Friday, June 18, 2010
It's not the mitre, it's Canada you should be thinking about
Do not sweat the small stuff, we say. Then we sweat the small stuff. Despite a lot of comment, some outraged, some merely bemused, about Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori being asked not to wear her mitre at Southwark Cathedral, her mitre is not the issue. The issue remains the nature of our relationships as member churches of the Anglican Communion. The American push is for autonomy to be more important than accountability. That is a fine and reasonable argument to advance. The Archbishop of Canterbury's lead, or following of the majority of the Communion, is for accountability being more important than autonomy in our relationships in the Communion. Some antagonists of both TEC and the ABC are arguing for stronger accountability than the ABC is asking for. But like TEC those antagonists are struggling to gain support across the majority of the Communion's member churches.
If the ABC or one of his bureaucrats asked for the mitre not to be worn, then that is a signal about accountability, even if a seemingly petty and ungracious one. If some grizzling in response echoes around the Communion, then that is a signal about autonomy resisting accountability. But beyond earnest discussion about whether the mitre might've been handled better, there is a need for some taking stock. Is anyone following TEC's lead in staking a claim for the Communion to be a fellowship of autonomous churches not accountable to one another? It would have been most helpful if Canada in its recent Synod had followed up its protestations of closeness to TEC with a signal action that it too was more committed to internal dynamics around homosexuality than to uninhibited membership of the Communion. It did not, and that, surely, is something more important to think about at this time than being mitreless at communion in Southwark.
Has there been any signal from Scotland that it will follow TEC's lead? I can tell you from Down Under that things are very quiet in the run up to the PB's visit down here. No General Synods will be addressed. The programme scheduled for NZ is very low key. I still cannot find any internet information about the (apparent) visit to Australia. It is far from clear that TEC's reasonable argument for autonomy ahead of accountability is gaining traction. It is very clear that some member churches such as Canada value their membership of the Communion highly and will not imperil it if they can help it.
In the end I think TEC will be chastened. Not by incidents about mitres, or inhibitory letters, or even requests for resignations. But chastened by it's failure to carry the majority of the Communion with it. Even if its machinations to retain Bishop Douglas on the Standing Committee succeed, what will that mean? That they have some kind of domination of that Committee? That will be neither here nor there if the Standing Committee does not properly represent 'the mind of the Communion'.
By contrast, ++Rowan Williams is demonstrating great qualities as a leader. In particular he has the quality every great leader needs, of reading the way the wind is blowing, of knowing what the 'mind' of his organisation is thinking.
Incidentally, this is not some capitulation to right-wing financed prelates from homophobic nations. If only life were so simple that it conformed to left-wing conspiracy theories. Rather, this is about a Communion moving forward - too slow for some, but at the right speed for the great majority who really do need more time to find a way to be faithful to the doctrines, ethics and pastoral responsibilities of the church. More time to find a way to be faithful together.
If the colonial days of the Communion are over then so are the pioneering days. What is counting for the future is accountability not autonomy. If the Spirit is moving in the Communion today then it is in building coherency among the majority of Anglicans. Unchecked diversity is yesterday's news. In unity is our strength; the centre cannot hold if things fall apart. The question of our relationships as member churches is not whether our rights for autonomous action will be respected under the Covenant. The important question is whether we understand the blessing accountability brings: the unbreakable strength of true union in the body of Christ.