The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, has returned to Scotland and written a reflection on the Primates' Meeting. Thus we read:
"As the statements make clear, the Meeting spent much time clarifying the role of the Primates’ Meeting as one of the Instruments of Communion. It should not be a place where decisions are made for the Communion or for Provinces. It was clear that most of us come – as I do – from Provinces where decision-making is collegial and consultative within our autonomous provincial structure.
So when our College of Bishops meets next week, my colleagues will not expect me to bring back a series of decisions for implementation. But they will want me to share with them the best account I can give of how other Provinces are dealing with the same problems as we face. That won’t just be an account of how far-off places are doing – because through the Instruments of Communion we expect to respond to the feelings and the difficulties of other Provinces. As they respond to us. That’s what it means to be a Communion."
I suggest that lovely though this sounds (We meet. We share. We care. We learn.) it begs a number of questions about being Anglican in a global communion.
(1) The Communion is an organisation. It has governance needs irrespective of whether the Communion itself should or should not govern individual member churches. Where does governance of the Communion as an organisation take place? With the Lambeth Conference becoming non-resolving, and the Primates' Meeting becoming disinterested in the Communion itself (though not becoming non-resolving, because willing to resolve about global warming etc), the governance of the Communion - as being observed by people other than myself - is increasingly in the hands of fewer and fewer people. In the case at hand, the Primates' Meeting, when one lot of primates will not sit down at even the table of discussion with another lot of primates, when do the reasons for that impairment of communion get addressed, let alone possible solutions become aired?
(2) Why spend funds on primates meeting together if the main return from doing so is hearing how similar problems in other parts of the world are faced? Other parts of the world are different so, by definition, it is highly likely that the solutions to those problems are interesting but not applicable elsewhere. Why not spend the funds closer to home? In New Zealand, for example, we Anglicans have problems around aging congregations, declining attendances, and shortages in ministry personpower. Should we pay for our primate to fly to Dublin or request that he meets with other church leaders in our land to see how their local solutions are working out because they are likely to be applicable in our context?
(3) But, it might be claimed, in response to (2), it means something to meet as Anglicans. We have things in common which bind us together. Also it means something to be a global community of Anglicans, so it means something to have representative meetings of the churches of that global Anglican community. But that line of thinking begs the question of what we do when we also realise the things we do not have in common as Anglicans. At which meeting do differences between Anglicans get addressed? Who works on the possibility that either these differences can be resolved (thus strengthening both our unity and our understanding of the extent of our common faith) or they cannot be resolved (thus opening up the question of not being what we think we are, a single global community of Anglicans, and the further question of what that might mean in terms of future meetings).
The Primates' Meeting could have given a lead on what it means to be Anglican at this time. It could have spoken about how these important representatives of Anglican churches saw the future of the Communion. It could have opened up the pain of our divisions and made some honest assessment of what these divisions mean for the global Anglican community.
The Meeting could have done all the above without making one decision that needed implementing by individual member churches when the primates returned home.
Essentially the Primates' Meeting has deluded itself that because it has no power to make decisions affecting the internal life of member churches, it has no power at all. It could have considerable power in respect of the life of the Communion as a global community: the power of influence, the power of vision, the power of stating problems and the power of proposing solutions for consideration.
That the Primates' Meeting used its power to make statements about a number of problems in the world and denied itself the power to make any statements about problems in the Communion is absurd.
Actions have consequences. In this case non-actions also have consequences. The Communion is becoming something other than a communion with every passing meeting because it is refusing to reflect on the reality of the impoverishment of its common life, let alone on the depth of its divisions.