Monday, October 31, 2022

Ways Forward: General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui 2022

The thing about Anglican synods is that we may spend time on the past (reports, accounts) and get stuck in details about the future (budgets, promises to take action on some issue of the day), but the real measure of a synod's significance, over the long term, is whether it offers a way or ways forward to a better future (formally through legislative change or resolutions, or informally through (say) the mood of participants, key appointments/elections to committees and boards).

So, last week we held our General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui in Nelson ...*

What happened? With the help of reports, of course, in Taonga, we can note:

The opening;

The Presidential Address;

The opening eucharist;

A  day of being informed/educated/formed (i.e. wānanga) about knowledge in Maori culture (mātauranga);

Debate and decisions about St. John's College;

As usual, something about our common prayer;

Appropriately, quite a bit of our conversation concerned the submissions to, recommendations to date of the Royal Commission on Abuse, and our responses to them;

It was a good occasion, of course, for meeting people. I met Dean Jay Ruka, a representative of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, for instance, for the first time. Already familiar colleagues and friends were there as well - Bishop Justin Duckworth, for instance, is another member of General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui to have a recent article about his ministry! One special guest was Archbishop Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne - Philip helped us out by chairing the key debate on St. John's College (due to our archbishops and other bishops being conflicted about various elements in the story of what has unfolded re changes to the governance of the College in the past year or so. Having gotten to know ++Philip during the recent Lambeth Conference it was lovely to spend time with him again.

I have discovered there is a not too bad photo of me on the Taonga site :)

Back to the key question posed above: did our meeting together chart some ways forward for our church? Here are three ways forward:

1. Our wānanga day on mātauranga charted a way forward for our church to develop a deeper, wider, better understanding of Māori culture and within that culture, what matters and why it matters, how the world is understood and how the world is engaged with by Māori.

2. Our debate about St John's College opens the door for our church to finally cease a regular cycle of reviews of the College and to begin a period of stability and calm for the College through many years ahead.

3. Our recognition of the impact of the Royal Commission on Abuse offers the possibility of a new future as the safe church we should have been but have not been.

BUT: what was not charted as a way forward was engagement with the future of our church as a church in statistical decline while being a church with an amazing potential future (for example, as a church positioned for the future of our bicultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country).

I enjoyed this Synod. Despite some disagreements, we were in good spirits (marked, e.g. by some good humour) and it was noticeable that we kept talking to each other outside of the main sessions. Living with difference is key to visible, on the ground of this earth and this life, unity. I think we left Nelson for our home corners of God's vineyard in a good place.

*Incidentally, as we cycle through different hosts: Tikanga Pakeha (seven dioceses), Tikanga Maori (about every third synod), and Tikanga Polynesia (about every 10 - 12 years), it takes a while to return to a venue. The last time that General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui was held in Nelson was in 1994. I was not a member of the synod then but recall visiting it - I was then working in the Parish of Stoke, Nelson.

Monday, October 24, 2022

New Methodism-Brethrenism is True Anglicanism?

Continuing to reflect on the question of Anglican unity in a fractured world, divided global Christianity, net-torn Anglican Communion, I note, looking over my ecumenical shoulder, that there are amazing stirrings of difference and dissent within Roman Catholicism, spurring Pope Francis to remark with concern about polarization on the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

In this report by Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter (H/T Ron Smith), the opening paragraph could have applied to the Anglican Communion any time since 1998!

"Pope Francis on Oct. 11 marked the opening of the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council — a three-year period that launched landmark reforms in the Catholic Church's relationship to the world around it and the church's own liturgy and practices — by pleading for the church to "overcome all polarization and preserve our communion.""

What to do with our own Anglican "polarizations" and attempts to "preserve our communion"?

Well, I've been thinking about two previous challenges to Anglican polity which, unfortunately, did not end in unity but in a division, with a twist, as I shall attempt to explain.

Those two divisions (or, perhaps better, separations) occurred as Methodism found itself unwelcome in the Church of England and then a century or so later as Plymouth Brethrenism was established. In both cases (seeking here to comment as objectively as possible) there was aspiration to develop church life freed of the then structures and protocols of Anglican ways and means of being church. 

But there was a notable twist: no longer were there bishops (at least not initially for the Methodists) nor communion with Canterbury. Nor, for that matter, was there any attempt (so far as I am aware) to continue with the word “Anglican” (or similar) in the naming of the new churches which resulted. Thus there was separation and no confusion about the nature of each new church (or set of churches).

