Friday, April 9, 2010

Communion evolution taking place for eyes to see it

"How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

They only plan to thrust him
down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths
but inwardly they curse" (Psalm 62:3-4)

As I read these words this morning I thought they had a certain aptness for the Anglican Communion. One way and another the Communion (as it is now, as a formal structure) has been and is being battered. The battering, I should hasten to add, in my view, has been from the left and the right, the north and the south, the formal and the informal aspects of Communion life.* A recent example is this paragraph from Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's letter to Primates which reads:

"I realize that this development will cause hurt and pain to some of you. I am deeply aware of the range of opinion and position about this. I would note that our Communion also has a very broad range of opinion and position about the suitable characteristics of bishops in general – some provinces do not believe women can or should be consecrated as bishops; some do not believe divorced and remarried persons can or should be consecrated; some provinces do not believe persons without advanced
theological degrees should be consecrated. I know that many of you do not see these as equivalent issues, yet our diversity remains." (Go here for the whole letter).

While we can applaud the Presiding Bishop for her honest, straightforward dealing in this letter to the Primates, this is a 'battering' of the Communion: hurtful and painful though this is to the Communion, the PB is saying, it makes zero difference to our intention to proceed with what we think fit. The only result, Communion-wise, of this approach, is a weakening of the bonds of affection, to say nothing of any other kinds of bonds which hold us together.

As I follow one or two blogs from the States, I sense a united determination on the part both of TEC's formal leadership as well as its movers and shakers to pursue its pathway no matter what effect that has on the Communion.

Fair enough. That is TEC's autonomous right to do so. But others have autonomous rights also. Thus there is an autonomous right on the part of member churches to associate with one another as they see fit.

One such association begins in about ten days, the 4th Global South Encounter in Singapore, 19th - 23rd April, 2010. About 130 participants from 25 of 38 provinces will be present. Twenty African, Asian, South American and South Pacific provinces formally make up 'Global South', but 'observer' participants will also be present from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, USA, Canada, and England.

(I do not know if those from North America will only be from ACNA or from ACNA, TEC, and ACCan. Note that if you go here you will see the photo I have on this post. Whether that photo is hot off the press, from a meeting of GS primates in the Caribbean taking place about now, or from a past occasion, you will see included in it are ++Bob Duncan and +Don Harvey, the US and Canadian leaders respectively of ACNA).

This meeting will take place with the publication of Michael Poon's paper on the future of the Communion as a world church very much in the forefront of participants' preparatory reading lists. It is unremarkable to imagine that this Encounter, against the backdrop of all that has unfolded in the life of the Communion since 1998, will talk and pray about the possibility that the future of Anglican Christianity is worth developing on a global basis, whether or not the Anglican Communion as it is formally structured wishes to contribute to that development. Whether this Encounter makes any formal resolutions or not re the future of global Anglicanism, it is, I suggest, equally unremarkable to imagine that the combination of this kind of inclusive meeting (i.e. Communion member churches plus ACNA) together with the Presiding Bishop's "who cares" approach to the Communion represents one stage in the evolution of the present Anglican Communion.

A majority of provinces meeting together for common purpose is a signal that a significant part of the present Communion can work together in full communion. The inclusion of representation from some non-Global South provinces, plus ACNA representation shows a willingness to be flexible in defining who belongs together and who does not. Essentially the definition is this: "we hold these things in common as Anglicans, therefore we will communion together".

It is not necessary, note, for the Anglican Communion as currently constituted to break up for Global South to grow from strength to strength. One can devolve while the other evolves. One can de-construct itself while the other constructs itself. Some Anglicans may believe that (e.g.) the Archbishop of Canterbury showing more decisive leadership is decisive to the future of world Anglicanism. It could be. But it may in fact be better for events to take their course. For individual member churches to follow what they think is the leading of the Spirit and for member churches finding things in common with each other to associate as they see it to be worthwhile.

