Friday, July 30, 2010

Reconstruct the Anglican Communion and Stop the (Mal)adjustments

The recently completed AngComStCom meeting represents a number of things which are particularly poor about the Anglican Communion at the moment. Not least is a "making it up as we go" approach to membership of this potentially very, very important committee. The beginning of the meeting saw tinkering with the constitution of its membership (while the potential new member to be admitted waited outside). Then the meeting signalled desire for further change, but recognised that in this instance even it could not authorise change itself, and so ACC-Kiwi in 2012 will consider the proposal. Adjustment or maladjustment?

Fortunately Archbishop Rowan Williams, who else, has the brains, vision, and voice to recognise that the tinkering needs to stop and a root-and-branch review of Communion structures for the 21st century is required, as reported by George Conger:

"As he has done before, Archbishop Williams questioned whether the Communion’s structures are adequate for the 21st century. He pressed for further review, “So when it comes to looking at the complex questions of the Communion we have a better foundation upon which to build.”"

To help Dear Leader along, I offer the following plan for reconstruction. Broad picture stuff, of course, with many details to be worked out!

A starting and finishing point for this reconstruction begins with observing that in a couple of days Bishop Winston Halapua (currently a bishop of the Diocese of Polynesia, resident in Auckland, where he has also been principal of the College of Polynesia within the College of St John the Evangelist) will be installed as Archbishop of Polynesia, resident in Suva, and responsible for this oceanic diocese which includes Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and congregations in New Zealand (principally Auckland city). In setting out his task Winston has said this brilliant and easily memorable vision, reported in Taonga, and noticed faraway by Preludium:

"The mission,” he said, “is simply to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel, to live the Gospel – and to pass it on."

A new Communion needs to be an appropriate expression of the ekklesia of God for preaching the gospel, teaching the gospel, living the gospel and pass it on. Understanding this is very important, and highlights the need for a Communion which shares a common understanding of what the gospel is. Our future Communion needs to be a 'Common union'. At the moment it has more the feel of a 'Disunited Diversity'!

From this starting point I suggest that the Communion of the 21st century needs structures that 'guard the gospel' in the sense of continually articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ which binds us together and propels Anglican mission forwards, and, where necessary, clearly maintains unity-in-the-gospel through procedures of discipline (i.e. of teaching what the gospel is, and is not).

Yet this is an Anglican Communion we are talking about, and new structures cannot, by definition, involve a 'pope', nor an understanding of the gospel which is narrowly construed on one and only one theological line. New structures, to avoid papalism, and to enhance reasonable, traditional, Scriptural diversity, will necessarily be conciliar, that is, involve councils.

We have some councils already, such as Lambeth and ACC, and, perhaps even the Primates Meeting could be called a council. But they are muddled in their structural relationship to each other, and they lack power because any time a resolution or similar is passed which people do not like, the cry goes up 'but council X has no authority in our realm'! A new Communion, if it is to have meaning as a new Communion will necessarily involve less autonomy for its member churches, and greater authority for its councils. Otherwise we may as well continue as we are.

But there is a theological argument to be considered here, against contentions of the overriding importance of autonomy. Is the Anglican Communion an expression of the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of God', a branch, as some hold, of the global church for which other great branches are the Roman and Eastern churches? If it is such an expression, can it meaningfully claim to be 'one' when autonomy counts against common life across the globe? Further, can it meaningfully think of itself as a 'branch' when it entertains possibilities for its understanding of ministry which drive it further away from the other branches, rather than closer together? To be an expression of God's 'one' church, it necessarily needs to be open to greater oneness, to union with other expressions of God's 'one' church, rather than consistently inhibited in both its own unity to say nothing of greater unity with others by propensity to be governed by the value of 'autonomy'.

Cutting to the chase, I would like to see a new 21st century Anglican Communion of member churches from around the whole world, east and west, north and south, binding themselves together as a church of three orders, one common eucharist*, concurring with the ancient church that baptism is admittance to the eucharist, sharing a common lectionary with at least the Roman church, built upon a gospel of salvation from sin in which Christ's death on the cross is the one perfect sacrifice offered once and for all time.

The one point of difference with Rome and Constantinople I would not give away is the ordination of women to the three orders (and I think there is a theological case for this point of difference not being a complete barrier to future unity).

For this global Communion to hold together in contrast to its current spinning apart I suggest the following conciliar structure based on a starting point in which those who wish to belong to the new Communion both agree to a common doctrinal foundation for the Communion, and to this structure and its authority. That is, the role of the new conciliar structure would be to uphold what has been agreed, and to consider proposals for future variation to faith and order.