Fast forward to today’s world. While there are similarities in concerns today, for a purer, more biblical, more faithful-to-Jesus church to be formed, the disaffiliation of members of Anglican Communion provinces today is leading to a confused state of global Anglicanism. 

First, churches (which includes CCAANZ hereabouts and the Diocese of the Southern Cross in Australia) are being formed which have bishops. Just this past weekend, in the polity known as AMiE, three new "bishops for Britain" were ordained in Hull. 

Secondly, the word “Anglican” often features in the new names of such entities. In turn this means there is claim and counter-claim about who the “true” or “legitimate” Anglicans are today, around the globe. There is, so to speak, a sharp question whether a new “21st century Methodism-Brethrenism” is the true Anglicanism?

Now, this is where things get a little (if not a lot) interesting because there is a degree of arguing past one another on the matter of true/false Anglicanism.

I am exploring certain questions here framed by “true” versus “false” but, mostly, I do not like making claims about true Anglicans and false Anglicans. My preference is that we simply talk about what it means to be Anglican and what we agree or disagree about this matter.

For instance, I want to argue that there is an historic, personal component to being Anglican which means that Anglicans are Christians in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But there are Anglicans in the world today who clearly disagree with me because they call themselves Anglicans when they are not in communion with the ABC.

On this line of argument, Anglicans hold to a set of beliefs (e.g., as expressed in the 39A and the BCP) and determine that communion with other Anglicans is based on sharing those beliefs rather than on a fellowship relationship with the ABC. Yes, such talk also involves considerations of polity: that Anglicans hold to certain beliefs-and-have bishops. And, with respect to “history” the claim here is that Anglicans today are in fellowship with Anglicans of yesterday because each generation shares the same beliefs.

I want to suggest that there is a bit more to the situation of 21st century Anglicanism and who may reasonably or legitimately claim to be "Anglican" than the above paragraphs. 

The point of our mother church, "the Church of England" is that it was "the Church of England." That church sought (and still seeks) to be a church of all England, both in the sense of potentially engaging with everyone in England and in the sense of reflecting a range of theological views (Catholic and Protestant, evangelical, broad and Anglo-Catholic, more recently, for and against the ordination of women). By implication, an Anglican church in the tradition of the Church of England, the 21st century CofE in the tradition of the CofE of previous centuries, is a church which is broad, inclusive, tolerant and intent on engaging all citizens of the nation.

Along the way of such intention, Anglican churches have adjusted ways of doing things and understandings of Scripture: women are being ordained, once they were not; artificial contraception was opposed by the Lambeth Conference in 1920 and then not so in 1930; remarriage after divorce is better accepted than it once was. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we have restructured ourselves to better reflect the cultural diversity of our church for a bicultural nation and for a set of nations (we include, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa).

Of course such adjustments can be dismissed as some kind of sell out of the gospel to culture but they can also be robustly supported and advanced as the church understanding that the relationship between gospel and culture involves adjustments from time to time. Jesus spoke Aramaic but our four written gospels are in Greek. There was only one Jesus but we have four written gospels which are each shaped by different cultural contexts within which they were written and for which they were written and disseminated. On a matter such as divorce and remarriage, it is a simple fact that differences emerge between Luke/Mark, Matthew and 1 Corinthians. Under different circumstance, NT documents provide different responses to the power of the state (Romans 13 and Revelation 13). There is no one pristine, pure model of the first church replete with a set of infallible doctrines. This does not mean that 20 centuries later "anything goes" but it does mean that it is reasonable for Anglican churches to aspire to be either  a national church (CofE) or a church for the whole nation (many Anglican churches in many nations), that is, a church which is broad rather than narrow, inclusive rather than exclusive.

Consequently, alongside my argument that what matters in being Anglican is being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, I also place the argument that being Anglican is being intentional about breadth and inclusivity of views and approaches to being Anglican.

Now, rather than jump up and down re (say) the latest development for AMiE in Britain as being "un Anglican" or similar, a more diplomatic conclusion to this post is, I suggest, to end with a question:

As we who say we are Anglican journey through the next decades of the 21st century, are we shaping ourselves to be a church which in its potentiality is for the whole nation or only for part thereof?

Sunday, October 16, 2022

They do things differently across the Ditch ... don't they?

