Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wait, there is more ...

I guess there will be no end of post GC comment, but I will squeeze this post in and then try very, very hard to move on!

Preludium alerts me to this thoughtful piece of appreciation and criticism of TEC and the GC from one of TEC's priests, who was at the GC. It's by Canon Dr Neal Mitchell. I take heart from it, because it underlines my own critical observations. For example, on the matter of TEC's decline, Neal Mitchell says,

"Clearly, a denominational structure that served 3.6 million members that now serves 2.2 million members has to be reorganized. However, the decisions made at General Convention fails to show whether the leadership is really acknowledging that changed reality."


"TEC has lost 10% of its average Sunday attendance since 2003 (the year when the bishop of New Hampshire was consecrated). At a time when TEC is in significant decline due to conservatives leaving the denomination, the decisions to allow partnered gays to serve as bishops and to bless same sex unions—while it may bring some people into Episcopal churches—the overall effect will be to cause more theologically and culturally conservative people to leave TEC and will make TEC an even less attractive church for other theologically and culturally conservative people to consider joining."

Then Ephraim Radner probes the impact on the GC of recent and not so recent departures of conservative voices, as well as the impact on the conservatives of no longer being part of a diverse church. His conclusion is sobering for every Anglican at this time!

"As traditionalists leave TEC, consensus decision-making will prove more and more devoid of accountable divergent thinking, and the decisions made will become less and less informed and representative. This spells danger and self-destruction for the Episcopal Church. Alas, though, the same is true for the exiting groups. From the perspective of decision-making, the loss of divergent thinking will affect traditionalists who leave TEC as negatively in their own sphere as the liberal church they have left behind: alternative views will be suspect as “extreme” and councils “buffered” from their effects; small groups of decision-makers will prevail over the engagement of broad participation; and, just as importantly, the existence of multiple and available choices will spur exit over loyalty. American Anglicanism has never appeared so vulnerable as now (Canada is just a few steps behind).

A warning, then, a warning to all world Anglicans! All you who pass by! Do not touch the American disease! Too many choices, too many fears, insecurities and enmities, too few loyalties. The Anglican Communion cannot turn into an enclave. That is not what Christian communion embodies. Yet, should it simply split apart, it will become a set of enclaves, spreading their little seeds of insularity."

There is a grave danger that the Communion's future, and the future of some of its member churches is being defined by one issue. We will die if this is so.

PS Slightly away from the starting topic, but related to it, because it reminds us that there are other corners of the Communion which are troubled by division ... and also challenges us, I suggest, that the Communion being a church, with some agreed leadership structure, might be a good thing ... is this post by (Roman Catholic) Damian Thompson.

ADDENDA: Not unexpectedly Jordan Hylden offers a superbly written essay on GC 2009, its interpretation and its implications:

"If present trends hold, in the not-so-distant future many of [TEC's] members will be either in nursing homes or cemeteries, with devastating effects on the numerous small dioceses and parishes that are just barely holding on. And in far, far too many places, especially the seminaries, theological depth and immersion in the Scriptures and the catholic tradition is a thing of the past."

Then Austen Ivereigh offers an insight into the 'real issue', and the consequent likely future of the Communion, which I have not previously seen expressed before in this way:

"The point is, "schism" is not the right word for what is happening. A schism refers to a part of the Christian body separating from another. But the TEC is insufficiently united in itself to break away from the wider Anglican Church; and the Anglican Communion is insufficiently united to constitute something that can be broken away from.

It's much more complex, and messy, than schism. It's full-on balkanisation.

But out of chaos, order is emerging. Anglicans are splitting into two camps: a core of Anglicans -- those committed to the Covenant process -- are coming closer together, under Dr Williams's leadership, while the rest are spinning away from Canterbury and from each other.

The real split is not over homosexuality but between "Catholics" and "Protestants", the key historic tension within Anglicanism. The fissures do not run cleanly between provinces and churches, as the Anaheim rebels show. But this crisis is forcing people to choose. This is the real division: between those who believe in a Catholic ecclesiology and those who do not.

The "Protestants" -- divided between liberals and conservative evangelicals, in radical disagreement over homosexuality, as over much else -- cannot, by definition, come together, and will continue to fragment, leaving the "Covenant" Anglicans to come together around a firmer, more Catholic ecclesiology. Within the "Catholic" camp there will remain strong disagreements over homosexuality, but those are less important than the shared conception of Church.

Rome, of course, is firmly behind Dr Williams and the Covenant process: they know that at the end of it there is the prospect of an Anglican Church they can seek unity with. It'll be a lot smaller, necessarily, than the current Anglican Communion. But the prospects of unity will at last be real. It'll take years; maybe none of us will see it in our lifetimes. But my bet is that the before the end of Dr Williams' term the foundations for Catholic-Anglican unity will have been laid -- even as he is depicted as having helplessly overseen the disintegration of the Anglican Communion."

(An alternative view, that ++RW is effectively finished as leader of the AC and the AC is bust, is presented by Adrian Worsfield here. I think Adrian Worsfield misses the point that a Catholic ecclesiological drive through the middle of the Communion takes with it a great bulk of people in the moderate middle; people who are not constantly on the blogosphere fervently expressing their views, often extreme, from some clear edge of the church, but are faithfully in church each Sunday, a local church they appreciate belonging to a diocese and a diocese they appreciate belonging to a wider worldwide church).

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