan Auckland). It could extend its exceptions to include a new province (a.k.a the Common Cause Partnership) for North America.

Either way it is reasonable for Bishop Bob Duncan to explore possibilities of a new dimension to the Anglican Communion. Note that, whether the ACC or any other body or whatever decided to include a new dimension such as a new Anglican province for North America, the Anglican Communion has ended as we have known it, for it is now a Communion with a new dimension of dispute in its midst (cf. the new and old Dioceses of Pittsburgh; and various ways in which (effectively) different parts of the Communion are not in fellowship with other parts)!

In fact the Anglican Communion is at a turning point. If it is a 'fellowship of churches' then this is no longer its reality, for various Anglican churches are out of fellowship with each other. The Communion is a conglomerate of churches with some affinity for each other which is in a state of exploration of its true character. It could be that from this exploration the reality of an Anglican global church emerges. It may be that this global church as an Anglican church sits alongside, but not in fellowship with other Anglican churches such as TEC or the Episcopal Church of Scotland, or sits alongside, but out of fellowship with an entity called 'the Anglican Communion' which is vastly smaller than its current listed membership.

Mark Harris worries, "More importantly it will make of Anglicanism an ideology, pure and simple, but one with a flawed center."

But do we not already have that at work in his analysis of the state of the Communion? Driving his critique of Bishop Bob Duncan is an ideology in which the Communion is this not that, the Common Cause Partnership should do this but not that, and the decisions of TEC's General Convention are sole arbiter of 'true' Anglicanism within TEC's territories.

There is a flawed centre here! I happen to think it is the inability of TEC's General Convention to recognise any constraint in its determination of what constitutes Anglicanism.

But somewhere in here is another flaw: TEC may decide what it likes as a self-contained, self-regulating assembly of believers. What it may not decide are the terms by which the Anglican Communion accepts churches into its fellowship or organises itself as a global church. That level of decision-making is through the means of the governance of the Communion. Currently we have no means of governance recognised by all the governed (the ABC is not a pope; Lambeth Conference resolutions we are told, ad nauseam, are non-binding; the ACC is for consultation; the Primates shouldn't really have the role they have claimed for themselves). The mess, the muddiness for both Mark Harris and Bishop Bob Duncan is that neither of their visions for the Anglican Communion can be readily fulfilled under current conditions.

Hence the importance of the Covenant Design Group and our submissions to it: an outstanding opportunity for an evolutionary step to take place on the way to the Anglican Communion becoming a body capable of discerning the true character of its constituent parts and of making decisions about membership, especially when one member is in dispute with another or with a prospective member.

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