This post is about "The Essendon Saga" - a story from Melbourne, Australia, featuring:

- an Aussie Rules football club, Essendon, which prides itself on its "inclusive" character.

- their need for a CEO.

- finding that CEO, Andrew Thorburn, a man with a distinguished track record as a CEO.

- some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed reporters digging into Thorburn's background and discovering that (1) he has a lay leadership role in a group of churches, City on a Hill,* and (2) a preacher at that church back in 2013 preached something considered objectionable by a majority of 2022's secular population.

- furore (not particularly focused on what Andrew Thorburn himself believes).

- Andrew Thorburn choosing to resign a day after being appointed but expressing regret that a Christian appears unwelcome in Australia's public space.

- quite a few views then being expressed about values, what Christians ought to believe, what Christians actually believe, whether people of faith are welcome in public life in Australia, etc --- see below.

- (We should note that on the views which were objected to a large number of Catholics, Muslims could be ousted from public life on the grounds of what a priest or imam preached in 2013!!).

-*City on a Hill is interesting in its own right as an Anglican-aligned group of churches.


Not much to add to what I have read but:

1. Not sure that our NZ cultural/political space is quite as vicious as Oz seems to be.

2. I worry that what happened to Andrew Thorburn happens because he is not Catholic or Muslim, i.e. that Protestants/Pentecostals are easy pickings for a media intent on finding fault(lines). Is it fair to pick on one group and not others?

3. Dan Andrews, Victoria's premier, is, at least to a degree, an illustration of 2. He is Catholic and sends his children to Catholic schools. Catholic teaching has not changed one iota on the matters which deconstructed Thorburn's brief tenure as CEO. Yet he can adroitly distance himself from the church to which he professes allegiance by claiming "my Catholicism" is not like ... whatever he doesn't agree with.

4. I really admire Archbishops Freier and Comensoli for standing up for the right to be Christian, including "Christian" meaning: having beliefs not all agree with, and to have a place in public life. If you like, their Christianity is my Christianity in a way that Dan Andrews' Christianity is not.


A view here

A report here

Michael Bird here.

Archbishop Philip Freier statement tweeted here.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli has also put out a statement here.

Dan Andrews, Premier of the state of Victoria has spoken here about "my Catholicism."

Another view here.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Further thoughts - good thoughts - on Lambeth 2022 and the continuing Anglican Communion

Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, writes about Lambeth 2022 (having been to Lambeth 2008) here.

Catherine Fox (among several notable roles in life is a bishop's spouse and was also at Lambeth 2022) writes about Lambeth 2022 here as part of her "Diary" for a recent Church Times.

+Christopher writes this about the overall sense of the conference as a significant moment in the history of the Anglican Communion, albeit from an episcopal perspective:

"As well as being taken deeper into what it means to be a bishop in the Church of God, I also learned more of what the Lambeth Conference means to the life of the Anglican Communion. Essentially, the Church is relational. The Conference was that part of the Church manifested as the Anglican Communion being the Communion — or, rather, becoming more fully the Communion, because our being is always in the process of becoming. I saw more clearly how the relationality of the Communion involves relationship with the physical space of Canterbury Cathedral (as some sort of maternal home, awesome in its proportions and history); with the actual person of the Archbishop of Canterbury (as a generous and loving host, gifted in this case with an extraordinary energy); with each other (as called and sent by God to our people and places, gathered together now in this place and with this person for the building up of our common life); with brothers and sisters from other churches and communions (whose fellowship and wisdom beckoned us beyond ourselves into a bigger vision of the church); with Jesus Christ, in the Spirit, and his relationship with the Father (greatly helped by some wonderful liturgies and inspired music)."

He also has some critiques to offer, one of which is expressed thus:

"What the Conference was not so good at was enabling the proper episcopal oversight and leadership of the Communion that, at least until 2008, belonged to the character if not necessarily the constitution of the Lambeth Conference. That incapacity showed itself in the process for drafting, refining, and affirming the Lambeth Calls. We were presented with immature texts. I do not mean that they were of poor quality (though some were certainly better than others); rather that they had not been through the sort of maturation process that such agreed statements require. There was certainly no credible process for developing them during the Conference, and the appeal to a third stage of the Conference after the residential period felt like a missed opportunity.