(1) The Archbishop of Canterbury remains convening bishop for the common life of the Communion, reinforcing the historical base of Anglican life, as that beginning with the Church of England, and before that with the ancient church of the British isles.

(2) The supreme council of the church is the regular gathering of its bishops, i.e. 'the Lambeth Conference', and this council has authority over the common life of the Communion, including admitting new member churches (and, concomitantly, suspending or expelling errant members). To this council, bishops 'bring their dioceses', so the chief route of the voices of clergy and laity are via diocesan synods and general synods of member churches (who should elect bishops who will represent them well, and not elect mavericks or heretics!)

(3) A new feature of conciliar life would be regional councils of bishops held at least once between supreme councils of bishops. These regional councils would play at least this decisive role in global Anglican faith and order: no resolution affecting faith and order would be proposed at the supreme council unless it was proposed by a regional council. (An important detail to be worked out here would be whether some or all matters of faith and order resolved at a supreme council needed to be ratified by regional councils).

That should sort out the gold from the dross, and prevent even a supreme council from being carried away in the emotion of the moment.

I would suggest regions that incorporated diversity such as 'Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa', 'North America, South America, the Caribbean, and North Pacific', 'Central, West and Southern Africa, and West Asia', and 'South-East Asia, and South Pacific'. Actually, even better would be placing TEC, Nigeria, and Uganda in one region. If they could agree on something, it could really fly :)

(4) The 'standing committee' or 'executive council' of the new Communion, meeting on a regular basis between supreme councils of bishops, would be the Primates meeting together. (Member churches: through your general synods of bishops, clergy, and laity choose your primates well, because they will be representing all of you!)

(5) The councils would need to have a unified constitutional basis for operating, be supported by an efficient 'Anglican Communion Office', paid for by all member churches contributing (and not beholden to any one source of finance), and have power to appoint appropriate advisory bodies such as theological and liturgical commissions.

All of this, remember, is for the sake of the mission of God which is, "to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel, to live the Gospel – and to pass it on."

*A common eucharist: would it be that difficult to agree to a common eucharist that we could pray together? There could be other eucharists authorised for use (e.g. by continuing currently authorised ones), but would it not be wonderful to have a common Anglican eucharist for the 21st century? Without any bias on my part - of course not! - I suggest the eucharist on page 404 of A New Zealand Prayer Book  as a starting draft for such a common eucharist ...

Postscript: any Anglican who says that if  we had had this structure in place in the 20th century then X, Y, or Z would not have happened will be summarily excommunicated :) Other arguments against this structure will, however,be considered on their merits!


Howard Pilgrim said...

Dreams are free, Peter, and this one of yours is grand enough that it deserves some serious responses. Here are my first reality-checking comments, in random order.

1. A Self disclosure: In case you hadn't got my number, I sit with those who have no alternative vision of a better Communion structure. That is, I go for your "Otherwise we may as well continue as we are" option. This is not entirely a counsel of despair (weariness maybe), but chiefly a belief that we can't fix relational breakdowns by finding new organisational structures. If those currently at loggerheads refuse to be reconciled, then our walking apart will continue and worsen. it is a mistake to suppose, in our modern manner, that interpersonal conflicts (clearly an important element of the situation) are generated mainly by structural defects, although these may exacerbate them. I do not think we can negotiate further structural changes in the current atmosphere without created new organisational defects.

2. Going beyond the relational breakdowns, there lies a deeply troubling theological rift. We must all be aware by now of the passionate strength of conviction that divides Anglicans who believe that received tradition can only be amended on the authority of scripture alone from those who include an important role for reasoned reflection on experience in this process. We are talking here about how we can ever know the mind of God, which is something Anglicans have done an enormous amount of reflection on over the centuries without coming to agreement. When one of your recent correspondents described an opponent's hermeneutic as "evil", this only illustrates the depth of our theological division. I can see no solution to this impasse other than to keep talking with one another, in as many forums as we can. Unfortunately, the Anglican blogosphere seems rather to show that we prefer to converse only with those who share our own convictions. Our recent hermeneutics hui was an engagement in honest theological dialogue, but I found it really hard work, the sort of process we all prefer to avoid.

3. One aspect of a modern Anglican ethos I find most reassuring is that we are, at least in this province, "episcopally led and synodically governed". The development of the ACC, reflecting the three orders of ministry of its constituent bodies, was a healthy expression of the synodical balance between bishops, clergy and laity in our churches. Your proposed structure seems like a reversion towards a more ancient regime of episcopal power, which never did us much good, and hasn't served the RCs so well either. How does your vision relate to this question?

