The recently completed AngComStCom meeting represents a number of things which are particularly poor about the Anglican Communion at the moment. Not least is a "making it up as we go" approach to membership of this potentially very, very important committee. The beginning of the meeting saw tinkering with the constitution of its membership (while the potential new member to be admitted waited outside). Then the meeting signalled desire for further change, but recognised that in this instance even it could not authorise change itself, and so ACC-Kiwi in 2012 will consider the proposal. Adjustment or maladjustment?
Fortunately Archbishop Rowan Williams, who else, has the brains, vision, and voice to recognise that the tinkering needs to stop and a root-and-branch review of Communion structures for the 21st century is required, as reported by George Conger:
"As he has done before, Archbishop Williams questioned whether the Communion’s structures are adequate for the 21st century. He pressed for further review, “So when it comes to looking at the complex questions of the Communion we have a better foundation upon which to build.”"
To help Dear Leader along, I offer the following plan for reconstruction. Broad picture stuff, of course, with many details to be worked out!
A starting and finishing point for this reconstruction begins with observing that in a couple of days Bishop Winston Halapua (currently a bishop of the Diocese of Polynesia, resident in Auckland, where he has also been principal of the College of Polynesia within the College of St John the Evangelist) will be installed as Archbishop of Polynesia, resident in Suva, and responsible for this oceanic diocese which includes Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and congregations in New Zealand (principally Auckland city). In setting out his task Winston has said this brilliant and easily memorable vision, reported in Taonga, and noticed faraway by Preludium:
"The mission,” he said, “is simply to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel, to live the Gospel – and to pass it on."
A new Communion needs to be an appropriate expression of the ekklesia of God for preaching the gospel, teaching the gospel, living the gospel and pass it on. Understanding this is very important, and highlights the need for a Communion which shares a common understanding of what the gospel is. Our future Communion needs to be a 'Common union'. At the moment it has more the feel of a 'Disunited Diversity'!
From this starting point I suggest that the Communion of the 21st century needs structures that 'guard the gospel' in the sense of continually articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ which binds us together and propels Anglican mission forwards, and, where necessary, clearly maintains unity-in-the-gospel through procedures of discipline (i.e. of teaching what the gospel is, and is not).
Yet this is an Anglican Communion we are talking about, and new structures cannot, by definition, involve a 'pope', nor an understanding of the gospel which is narrowly construed on one and only one theological line. New structures, to avoid papalism, and to enhance reasonable, traditional, Scriptural diversity, will necessarily be conciliar, that is, involve councils.
We have some councils already, such as Lambeth and ACC, and, perhaps even the Primates Meeting could be called a council. But they are muddled in their structural relationship to each other, and they lack power because any time a resolution or similar is passed which people do not like, the cry goes up 'but council X has no authority in our realm'! A new Communion, if it is to have meaning as a new Communion will necessarily involve less autonomy for its member churches, and greater authority for its councils. Otherwise we may as well continue as we are.
But there is a theological argument to be considered here, against contentions of the overriding importance of autonomy. Is the Anglican Communion an expression of the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of God', a branch, as some hold, of the global church for which other great branches are the Roman and Eastern churches? If it is such an expression, can it meaningfully claim to be 'one' when autonomy counts against common life across the globe? Further, can it meaningfully think of itself as a 'branch' when it entertains possibilities for its understanding of ministry which drive it further away from the other branches, rather than closer together? To be an expression of God's 'one' church, it necessarily needs to be open to greater oneness, to union with other expressions of God's 'one' church, rather than consistently inhibited in both its own unity to say nothing of greater unity with others by propensity to be governed by the value of 'autonomy'.
Cutting to the chase, I would like to see a new 21st century Anglican Communion of member churches from around the whole world, east and west, north and south, binding themselves together as a church of three orders, one common eucharist*, concurring with the ancient church that baptism is admittance to the eucharist, sharing a common lectionary with at least the Roman church, built upon a gospel of salvation from sin in which Christ's death on the cross is the one perfect sacrifice offered once and for all time.
The one point of difference with Rome and Constantinople I would not give away is the ordination of women to the three orders (and I think there is a theological case for this point of difference not being a complete barrier to future unity).
For this global Communion to hold together in contrast to its current spinning apart I suggest the following conciliar structure based on a starting point in which those who wish to belong to the new Communion both agree to a common doctrinal foundation for the Communion, and to this structure and its authority. That is, the role of the new conciliar structure would be to uphold what has been agreed, and to consider proposals for future variation to faith and order.
(1) The Archbishop of Canterbury remains convening bishop for the common life of the Communion, reinforcing the historical base of Anglican life, as that beginning with the Church of England, and before that with the ancient church of the British isles.
(2) The supreme council of the church is the regular gathering of its bishops, i.e. 'the Lambeth Conference', and this council has authority over the common life of the Communion, including admitting new member churches (and, concomitantly, suspending or expelling errant members). To this council, bishops 'bring their dioceses', so the chief route of the voices of clergy and laity are via diocesan synods and general synods of member churches (who should elect bishops who will represent them well, and not elect mavericks or heretics!)
(3) A new feature of conciliar life would be regional councils of bishops held at least once between supreme councils of bishops. These regional councils would play at least this decisive role in global Anglican faith and order: no resolution affecting faith and order would be proposed at the supreme council unless it was proposed by a regional council. (An important detail to be worked out here would be whether some or all matters of faith and order resolved at a supreme council needed to be ratified by regional councils).
That should sort out the gold from the dross, and prevent even a supreme council from being carried away in the emotion of the moment.
I would suggest regions that incorporated diversity such as 'Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa', 'North America, South America, the Caribbean, and North Pacific', 'Central, West and Southern Africa, and West Asia', and 'South-East Asia, and South Pacific'. Actually, even better would be placing TEC, Nigeria, and Uganda in one region. If they could agree on something, it could really fly :)
(4) The 'standing committee' or 'executive council' of the new Communion, meeting on a regular basis between supreme councils of bishops, would be the Primates meeting together. (Member churches: through your general synods of bishops, clergy, and laity choose your primates well, because they will be representing all of you!)
(5) The councils would need to have a unified constitutional basis for operating, be supported by an efficient 'Anglican Communion Office', paid for by all member churches contributing (and not beholden to any one source of finance), and have power to appoint appropriate advisory bodies such as theological and liturgical commissions.
All of this, remember, is for the sake of the mission of God which is, "to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel, to live the Gospel – and to pass it on."
*A common eucharist: would it be that difficult to agree to a common eucharist that we could pray together? There could be other eucharists authorised for use (e.g. by continuing currently authorised ones), but would it not be wonderful to have a common Anglican eucharist for the 21st century? Without any bias on my part - of course not! - I suggest the eucharist on page 404 of A New Zealand Prayer Book as a starting draft for such a common eucharist ...
Postscript: any Anglican who says that if we had had this structure in place in the 20th century then X, Y, or Z would not have happened will be summarily excommunicated :) Other arguments against this structure will, however,be considered on their merits!