It may well be that, given the size of the Communion and the constraints of time and language on the Conference itself, the Lambeth Conference cannot be expected to fulfill both the relational-educational role and the discussing, deliberating, deciding function that belongs to the ministry of bishops if they are to be used by God to form the church (again in the words of the Church of England Ordinal) “into a single communion of faith and love.” I hope that work is beginning now on a new structure and shape of the Lambeth Conference that allows both roles to be fulfilled."

Catherine writes this about the mood at the end of the conference:

"I wished, fleetingly, that I’d applied for a press pass as a reporter on the Lindfordshire Chronicle. But I was there in good faith, minus any ironic shield, experiencing everything raw. At times, this hurt. What I sensed by the end was not (as the BBC reported) an “air of self-congratulation” that we’d managed not to split the Communion in half. It felt more like being tipped out of the wash cycle into a wholly new landscape, beyond a preoccupation with being right. Being right necessitates others’ being wrong. This new space gestured towards the possibility of our all being in the right, baptised into it, and raised up on the other side.

I’d say that everyone seemed almost stunned. Stunned and tender — in both senses of that word. We were bruised (stone-washed, blood-washed), and yet full of love for one another. Despite the screaming panic of gulls, maybe the wood pigeons get the final word."

To what Catherine Fox says about how we ended up, I simply say, Amen.

To what Christopher Cocksworth says I also say Amen about what he observes about the “relationality” of the Communion, both personal relationships and locational (historio-geographical) relationships.

To what he says by way of critique of the conference insofar as it engaged with issues and didn’t come to much in the way of decision-making, I say we should follow through and work on how we do make Communion-wide, Communion-authoritative decisions.

This might or might not involve an “old style” Lambeth Conference: all bishops together, for several weeks, synodically, methodically working towards decisions.

My own preference for exploration would be for regional decision-making conferences to work on matters and for a smaller “council” of primates, bishops, perhaps chancellors as well, to then convert the regional decisions into a Communion decision (perhaps subject to ratification by the whole Lambeth Conference or the, possible, Anglican Congress). ACC could figure in the mix also - perhaps proposing the matters that need decisions made.

There is a future for the Anglican Communion. It is a future for those who turn up to gatherings and not for those who do not. What is a question du jour is what gatherings best enable us to be what we want to be.

Finally, a voice from England, currently in Australia: the SMH has an article featuring an interview with the ABC here and this opening sentence:

"The Archbishop of Canterbury says a schism in Australian Anglicanism is dangerous for the church because it looks to outsiders like any other institution that struggles to overcome differences."

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Fascinating exchange … exploring life in a neighbouring diocese

It is a wee bit cheeky to talk about the Diocese of Sydney as a "neighbouring" diocese to the Diocese of Christchurch, but our diocese includes a portion of the West Coast of the South Island, and from there is only a stretch of water between us and the east coast of the Diocese of Sydney!

If the concern of this blog most generally is Anglicanism then the more specific concern is Anglicanism "Down Under" and that region of the planet refers to both New Zealand and Australia.

Within Down Under, for better or for worse, depending on where one sits geographically and/or theologically, the Diocese of Sydney is a "player". It is highly, numerically influential in the Anglican Church of Australia, it has played a significant role in the history and present of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (noting, e.g., three Bishops of Nelson in succession in the 20th century drawn from the ranks of Sydney clergy, and the influential role in the 2018 disaffiliation from ACANZP of a number of congregations), and it is critical to the life of GAFCON.

In this year, 2022, the Diocese of Sydney is asserting its influence as the Australian Anglican church works on its understanding of marriage and blessings of civil marriages. Where the assertion of that influence ends is a matter of concern to many Australian and New Zealand Anglicans, not least becasue Sydney has lent its support to the creation of a new Diocese of the Southern Cross.

Enough from me by way of setting the scene for noting a fascinating exchange of views on Sydney Anglicanism by Martyn Percy (an English visitor to Sydney) and John Sandeman (a local participant in the Diocese of Sydney, and sometimes commenter here at ADU).

Percy has written "Deconstructing Sydney Anglicanism: Past, Present and Futures: A Tetralogy" which can be read here.

Sandeman has responded with two posts on his blog The Other Cheek. First, "Martyn Percy takes on Sydney Anglicanism", then, "More Sydney Anglican Criticism, and a Response". In the first post he makes an acute observation, 

"[Percy's] piece is curiously fuzzy at points and sharply accurate at others."

