What Communion?

Archbishop Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland spoke at Virginia Theological Seminary (that finishing school down south -hehe) concerning his interpretations of how the world-wide Church has conducted itself since the Windsor Report was published.
Here is the text of his address. I think it is important and encouraging as we move forward. I don’t think some of the “conservatives” will agree with his interepretations, but that’s the way things are.
Yesterday in my first lecture I tried to suggest that there is a relationship between the historic growth of the Anglican Communion and the emergence of difficult issues which threaten our common life. I also suggested that it is possible to turn crisis into opportunity.
In this second lecture I want to say something about Anglican understanding of what ‘communion’ means, the implications of the relationship we call ‘being in communion’ and then to look ahead into the future of the Anglican Communion.
I am concerned that the full implications of the Windsor Report and the process it involves returns to the centre of our thinking as a Communion, As I said in the Introduction to that Report, Windsor must be seen as part of a process. Windsor did not seek to address the rights and wrongs of the sexuality question. That was not the task given to the Lambeth Commission. It was a Report on how Anglicanism could address deep differences, deep divisions on principle and it is about methodology. It is my own conviction that in the history of the Anglican Communion the value or otherwise of Windsor must be judged by the process of which it is part — but only a part. Windsor was not just born out of controversy. It was, I believe an honest attempt by a diverse group of Anglican scholars and leaders to address how bonds of affection, autonomy and diversity could face up to divisive issues — and such issues will I am convinced continue to arise in the years to come. As we prepared the Report I often asked myself the question — how much does Anglicanism really want to overcome obstacles to corporate communion when there is such diversity on the nature of that ‘communion’ itself?

But, back to Windsor. The process the Report spoke of found its early manifestation in the Primates Meeting at Dromantine in Northern Ireland and the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council at Nottingham in England in June 2005.
The Primates Meeting gave general approval to the thrust of Windsor and the ACC meeting received submissions from ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada. The responses of both those gatherings are well documented and I do not need to elaborate on them in this lecture.
So, where does Windsor stand now — what has happened since it was published?
What I want to do is to express my personal view and personal interpretation of the initial reaction of the north American Anglican Churches to Windsor. What follows is my personal opinion and is not based on consultation with other members of the Lambeth Commission who are entitled to their own reactions.
First, Windsor recommended that
“the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were beached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion.” (para 134)
In my opinion the decisions of the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church (USA) met that request. In fact looking at the precise wording of Windsor and the statements of the House of Bishops it is arguable the reaction exceeded what was asked for by the Windsor Report. They have gone so far as to express their ‘repentance’ at the damage caused to the Anglican Communion by a failure to consult adequately — a mode of language the Lambeth Commission felt unable to ask of them.
The Lambeth Commission recognised there was genuine disagreement on the sexuality issue across our Communion and that that disagreement could not be settled easily one way or another. I have to say as Chair of the Commission that those members who held the liberal view could not have been expected to sign the Windsor Report if they had felt the Report’s conclusions meant that the debate on the Church’s attitude to human sexuality was closed. (see par 146). In all honesty I have to say that just as this was necessary to provide a unanimous Windsor Report so if the Anglican Communion is to remain united there can be no blanket condemnation of an on-going process of discernment about the right way, under God and in the spirit of the Gospel, to accommodate the reality of faithful Christians who happen to be homosexually orientated within the life of the Communion. To do otherwise is to court schism.
Let me put it plainly. This is not a struggle between two north American Provinces and other Provinces. It is not a struggle between 36 Provinces and 2 on how to ‘discipline’ the ‘wayward’. Rather it is a struggle to discern how to meet conservative concerns for proper biblical interpretation AND liberal consensus for justice and inclusion for minorities who claim they face prejudice and discrimination. In my many contacts on a personal level with the episcopal leadership of ECUSA since Windsor was published I am now convinced that there is a new and realistic recognition of the reactions across the Communion and an acknowledgement that actions taken in the Episcopal Church (USA) had consequences which were not adequately recognised in advance.
I must also note that there has been wide divergence of opinion as to the nature of ‘regret’ to be expressed. Conservative opinion has demanded that ‘regret’ should embrace not just regret for the world-wide consequences of actions in north America, but acknowledgement that the actions of ECUSA and the diocese of New Westminster, Canada, were ‘wrong’. To this north America has continued to emphasise the importance of prolonged internal debate prior to those developments, in the case of ECUSA over nearly 40 years.(1)
(1) To Set Our Hope on Christ 2005 page 4.
