I have put a date by the title to this post because I may sense a different answer is required in May 2010 or March 2014! But over the past week some interesting posts have been made available concerning Anglican polity, especially in respect of the evolving situation of the Diocese of South Carolina (Is it truer to TEC's true foundations than TEC itself? Or is it slowly asserting traditional South Carolingian values of being, well, rebellious to a larger sphere of government?). They have been made by the 'usual suspects': ACI and ACI, Mark Harris and Mark Harris. In the case of Mark Harris' posts on his blog Preludium, it is worth reading the comments which follow.
From a distance I find these debates interesting, but that may say more about me than about the debates! It seems strangely easy for some mistakes to be made, such as asserting the sovereignty of dioceses within a church such as TEC when the bishop of each diocese is dependent on consents of other bishops and standing committees to simply become the bishop. That's interdependency not sovereignty!
But my reflection here is less on the detail of polity and more on the question of what it means to be an Anglican. Here is my reading of some answers permeating through the ACI and Mark Harris posts.
(1) To be an Anglican Christian is to belong to a member church of the Anglican Communion and to abide by the decisions of that church (even if those decisions run against decisions of Communion bodies).
Comment: I discern this as the view at the top of TEC, supported by many commenters who weigh in against recently departed Episcopalians to ACNA as "wannabe Anglicans".
(2) To be an Anglican Christian is to belong to a member church of the Anglican Communion, to generally abide by the decisions of that church, but to reserve a right to distance oneself (and distance one's parish or diocese) from that member church in favour of a decision of the Anglican Communion.
Comment: This seems to be the situation in which the Diocese of South Carolina finds itself in.
(3) To be an Anglican Christian is to believe what Anglicans have believed through the ages, to worship according to Anglican patterns of worship (e.g. following an Anglican prayer book), and to live with a traditional Anglican order (deacons, priests, bishops).
Comment: This is the situation of those Anglican churches which are neither part of the Anglican Communion nor belong to ACNA. I think the Traditional Anglican Communion is one such body, though it is currently moving to become part of the Anglican Ordinariate of Rome.
(4) To be an Anglican Christian is all of (3 [corrected from initial post]) PLUS making every effort to be formally connected to the Anglican Communion, such effort may include being in an 'irregular' relationship with a member church of the Communion.
Comment: This is the situation of the Anglican Church of North America, which includes many churches which are overseen by bishops of Anglican churches outside of the geographical area of North America.
I admit personally to being somewhat obtuse about how (1) can be satisfactory. Yes, there will be differences of viewpoint between member churches of the Communion and some decisions of the Communion (ACANZP has experience of this, as commenters here never cease to remind me!). But it seems extraordinary that a trajectory of a member church could take it further away from the middle ground of the Communion with the effect that people leaving that church or rebelling against it for Anglican Communion reasons then become non-Anglicans. Too much disconnect there!
(2) is, in its own way, also very unsatisfactory. Too much unresolved tension. Something must give. My hope is that what will give is Communion resistance to formally (and joyfully) including those Anglicans who find themselves in tune with the mind of the Communion and out of tune with their local Anglican church (i.e. member church of the Communion).
In some ways (3) is the simplest position to assert: one can be Anglican whether or not the local member church of the Communion is swimming with the Communion or away from it, and whether or not the Communion embraces you.
Of course (4) hopes to gain from the possibility that may come to (2): the Communion will welcome those in situation (4).
Notice how (1), (2) and (3) all include the Anglican Communion as a necessary feature of being an Anglican: one is a member of a member church of the Communion or one is a member of a body making determined steps towards becoming a member of the Communion. Ergo the Anglican Communion has a significant role to play in what it means to be an Anglican.
Will it take up the challenges of that role? Will it welcome Christians whose heart, soul, mind and body is in tune with Anglican character as determined by the Anglican Communion? Will it tell member churches which make decisions difficult to square with Anglican theology to ease up on the pressure they place on dissident members?
From this perspective, if the Anglican Communion falls over, it may have come about because the Communion failed to take up its role of determining what it means to be an Anglican Christian!