4. Carefully avoiding the risk of excommunication by keeping my focus on the present and future, I do want to raise the matter of the ordination of women to priesthood and episcopacy. This change has proceeded in some provinces in spite of the strong opposition of others. In the C of E it has only now been made possible for women bishops to be ordained, with carefully circumscribed powers that may be seen to damage episcopacy as a whole. How will your proposed structure effect this situation for good or ill? "The one point of difference with Rome and Constantinople I would not give away is the ordination of women to the three orders." That is very forthright, but would you already be giving some of this away within your newly constituted Communion? I don't see the bishops worldwide driving this issue! Of course, I could be wrong, as always ...

Anonymous said...

It is intriguing and some would say apt that you regularly ascribe the title of the dictator, Kim Jong-il, to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Certainly it does not surprise many that he was appointed by a crypto-papist. You continue to hold a Roman rather than Anglican ecclesiology in your seeking the communion rather than the diocese to be the manifestation of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, and your new tagline reflects your confusion, as your previous tagline reflected other confusions you hold – thankfully, your realization that you were confused then is reflected in your recent change of tagline. Your structures might very well work if the Church of England is disestablished, as it assumes “election of bishops”. You are right in recently commenting that the Covenant will not work. It was never going to work, and Howard is right, your loud praising of the way it might have worked has been a strong warning. It is fascinating that the suggestion that all governance be in the hands solely of bishops comes from a province where bishops possibly have the least effect in the whole communion (dispute this by naming a province in which they have less effect). The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence but more likely the grass is greener over a hidden cesspit. There is nothing unusual in the way the Communion currently is that hasn’t been like that since the ordination of women – that you refuse to doubt the ordination of women should help you, but appears not to, reflect on how others hold to similar postbiblical developments (usury, divorce, etc.)


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard (and, some comments, Alison),
Please remember that this vision is 'my vision' and (in a fantastical moment in time) I get to institute it. Of course the reality is that the Communion could not agree on how to punch its way out of a paperbag at the moment, let along restructure itself. But posing an alternative model, when some are attempts at tinkering are being made, might persuade people to stop tinkering and pause to think about the greater needs of the situation!

I have very carefully said that bishops would be representing their dioceses and member churches which are synodically governed. That is different to Rome.

Ideally, yes, a supreme council of the Anglican Communion would be bishops, clergy and laity. But even I understand that that would be very expensive! Further, which laity have the time to attend such things: the rich ones, probably the rich older ones among us. Not very representational I suggest.

As for ACC doing a good representational job in its three houses: not in my book. Its a fig-leaf of representation in that way. There is simply no way that the conservative wing of our church, for instance, is represented by either our clerical or our lay reps!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
It is completely beyond my comprehension why you continue to read such a confusing blog!

Yes, I do understand that the 'diocese-and-its-bishop' is the basic 'unit' of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church; but I am not completely persuaded at all that the Communion is not an expression of the church of God.

Briefly, (1) the Communion is the sum of dioceses; (2) no diocese is an island unto itself: generally diocese belong to provinces/member churches; nominate but do not confirm bishops (requiring the wider church to do that); consecrate their bishop or bishops through bishops drawn from elsewhere; and are forbidden to change matters of faith and order which remain in the hands of the General Synod or Convention to which its sends representatives.

Furthermore, if one is going to have an argument about how small the basic unit of the church of God is, why not head in the direction of the 'congregation'?!

Anonymous said...

It is sad, Peter, that it is currently completely beyond your comprehension why I continue to participate in this blog. Because there have been moments when you have shown an irenic attitude to those who are TEClike, but currently something has pushed your reset button and you are back to your default position. Because, the example I used – the change in your tagline – shows that you do realize from time to time you are wrong and make (semi)permanent adjustments. Because I am trying to listen to and engage with people I may not always agree with. Because, as Howard says, “Unfortunately, the Anglican blogosphere seems rather to show that we prefer to converse only with those who share our own convictions.” [I do disagree with Howard’s analysis of Roman governance – it is not episcopally led, it is papaly led – diocesan bishops are his appointment and his vicar, whatever the theology books might say]. As for an Anglican priest suggesting the fullness of the catholic church is present in the congregation – do you teach Church, Ministry, and Sacraments at Theology House?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
Your comment has brought a smile to my face. Thank you!

Something has pushed my reset button? Indeed. I thought I was making that clear: TEC's uber influence in the Standing Committee does not please me. In my restructuring of the Communion, please note that I envisage TEC being in it, not out of it.

