Thursday, December 2, 2010

Suspend the Communion?

If I were the Autocrat in charge of the Communion (and if the Communion would do what I said) what would I do? Thinking about that initially led me in the direction of some complex arrangements (i.e. of a kind that a committee would never agree to, but a creative Autocrat could determine!) but I think something quite simple might be the order of the day. It would not need an Autocrat to be appointed to make the decision, just a collective will to act. The simple recommendation works from a post of Christopher's Johnson's which in turn reflects on a post by Cranmer.

Currently the Communion is experimenting with suspending the full involvement of some members of some committees as a consequence of excursions from orthodoxy and incursions into other bishop's jurisdictions. One problem with this approach is that some see it as too little, too late: thus the GAFCON Primates are doing their own bit of suspending in turn, suspending themselves from the Primates' Meeting in January 2011. So here is the idea, which extends the concept of suspension. Let's suspend the whole Communion: all committees, all Communion wide roles. Let no committee meet and no primates travel on 'Anglican Communion' business. Say for twenty years.

During that time Anglicans will make choices about meeting together, about inviting this one and that one to preach and to preside, and about conferences of various kinds. Choices will also be made about ordinations and liturgical services. After twenty years some clarity will emerge about which Anglicans want to be in a formal relationship with each other and which do not. Or, indeed, clarity may emerge about never again attempting to maintain a formal "Communion". During those twenty years the evolution of global Anglicanism will take place without current stresses and strains, and without displays of pique and hurt about who is in and who is out.

In short: rather than a Communion polity in which a few are suspended because our formal life cannot contain our diversity, how about suspending Communion polity itself?

What do you think?


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
This proposal sounds appealing at first reading, doesn't it? We all just say it's too hard, and just hang out with those we get along with. We focus on spreading our particular message rather than fighting all the time. It would save time monitoring the blogosphere, too :)

But I wonder if it won't lead us into even greater complexity and confusion. I'm not sure if we would be suspending church polity, so much as replacing it with myriads of smaller polities seeking to replace the vacuum. I think we would end up with fragmentation into ever smaller groupings, rather than suspension.

I'm not sure it will reduce the anger or tension, either. I imagine that some Anglican entities will take the opportunity to undertake "border crossing" without fear of retribution. See if that reduces anger or tension! I know border crossing happened under the current Communion structure, but it would likely to spread unchecked if we abandoned the formal Communion. I could see African provinces starting congregations in England, for starters. And I imagine TEC would spread its wings further internationally, too.

I think the parallel structures strategy within the Communion, as undertaken by GAFCON, is probably the right way. They are self-suspending from Communion structures, but they retain formal membership. This enables them to focus on their mission undistracted by other parts of the Communion, but shows that they remain committed to the apostolic faith as received and expressed in the Anglican tradition.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
You could be right, but I think it worth considering all proposals which might lead in the long-term to fruitfulness in ministry and mission.

I am not asking you to offer a response (since it may not lead to any great achievement) but it does strike me as intriguing to ponder the real-time difference between my proposal and your affirmation "I think the parallel structures strategy within the Communion, as undertaken by GAFCON, is probably the right way. They are self-suspending from Communion structures, but they retain formal membership." If various parallel structures are "self-suspending" it all starts to look like a whlly suspended polity ...

Lionel Deimel said...

If the alternative to Peter’s suggestion is adoption (or partial adoption) of the Covenant, I like his suggestion. (Would 100 years be better?)

Suspending the Communion would leave all churches free to do mission, rather than politics. I suspect a lot more mission would get done. I am perfectly willing to let any Anglican church establish congregations here in the U.S. The Episcopal Church would continue to fight theft of parish property in the courts, however.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
You're right in that perhaps there may not be much practical difference between self-suspension of particular groups and a formal suspension of all Communion activities. Maybe a formal suspension might even have more integrity about it - we recognise we don't have a common faith and practice to work from.

One other point that came to me after I posted yesterday was regarding the smaller provinces in the Communion. Provinces like Aus, NZ, US, and the CofE may all continue on our merry way, forming new partnerships and structures. But being part of the Communion really matters for smaller provinces like Jerusalem and the Middle East, Sudan Pakistan, North & South India, SE Asia. In the midst of their difficulties and struggles, the Communion structure helps them to feel that they are part of something bigger, and that others are advocating for them. Would the ABC be able to speak as authoratatively about Sudan or the Middle East if there was a suspension of Communion activity?

liturgy said...

I don't know where you are writing from, Andrew, but please don't perpetuate the myth that the Anglican Church in NZ is large. I do not know the stats for what you describe as the smaller provinces - certainly they have many more dioceses than we do in NZ. We insist on not keeping any statistics, and even Peter, who probably has access to diocesan stats has never added up church attendance :) but I wouldn't think there would be many more than about 30,000 in church this Sunday.