Thursday, June 17, 2010

Conciliar Anglican Thoughts

Permeating global Anglicanism at the moment, post prelatial Pentecost postings, are some important issues: autonomy, authority, discernment of the Spirit, discipline. Beyond some immediate, urgent angst and anger about discipline, these issues underline that global Anglicanism is only beginning a conversation about the future shape and structure of global Anglicanism. Will we be a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, or a loose fellowship of autonomous Anglicans enjoying meeting together, or a lightly revised Anglican Communion (with or without Covenant, with or without North American funding enabling the panoply of committees and commissions to continue meeting), or (as I am disposed to envision) a global Anglican Church? A cynic might respond and say that we will be nothing quite so precisely described because we may simply continue wallowing in the shallows of the beginning stages of a discussion which not only never ends, but never moves forward to the next, and deeper stage of conversation!

I am intrigued, continuing to take Preludium (both Mark Harris' postings, and the comments responding) as a reliable guide to a strong if not dominant voice within TEC, at the robustness of response there to the recent discipline of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is underlining of autonomy: we are right to do what we do, and no other part of Communion life has the right to tell us we are wrong, nor to inhibit our presence in the life of the Communion, even though that Communion's life is diminishing as a result of our actions. In other words, the strong push from TEC is for its vision of Communion life to be the vision shaping Communion life: more fellowship than church, more movement than institution, more diversified than unified, more diversity than uniformity, more liberal than orthodox, more progressive than conservative.

For this vision there definitely is support within a number of other churches of the Communion, notably the churches of Canada, of the United Kingdom and Ireland, of Australasia, of South America (outside the Southern Cone), of Central America, and of Southern Africa. I do not think that support amounts to majority support within those churches taken collectively but (and its quite an important 'but') I do not think one alternative vision is shared by the remaining majority. To give just one instance, among evangelicals in those churches there are those committed to a 'Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans' vision and those committed to a Communion-with-Covenant vision.

Here I do not want to attempt to work out which vision, in the end, might succeed in shaping the future of global Anglicanism. But I do want to observe that we are in for further conflict. It is difficult to imagine TEC backing away from assertion of their vision of autonomous Anglican churches meeting for fellowship, signalled by accepting the discipline of the ABC. Conversely, a Communion open to the Covenant, keen to emphasise a vision for Communion life stressing unity, common mindedness, and shared approaches to ecumenism, is likely to support the ABC's light but consequential inhibition of TEC. Thus the next year or so, including the run up to the scheduled Primates' Meeting, will involve difficult conversations. A great challenge for the primates, including Archbishop Rowan and Presiding Bishop Katharine, will be to articulate the respective visions driving their contributions to the conversation. Fussing about mitres and the like is not trivial, but it may obscure the bigger issues that need attending to.

My own vision, for a shaping and structuring of the Communion on an evolving pathway towards being a global church, directly clashes with a vision for autonomous churches meeting for fellowship. A challenge for my vision is to develop an understanding of conciliarity which is attractive rather than repelling. But a challenge for TEC's alternative vision is to at least retain a fellowship which wishes to meet together.

The forthcoming visit of the Presiding Bishop to Aotearoa New Zealand is going to be very interesting. It is unlikely that we will hear anything we have not already heard before (courtesy of the accessible and instant nature of communication of addresses and sermons on the internet). But what we may hear which will be new is our response to her vision for the future of the Communion.

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