As for an Anglican priest thinking the fullness of the catholic church rests in the congregation: well, I do not think that, or teach that. But you may know that some Anglican priests, normally from a particular conservative evangelical background emphasise the congregation as the primary expression of the church (according to Article 19: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly- ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."). Thus my comment was a teasing reference to that direction in Anglican thinking.

Anonymous said...

This statement from Tony Fitchett, reported in titusonenine and the English Church Times, is very worrying:
"Dr Tony Fitchett agreed that the Committee needed as full a range of views as possible. “I’m conscious I’m not here representing my province,” he said. “I’m here because I was appointed by the ACC. My accountability is not to my Province. I expect to continue to serve on the [Standing Committee] even if my Province were ever to be unacceptable to other churches because of its actions.”

Power without responsibility! How did this man get on this decision making body? Was he appointed from NZ?

Al M.

Howard Pilgrim said...

I appreciate the thrust of your comments by and large, but where did you get the impression that I am batting for Rome? I am a New Zealand Anglican through and through, and it is here in ACANZP that synodical governance is alive and well with three active houses of bishops, clergy and laity. \

Peter it is that balance of houses that is missing from your dream Communion. As for a balance of conservatives against other theological persuasions, the bishops internationally will provide plenty of that! Which is why I am not at all misty eyed about any prospect of episcopal governance. Let the bishops of every theological camp get on with their prime task of leading us all in mission, and leave Rome to its curia and centralised control system.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Al,
I do not agree that Tony Fitchett is expressing 'power without responsibility'. I understand him to be saying that (a) having been appointed to the ACC by his (and my) own church, ACC has now elected him to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (the other contributing body is the Primates Meeting), (b) as a representative of the ACC on the SC he has a greater responsibility to represent the mind of the ACC on the SC than the mind of his own church.

In other words, he is aiming to exercise responsibility in respect of his membership of ACC and the confidence vested in him by that body.

Anonymous said...

I did not in any way get the impression that you were batting for Rome, Howard. Nor does my comment suggest that. I was merely nuancing your comment, "Your proposed structure seems like a reversion towards a more ancient regime of episcopal power, which never did us much good, and hasn't served the RCs so well either."
The RC church is not a "regime of episcopal power" despite theological theories and Vatican II documents mentioning episcopal collegiality. In practice it is a Vatican franchise operated by papal appointees.

Peter, we are looking forward to hearing how your motion for common prayer in your own diocese progresses, and after that your motion that this be submitted through your GS reps to the province. Then do write again about the value of that (or its failure) in relation to the Communion.


Andy S said...

A mistake being possibly made is there is only one Church and it is headed by Jesus Christ.

Church members exist in all denominations but not all who claim to be Christian are members.

This Church is not run by committee and is not subject to the whims and fancies of the latest fads. Indeed it bypasses them as irrelevant distractions and worldly foolishness.

The words of Bishop Winston Halapua you quote are a worthy reminder of what it's all about
"The mission,” he said, “is simply to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel, to live the Gospel – and to pass it on."

Not remaking the Church to conform to secular visions of what it should be.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
I may be nuts (to have fantasies re the future shape of the Communion) but I am not stupid. So, no, I don't think I will be synodically pushing for a common eucharist in the immediate future. But I would be interested in signals of support for such an idea.

But, frankly, it looks more like your and Howard's (implied, if not explicit) vision for the future will prevail. More talk. In circles. Round and round. Eventually some group will win via exhaustion of other groups.

Anonymous said...

With respect, Peter, if you are unwilling to test your ideas even with a motion within the small scale of your own diocese, then it is actually you, rather than me, who are into "More talk. In circles. Round and round."


spicksandspecks said...

Hi Peter,
Good on you for having a crack at a future vision of the AC! I'm certainly guilty of being too busy criticising the current one to envisage a new and different structure.
I guess I wonder about the value of reform of the AC structures when we can't even agree what the gospel is. As wonderful as Bishop Halapua's motto is, it falls apart when we have diametrically opposed views as to what the gospel is. The crisis we have in the AC is at its root the existence of (at least) 2 gospels. One is the gospel of inclusion above all which is held to by TEC and other like-minded groups; the other is the historic gospel of God's saving acts through Jesus Christ.
I think now is the time to support alternative structures like GAFCON and the Global South, rather than try to reform unrepresentative and ineffective official structures. Only when there is a greater consensus about the nature of the gospel we preach, teach, live and pass on, can we hope to create helpful structures to do just that.
Andrew Reid