Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What does it mean to be an Anglican Christian (April 2010)?

I have put a date by the title to this post because I may sense a different answer is required in May 2010 or March 2014! But over the past week some interesting posts have been made available concerning Anglican polity, especially in respect of the evolving situation of the Diocese of South Carolina (Is it truer to TEC's true foundations than TEC itself? Or is it slowly asserting traditional South Carolingian values of being, well, rebellious to a larger sphere of government?). They have been made by the 'usual suspects': ACI and ACI, Mark Harris and Mark Harris. In the case of Mark Harris' posts on his blog Preludium, it is worth reading the comments which follow.

From a distance I find these debates interesting, but that may say more about me than about the debates! It seems strangely easy for some mistakes to be made, such as asserting the sovereignty of dioceses within a church such as TEC when the bishop of each diocese is dependent on consents of other bishops and standing committees to simply become the bishop. That's interdependency not sovereignty!

But my reflection here is less on the detail of polity and more on the question of what it means to be an Anglican. Here is my reading of some answers permeating through the ACI and Mark Harris posts.

(1) To be an Anglican Christian is to belong to a member church of the Anglican Communion and to abide by the decisions of that church (even if those decisions run against decisions of Communion bodies).

Comment: I discern this as the view at the top of TEC, supported by many commenters who weigh in against recently departed Episcopalians to ACNA as "wannabe Anglicans".

(2) To be an Anglican Christian is to belong to a member church of the Anglican Communion, to generally abide by the decisions of that church, but to reserve a right to distance oneself (and distance one's parish or diocese) from that member church in favour of a decision of the Anglican Communion.

Comment: This seems to be the situation in which the Diocese of South Carolina finds itself in.

(3) To be an Anglican Christian is to believe what Anglicans have believed through the ages, to worship according to Anglican patterns of worship (e.g. following an Anglican prayer book), and to live with a traditional Anglican order (deacons, priests, bishops).

Comment: This is the situation of those Anglican churches which are neither part of the Anglican Communion nor belong to ACNA. I think the Traditional Anglican Communion is one such body, though it is currently moving to become part of the Anglican Ordinariate of Rome.

(4) To be an Anglican Christian is all of (3 [corrected from initial post]) PLUS making every effort to be formally connected to the Anglican Communion, such effort may include being in an 'irregular' relationship with a member church of the Communion.

Comment: This is the situation of the Anglican Church of North America, which includes many churches which are overseen by bishops of Anglican churches outside of the geographical area of North America.

I admit personally to being somewhat obtuse about how (1) can be satisfactory. Yes, there will be differences of viewpoint between member churches of the Communion and some decisions of the Communion (ACANZP has experience of this, as commenters here never cease to remind me!). But it seems extraordinary that a trajectory of a member church could take it further away from the middle ground of the Communion with the effect that people leaving that church or rebelling against it for Anglican Communion reasons then become non-Anglicans. Too much disconnect there!

(2) is, in its own way, also very unsatisfactory. Too much unresolved tension. Something must give. My hope is that what will give is Communion resistance to formally (and joyfully) including those Anglicans who find themselves in tune with the mind of the Communion and out of tune with their local Anglican church (i.e. member church of the Communion).

In some ways (3) is the simplest position to assert: one can be Anglican whether or not the local member church of the Communion is swimming with the Communion or away from it, and whether or not the Communion embraces you.

Of course (4) hopes to gain from the possibility that may come to (2): the Communion will welcome those in situation (4).

Notice how (1), (2) and (3) all include the Anglican Communion as a necessary feature of being an Anglican: one is a member of a member church of the Communion or one is a member of a body making determined steps towards becoming a member of the Communion. Ergo the Anglican Communion has a significant role to play in what it means to be an Anglican.

Will it take up the challenges of that role? Will it welcome Christians whose heart, soul, mind and body is in tune with Anglican character as determined by the Anglican Communion? Will it tell member churches which make decisions difficult to square with Anglican theology to ease up on the pressure they place on dissident members?

From this perspective, if the Anglican Communion falls over, it may have come about because the Communion failed to take up its role of determining what it means to be an Anglican Christian!


Kurt said...

“To be an Anglican Christian is to believe what Anglicans have believed through the ages, to worship according to Anglican patterns of worship (e.g. following an Anglican prayer book), and to live with a traditional Anglican order (deacons, priests, bishops).”