There is also a related exchange in the comments to a Thinking Anglicans post (but they are inter alia among some 90 comments when I originally drafted this post).

There is much to ponder in the paper and in the response (and much to appreciate about the respectful conversation they conduct between themselves).

The following are simply some things which strike me - by no means are they a guided tour of the main points or the deepest insights to be found in the exchange.

1. Percy reports this hitherto unknown dissension in the ranks of Sydney young adults:

"For example, the largest university church in the city (St. Barnabas Broadway) saw the students threaten revolt and secession over the stance of the Diocese on same-sex unions. They compelled the Rector to make their views known, and he (reluctantly?) obliged."

2. A Percy description of reading the Bible is a moment to think about how evangelicals read the Bible around the world, not just in Sydney:

"the attitude to scripture that is a form of pseudo-science.  Or, is perhaps better understood as a specific mode of congregational engineering. The Bible is read as a ‘manual’, and applied to the breakdowns, repairs and maintenance in the life of a Christian. Thus, if facing the prospect of a divorce (family or friend), you may hear “turn to chapter X and verse Y of Book Z” as the answer and the means of resolution. The Bible is therefore akin to some car-repair manual."

Relatedly, there is also a challenge to all evangelicals about how we understand the authority of the Bible in its parts as well as in its whole:

"Treating scripture as one equivalent text, in which every single chapter and verse is equally authoritative, is a bizarre approach to the Bible, and not one that it ever asks of its readers.  The Bible has no self-conscious identity – the title of this scared book being applied long, long after its (disputed) component parts were assembled and broadly agreed.  (Though please note, ‘broadly’, not definitively).  Treating each verse of scripture as comparatively, equally and absolutely authoritative is a strange approach to take to texts that are variegated in origin, genre and intention."

3. Percy almost makes a point but doesn't quite - let me attempt to explain. He notes in several places sentiments such as, 

"To understand Sydney Anglicanism, one needs to appreciate its similarities to the Exclusive Brethren.

Alternatively, he speaks along these lines, 

"Sydney Anglicanism is sectarian, for sure. But the roots of this stem from antagonisms locked into early Irish Brethren secession, and a complex spaghetti of class-related issues.

That not quite made point is this: whatever the roots of Sydney Anglicanism as we experience it today (Irish Protestantism, history of marriages between Anglicans and Brethren, etc, as outlined by him), there are exclusionary if not sectarian ways in which Sydney Anglicanism acts.

We see such acts in the support it gives to GAFCON (i.e. to member provinces of GAFCON which have more or less formally seceded from provinces of the Anglican Communion or directly from the Anglican Communion), and now, in 2022, to the formation of a new Diocese of the Southern Cross.

We also see such acts in the unwillingness to accept a female presbyter or bishop from outside the Diocese of Sydney as having the status of presbyter or bishop inside the Diocese. 

Conversely, the Diocese of Sydney struggles to understand that the church could be broad (a both/and church) rather than narrow (an either/or church): cue the previous Archbishop of Sydney's urging those who wished to see change re marriage to leave the Anglican Church of Australia. Asking people to leave the church over disagreement is something the Exclusive Brethren do! A sect cannot cope with multiple views on a matter deemed critical to the identity of the sect.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is about to tour Australia. He will visit at least one ministry in Sydney city. Will there be a formal meeting between the Archbishop of Sydney and the Archbishop of Canterbury? [UPDATE: 9 October. I see some Tweets which say there are at least two or three events for the ABC in Sydney, and a dinner with the Archbishop of Sydney.]

In some ways the exchange between Percy and Sandeman is a discussion of how things are within Sydney and raises the question whether all critiques of the actual reality of Sydney Anglican church life made by Percy are valid. 

My elucidation of Percy's not quite made point offers consideration of how things are when Sydney faces outside of itself: to the wider Australian Anglican church and to the Anglican Communion as a whole.

We can genuinely wish Sydney Anglicanism well as it engages in ministry and mission with the people of Sydney. Sandeman helpfully sets out challenging realities of being a gospel church in a growing, diversifying city.

We can also reasonably worry about Sydney Anglicanism's engagement with Anglicans outside of itself. if such engagement is driven by exclusionary, sectarian characteristics then is it an "Anglican" engagement with Anglicans?

If Sydney is an exclusionary sect, and it continues to seek for the Australian Anglican church to be remade in the image of Sydney, it is not possible to see this having a happy, peaceful, unitary ending.