Thursday, March 25, 2010

An international Anglican church?

For much of my life I have read the Christchurch Press, the largest circulating paper in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Relative to, say, the New York Times and The Times of London it is an insignificant paper. Indeed quite a bit of its news is sourced from such international papers. In particular the Press often carries articles written by Ruth Gledhill about, you guessed it, events in the life of British and world Anglicanism.

That means that even in a tiny country with a small Anglican church (as some commenters often point out to me), parishioners reading their morning paper over their toast are liable to choking on the crumbs when they read the latest twist and turn to world Anglican life.

When those parishioners have recovered control of their vocal chords and ring their vicar to 'Please explain why I should continue worshipping in an Anglican church when X, Y, or Z is allowed to go on ...', the vicar, perhaps having been at Morning Prayer rather than reading the paper, wisely asks a holding question, 'Where is this taking place?'. Naturally the vicar hopes it is happening in the next parish because the resolution of the situation will be forthcoming from the local bishop :) But it is a forlorn hope because it is happening far away and the vicar is faced with the prospect of losing parishioners through events beyond his or her power to influence them via a quick email to the bishop!

Now we could weigh the merits of Anglicans ceasing to worship in one place because of events far away, but my point here is that the niceties of 'the Anglican Communion is not a world church' are lost on many Anglicans in this new age of instant communication. Citing Ruth Gledhill's reproduced articles is but one example of the multifarious ways in which international Anglican news can be accessed. What happens in Wichita can be known within seconds in Winton, the warts and all of the episcopal candidates for Rio Grande are now displayed on the internet for Rio de Janeiro Anglicans to see. If it matters to Anglicans in Perth, Australia what is happening to Scottish Episcopalians in Perth, Scotland, it might just be time to consider how Anglicans the world over can have some sense of ownership of the brand 'Anglican'. In a word, there is a simple reason to think seriously about the Anglican Communion of national churches becoming an international Anglican church: the world is now smaller; smaller, I suggest, than a nation.

Unfortunately detractors of this idea are troubled by 'bogeymen', the worst of them , apparently, is the Roman Catholic church. What would a world Anglican church look like? There is just one option, these detractors say, another Roman church ... and look at the news today to see what a bad option that is.

That is a bit silly really. Why should an Anglican world church not be an Anglican world church? But the bogeyman is always a good strategy to attempt to kill an argument. Unfortunately people more often act out of fear than out of faith.

So, let's just suppose we could send the bogeyman argument back where it belongs. Then I suggest that Michael Poon's article, entitled, "The Anglican Communion as Communion of Churches: on the historic significance of the Anglican Covenant" helpfully charts the way forward. Not least because it helpfully, with impressive scholarship, charts the way from the beginning of the Anglican Communion: there has been a trajectory towards the Communion becoming a church, if only we have eyes to see it!

But let us be clear, there is no secret plan within the Communion's inner circles to impose the conclusion of the trajectory on unsuspecting parishioners (as some internet comments seem to presume). There is a choice. But here's the thing, if we choose to pull back from a greater Anglican unity, are we conforming to God's great will for the world?

God's open plan for the world is this: "a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth' (Ephesians 1:10).

It would be good, from time to time, to read in the Christchurch Press how the Anglican Communion-becoming-church is fulfilling this plan.


Anonymous said...

Can you please let your readers know what news was so upsetting in your Press. If the article does not explain the Anglican Communion, and the readers are genuinely interested but ignorant, isn’t this an opportunity for the church to explain? You are suggesting America the continent become one country because Kiwi readers of the Press are too ignorant to understand the difference between America when used in the Press for USA and America when used for the continent. You were recently huffing about a doctrinal breach in what you acknowledge to be a tiny province, yet nothing was done about it. You have referred to a scandal more significant than that, yet nothing was done about it. If you cannot sort things in your tiny church, how will making the Anglican Communion one church solve any of your issues at all (the Anglican Communion is about a thousand times bigger)?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I do not expect an article in any newspaper attending to some Anglican news or views to carry with it explanation of the subtlety that the Anglican Communion is a world communion but not a world church. It is reasonable to expect (say) a diocese to explain this in its publications. Though it might be tricky to explain why the diocese is expected to assist the bishop to travel about the Communion on business that may make no difference to the character of the Communion because no one, ultimately, has to take note of what the Communion has to say!

The kind of news which has been upsetting relates to the generally held teaching of the church. So a headline from the 1980s about the Bishop of Durham not believing in the resurrection is one example. A headline from the 1990s and 2000s in similar vein could have been about John Spong's latest publication. Another headline in the 2000s could concern a liberalizing of a member church's approach to same sex partnerships.

While it is quite true that an NZ Anglican should be intellectually capable of distinguishing their local jurisdiction from another overseas; the fact is that emotionally we can feel joined at the hip with others far away, and thus reasonably ask, "How can they call themselves Anglican and believe what goes against Scripture?"


I think it could be easier to deal with some of our local difficulties if we had a clearer idea of what the world Anglican church expects of us, than the current situation where we feel beholden only to ourselves.