Friday, February 13, 2009

Pause and Patience

At times in the years GR (i.e. 0 G(ene)R(obinson) = 2003) it has seemed that the Communion's break up is imminent. If not tomorrow, then the day after. By contrast, the patience of the Archbishop of Canterbury has appeared variously unrealistic, out of touch, and even belonging to some parallel universe. But the post Alexandrian feel to the Communion offers hints that patience has been a good strategy and Rowan Williams is God's man for such a time as this.

Jordan Hylden, noted before on this blog, writing at First Things (hat-tip to Fulcrum), benchmarks Alexandria as the place where Communion has meant Communion: even a broken Communion can draw out a longing for a deeper Communion rather than for tossing in the towel and throwing toys out of the cot. In the last part of this article Jordan offers the prospect of an obituary to (so-called) 'federal' model of Anglicanism.

"But it is precisely the “federal model”—Anglicanism as a federation of autonomous, doctrinally diverse local churches—that did not fare well at Egypt, just as it found disfavor last summer at Lambeth. We have seen, in both cases, something of a consensus emerging. The great majority of Anglicans worldwide seek a “deeper communion” with each other, and are prepared to cede a certain amount of their autonomy to achieve it.

Of course, the federal model does nonetheless have more than a few proponents. There remain both “federal conservatives” and “federal liberals” (as the English Evangelical Graham Kings has put it), both groups of which, for all their doctrinal differences, share the belief that Anglicanism as a communion does not matter all that much. How have they fared?

The “federal conservatives”—represented by Bishop Duncan’s new Anglican church (ACNA)—have, it would seem, taken a step back for the time being. Although acknowledged as genuine Anglicans by the primates in Egypt, their new body is far from being recognized as possessing full provincial status. It is, as the Windsor Continuation Group report noted, not clear what status groups within ACNA such as the Reformed Episcopal Church (which broke from the Episcopal Church in 1873) have in the larger communion, nor is it precisely clear what sort of recognition ACNA seeks.

Some, perhaps, hoped that official communion recognition could be bypassed altogether in favor of recognition by the GAFCON council. But the GAFCON primates themselves, in Egypt, have apparently decided that this route is premature. Instead, the primates at Egypt proposed that a professionally mediated discussion be initiated among all the concerned parties, with the goal of finding some sort of “provisional holding arrangement” that could have the blessing of the communion at large.

What of the “federal liberals,” particularly in the Episcopal Church? As has long been clear, it is unlikely that it will sign on for the sort of robust covenant and institutional reform that the emerging consensus is envisioning. The church’s Executive Council recently published its response to the proposed Anglican Covenant, more or less saying that it is not interested in any sort of covenant with consequences. Bonnie Anderson, the president of the church’s House of Deputies, has for her part signaled that at this summer’s General Convention she will push to move away from an earlier resolution that called for restraint on further consecration of gay bishops. Although the American church does not plan on taking up the covenant at its convention this summer, the arrows thus far point towards an effectual rejection of its terms.

Tellingly and worryingly, the Executive Council’s response also asserted that the proposed Covenant may only be adopted or rejected at the provincial level, rather than the diocesan. For many “communion conservatives” who still remain within the Episcopal Church, this will amount to a deep crisis of conscience, since in effect their church seems bent upon forcing them to choose between the Anglican communion and the Episcopal Church.

The “Communion Partners” group within the Episcopal Church has pledged itself to remain both Anglican and Episcopal, but if current trajectories continue this may become impossible. A further key move of Rowan Williams and the primates at Egypt was the creation (as mentioned previously at Lambeth) of a “Pastoral Forum,” by which trusted figures from around the Anglican world would be appointed to help warring parties to arrive at agreed-upon solutions. It does not take a crystal ball to see that, in all likelihood, this will be needed in America.

All of these issues and then some remain to be worked out in due time. “There is,” as the WCG report said, “a fundamental ecclesiological question” at stake: “do the churches of the communion wish to live as a communion?” No doubt some do not, but in Egypt as at Lambeth, it has appeared that most of them do. For their part, the primates in Egypt showed a remarkable willingness to work together for the good of the communion, rejecting both the easy disunity of atomized purity and the false, surface-level harmony of smiles and happy feelings, determining instead to seek the unity in fellowship that comes only in the truth of the gospel and at the foot of the cross."

Anglican Down Under notes and applauds the pause of the GAFCON primates; wonders if TEC at its GC 2009 will pause or put the foot on the accelerator; and hopes Kiwi Anglicans know which side their bread is buttered on!

Read the whole article here.

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