It may surprise you, Peter, but I would agree, more or less, with the above definition of what it is to be an Anglican in the broadest sense of the term.

When I was a youth in the early Sixties, one of our parish curates taught me about the existence of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Not withstanding the fact that this priest was very Anglo Catholic, he held (in common with most seminarians at General Theological in the 1930s and 40s) that the REC had a valid (though irregular) ministry. And while they were deeply influenced by “that heresy, Calvinism” they retained the essentials of being Anglican in the broadest sense.

Similarly, I would consider most, if not all, of the denominations of Continuing Anglicans to be truly Anglican. They are not, of course, presently members of the Anglican Communion. I would not preclude their joining the AC as, say, Associated Churches, if they were to agree to inter-communion with TEC. (Of course, Continuing Anglicans already can receive Holy Communion in TEC parishes).

Kurt Hill
In Spring-like Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for that helpful comment, Kurt!

Marshall Scott said...

Peter, are you sure of your enumeration? It seems to me that your item 4 would be not "all of (2) plus...." but rather "all of (3) PLUS making every effort to be formally connected to the Anglican Communion;" for item (2) already includes participation in some sense in the Communion through one of the national/provincial churches. So, then, "(1), (2) and (4) all include the Anglican Communion as a necessary feature...."

I suppose that once again the question is "for what purpose;" or perhaps "by whose measure." The responses offered to our current differences are largely institutional, including the draft Anglican Covenant. Institutional structures tend to draw institutional lines - for some purposes boundaries, while for some simply guidelines - such as some measure of participation in th Anglican Communion. To use the language of "Anglican family," as in the recent Church of England substitute motion, offers the widest participation but says nothing about relationships. To use the language of "Anglican tradition" begs the question of whether that is explicitly content, or also implies a method for theological reflection that allows for differences over time and among the parties reflecting. It also begs the question of how wide to consider "traditional Anglican order. Brother Kurt raises the point of REC orders as "irregular," without dismissing validity. One could say the same, really, about the first episcopal ordinations of AMiA - irregular, without making claims about validity. It could also be said for a small number of bodies in the United States claiming to be Episcopal/Anglican but are more progressive than the Episcopal Church (and yes, they do exist).

I am not aware of whether there are Anglican splinters as widely known outside of North America as they are here (with the notable exceptions of the Traditional Anglican Communion and the Church of England of [or is it "in"] South Africa - but surely not in the same numbers). Here in the United States there are simply so many small fragmented groups that coming to a broad enough understanding of what it means to be Anglican would seem difficult.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Marshall,
Whoops, yes, I got that enumeration wrong when reordering during writing - now corrected!

Thank you for your reflections, especially around "for what purpose" and "by whose measure".

I think it is Anglican to wish to be part of something bigger (including the wish of the Anglican Communion to seek to be part of a larger ecumenical world church with Catholics and Orthodox). It is also Anglican to make reference both to the local, historically continuous Anglican church (as measured by participation in the Anglican Communion) and to the global expression of being Anglican, i.e. to the Communion, when working out what it means to be Anglican, including ongoing reflection within developing Anglican tradition.

Anonymous said...

“For what purpose?” is helpful.

Your article would make a fine dictionary entry. You vow to your bishop, she and you are committed to General Synod, and pledge to your province’s formularies. There is no mention of “decisions of Communion bodies” in your constitution or canons. In fact there is not even a mention of “Communion bodies” in your constitution or canons. So for the purpose of you and the ministers you train the answer is (1). No disconnect, just integrity. If you don’t agree, don’t make the vows, don’t sign the promises. The disconnect is too many people sign the paper, make the vows, and then breach them.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
I am talking about the meaning of being an Anglican in general terms (for lay and for clergy, for unlicensed participants in the pews as well as for licensed participants in the sanctuary). Those who are licensed should stick by their vows and declarations as a matter of taking their vows and upholding them (or surrender their license). But the freedom of Anglican consciences allows one, licensed or unlicensed, to reflect upon the possibility that one's church is claiming the name 'Anglican' while moving in an 'unAnglican' direction.

There are aspects of theology 'on the ground', for instance, in the life of ACANZP which concern me viz a viz faithfulness to Anglican theology, and were they to be enshrined in our canons and constitution, then I would wonder at the direction our church was formally moving in as measured against the general direction of the Anglican Communion as a whole. To so wonder would not, I hope, be to the detriment of my integrity!