One of my experiences in commenting on other Anglican blogs is to make very little impression on the mindsets of others!! There are so many Anglicans around the globe who are convinced they are right and other Anglicans are wrong. But we cannot all be right. The truth will always out itself. We need patience and faithfulness through this period of harping and carping about the state of Anglicanism. In time God's will and God's way for us will manifest itself to all. The evolution of world Anglicanism, whichever way it goes, is in God's capable hands. Psalm 62 finishes in this way:

"Once God has spoken;
twice I have heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work." (Psalm 62:11-12)

(*The allegations that this one or that is engaged in falsehoods, and/or is pretending to 'bless' the Communion while actually pursuing an agenda which will 'curse' it, fly around the internet, from one side to another and back again. In a post not far below I draw attention to Cranmer's Curate making a plea that any move to make conservative evangelical bishops for the C of E is made above board and with consultation. Such a move would, I suggest, be more of a 'curse' on the health of the Communion than a 'blessing'.)

POSTSCRIPT: the photo above was taken at GSE2, Egypt in 2005


Suem said...

It seems a shame to me that we may walk apart over the issue of whether to accept or condemn someone faithfully sharing their life and love with another person.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,

If we isolate that one issue then I agree, it is a shame - a great shame - that we should walk apart over it. Speaking personally (but as a person of virtual insignificance relative to the evolution which I sense is taking place) I do not want to see us walking apart over this issue.

But I think there are other inter-related issues which have built up the pressure which appears to be leading either to fissure or, as my post wonders, to different ways of being associated as Anglicans: e.g. the general theological common ground (or lack of it) from which we approach issues in human sexuality; the possibility that a general pastoral approach to people loving each other is being confused with standards of living styles expected of bishops as primary teachers and exemplars of our faith; the speed at which change may take place in a global Christian organisation (all together? pioneers sprinting ahead?); our willingness to listen to each other or not (including that 'listening' to gay and lesbian Anglicans which has mostly not taken place since 1998).

Taking all those such issues together I think I would prefer to say that it is a shame that we do not have Communion structures with great actual, effective ability to ensure that we walk together on an issue such as this, for as long as it take us to find a common mind.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Does that photo really depict Anglican evolution in action? Is our future really in the hands of a small group of male bishops? Why do I feel so uninspired by the prospect?

Peter Carrell said...

Would you feel more inspired, Howard, if it was a larger group? :)

Anonymous said...

Howard Pilgrim said...

Yes - lot larger. Add as many women bishops, then at least as many priests and deacons of both genders, then 10 times as many lay people ... get the better picture of Anglican evolution in action?

Peter Carrell said...

And what about the skull caps, Howard? Do you think that is evolving in too catholic a direction? :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous @ 4.43 pm
Are you saying this is where Anglicanism could or should evolve to? (Or away from?!)

Howard Pilgrim said...

We are getting into deep waters here, Peter. I did see those skull caps, worked out that they were probably not Jewish, and then thought the whole gathering might be a training session for would-be Tiber swimmers. This would be their warmup gear probably. What's underneath, then? Speedos? The imagination refuses to proceed ...

One thing we can deduce. With all that ornamentation, these men in skirts, frills and gorgeous cloaks cannot be averse to gay sensibilities!

Peter Carrell said...

There is something to be said for the plain, non-adornment style of low church evangelical Anglicanism!

Anonymous said...

"One thing we can deduce. With all that ornamentation, these men in skirts, frills and gorgeous cloaks cannot be averse to gay sensibilities!"

Stereotypical bigotry.

Howard Pilgrim said...

"Stereotypical bigotry."
I am stung to the core, named and shamed, my episcophobia exposed for all to see. There was just something about that particular group of bishops that brought it on ...

However, I do want to assure your readers that I am working hard on overcoming my prejudice. Your own extensive remarks about the vital function bishops play in the life of the church are particularly helpful. I remind myself of the Kiwi bishops I have known personally. As individuals, most of them are decent people: rugby players, fishermen, golfers, good sorts you can have a beer with, or a pinot noir. Some bishops are even women, and some are gays: normal human beings you wouldn't mind being married to your sister, or brother.

I have sometimes found myself worshipping alongside a bishop in mufti, which is how I know for sure that bishops too are fully God's children. It is just what happens when they get together on their own, outside the normal contexts of church life, that has me worried. Once they are dressed up beautifully like we see in your photo, who knows what power plays they might engage in together? No, don't go there, Howard. Calm down, deep breathing, remember who is in control.