Friday, November 13, 2009

The Anglican Communion future does not need to be ‘chaotic and uncertain’

I am a great admirer of Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict. Neither, however, are perfect; each is capable, on a given day, of outshining the other, either in the intellectual sphere, or in the leadership of their respective churches. If in my previous post I was critical of Archbishop Rowan it was because I think the Anglican Communion could do with a better intimation of the future than ‘chaotic and uncertain’ – a phrase in grave danger of being a self-fulfilling prophecy!

What intimation could be given? Let’s think a little about Pope Benedict and his recent offer to Anglicans. That offer is as though Benedict said to himself, “What is the Roman Catholic Church? It is the church which is catholic and Roman. There is not much room to negotiate the meaning of ‘Roman’, but there is some width in the word ‘catholic’. Let’s stretch it out a little and include Anglicans, providing they accept becoming Roman – submissive to the rule of Rome and agreeing to the teaching of Rome (i.e. the Catechism of the Catholic Church).”

What might Rowan say at this time to the Anglican Communion? He could say this, “What is the Anglican Communion? It is a communion or fellowship of Anglicans. Our difficulties are not with finding Anglicans – all sorts claim to be Anglicans, there are many of them, and they are spread across great tracts of the world – the Americas, Australasia, Asia, Africa and Europe. Our challenge is what kind of communion are we? When people talk of leaving, of deposing, of walking apart, something is not right with our fellowship. To renew our communion together we need to rediscover what we have in common. It has to be more than claiming the adjective ‘anglican’. Benedict is right: communion is based on common truth and common commitment to leadership. After all one definition of ‘Anglican’ is ‘in communion with the See of Canterbury’. Well, if people want to be in communion with the See there needs to be a common truth we share together. My role therefore is to lead the rediscovery. We can avoid chaos and uncertainty.”

To which many observers might add, “And the lead must be firm, clear, and understandable.”

In short, Benedict’s lead has been to take the simple name, Roman Catholic Church and emphasise the first two words, Roman Catholic Church. Rowan’s challenge is to take our simple name, Anglican Communion and emphasise the last word rather than the first word, with renewed determination, Anglican Communion.

What might we rediscover with Rowan? First, we might rediscover that common truth is international and transcends local culture. If TEC is engaged with cultural transformation in the USA re liberalizing sexual mores and being criticized for it, we are seeing an analogous situation in Uganda at this time: a Ugandan church engaged with cultural transformation in Uganda re conservatizing sexual mores and being criticized for it. Some questions of humanity concern all humanity. In particular a communion of Christians around the world cannot be a communion if the interests of one are not the interests of all (Philippians 2:4). Canterbury – the See in which we claim to be in communion – could lead us forward in this discovery, holding out the hope of order not of chaos. The humility of the current holder of the office is just the model we require for such enquiry as we engage with and listen to each other (Philippians 2:3).

We might, secondly, reappraise the adequacy of the leadership of our Communion in the light both of our upheavals, and of the possibilities for bold leadership demonstrated by Benedict. Communion involves a common commitment to leadership: we commune under one who presides over us, though that one may have co-presidents close at hand. Can we truthfully say that our Anglican Communion has a presider? To an extent it is the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to an extent there are co-presidents (the Primates) close at hand. But only to an extent since we are also, to an extent, presided over by the ACC, Lambeth, and the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC (I hope I have that correct!). Do we need to ‘sharpen up’ the matter of presidency of the Communion, in line, simply, with the normative Anglican practice in ordinary parish churches, of our communion services being presided over by a president (bishop or priest)?

This question could lead, obviously, to a ‘papalism’, if not to the Petrine throne itself. But it need not. Anglican presidency of the Communion could involve presidency of a Communion council – just the one, not the several we currently have – as the key body ordering the common life of the Communion, determining the questions of common truth which transcend local cultural factors, and reminding us all of Christ as the centre of our life together.

There is no hidden agenda re the Covenant in the above paragraphs – I hope it is quite explicit! We need the Covenant – not as a stick to beat TEC with (the great fear of Covenant opponents) – but as a clarion call to TEC and Uganda (merely to cite two current examples) to make a commitment to common truth discerned by the whole Communion greater than commitments to pursue engagements with local cultural matters.

I will stop there. Much more needs to be said to work out some of the detail implied in these two points. Suffice for now to press the issue, in the light of Benedict’s offer, what does Communion mean to Anglicans? Is our Communion more important than being Anglican? (!!)


Rosemary Behan said...

Good questions Peter, and they deserve an answer, but I’m not holding my breath before getting one from our hierarchy, of whatever country!! Plus, in view of the Revision Committee decision in England, compared to the generosity of the Pope, I’m wondering if the Anglican communion is seriously looking for an answer. In earlier days, I had hoped that our country could provide that answer, even that this Diocese might do so, but it seems it’s not to be.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Rosemary!