Careful study of Windsor will show that the Lambeth Commission did not choose to condemn the decisions per se. It addressed the consequences, the lack of consultation and the perception that any Province or diocese could take internal action without due regard to the effect such actions would have on the rest of the Anglican Communion. Perhaps it was inevitable that semantics would embrace divergent interpretations. But I am aware and acknowledge that some interpretations of ‘regret’ as used by Windsor could allow opposing opinions to ask for more than was originally intended by the Windsor Report. Again I must ask for careful reflection on the terms of the mandate given to the Lambeth Commission. To put it another way, individual Provinces and individual episcopal and other leaders are entitled to ask more of ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada than regret for consequences. But I must defend my colleagues of the Lambeth Commission in terms of their remit.
Windsor went on to indicate that
“pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We urge this in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion. We advise that in the formation of their consciences, those involved consider the common good of the Anglican Communion, and seek advice through their primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We urge all members of the Communion to accord appropriate respect to such conscientious decisions.”
Presentations of the thinking of ECUSA and the Canadian Church were made to the Nottingham meeting of ACC and while the status of attendance at this gathering is a separate matter, I believe that the request for regret in the terms of the Windsor Report has been gmet and now the issue of withdrawal from the councils of the Communion by consecrators which was dependant on that expression can be questioned.
Thirdly, paragraph 134 of Windsor recommended that
“the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.”
My reading of the Covenant of the Episcopal House of Bishops is that it exceeds what was requested of them by Windsor. Notwithstanding the fact that consents to all elections are being withheld by the House of Bishops a strict interpretation of Windsor convinces me that the American bishops have met the request of the Windsor Report.
Also relevant are the provisions of paragraphs 143 and 144 for both the American and Canadian churches in respect to public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. Paragraph 143 stated : “For thee sake of our common life, we call upon all bishops of the Anglican Communion to honour the Primates’ Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorise public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions.” Paragraph 144 added: “we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We recommend that provinces take responsibility for endeavouring to ensure commitment on the part of their bishops to the common life of the Communion on this matter.”
Once again, both the bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada have in my opinion met the precise wording of Windsor. The American bishops have convenanted not to authorise such rites, or bless same-sex unions. True, the covenant only holds until General Convention has deliberated and decided on these issues, and there may be a new context to which reactions has to be made then: but the primates acknowledged their willingness to allow space for the synodical processes of the churches to work in their Dromantine statement. For the present, the Episcopal Church (USA) has fulfilled the requests of the Windsor Report in so far as their polity will allow.
The Canadian authorities have also now indicated their willingness to postpone decisions on these subjects until General Synod has had a chance to consider the Primate’s Theological Commission’s findings that blessings of same-sex unions are matters of doctrine, and thus subject to provincial determination, and the approval of two successive General Synods of the church. New Westminster has not applied a full moratorium on such rites, but has indicated it will go no further, whilst Bishop Michael Ingham has expressed his regret at the consequences of his actions in the manner indicated in the Windsor Report.
The reactions of the bishops of ECUSA are included in their publication ‘To Set Our Hope On Christ’ and the public statements of both Canada and ECUSA, including their presentations to the ACC at Nottingham must be read in the light of the due process of both Churches. A process of reception in both Churches is continuing so far as the Windsor Report is concerned. It is not yet possible to talk of ‘the final reaction’ of either to Windsor. The Synodical process of both is yet to be completed. Division remains in both Churches. The appointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury of a Panel of Reference to assist where alienation or internal division exists in terms of such as alternative episcopal oversight is a recognition of this fact. Windsor recommended a Council of Advice to support the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Primates have developed this concept and now a Panel of Reference is in operation.
What all this amounts to is a question which I would again submit lies close to the heart of Anglican understanding or the lack of it : who or what speaks for a Province? What statement contains the authoritative voice of an Anglican Province? Once more we are compelled to turn back to the pros and cons of Anglican autonomy. Synodical process is at the centre of our understanding. But in a Communion which gives moral authority to Instruments of Unity or Communion and rejoices in dispersed authority I have to ask — is it possible to recognise a simple authority representative of one opinion on behalf of a Province?
Let me make it clear once more that what I have said is my personal opinion. I have also to point out that the process of decision-making in both the north American Churches involves more than decisions by the respective House of Bishops. I recognise that the structures of Anglican policy in north America involve Convention and General Synod structures. Other decisions are awaited in the States and in Canada following the developments to which I have referred. The opinions I have just expressed are based on the evidence I have seen to date of the official reactions of episcopal leadership in both the States and Canada. Those opinions I put forward as a contribution to the on-going debate. My plea is that whatever one’s loyalty may be in the cauldron of our current crisis objectivity demands fairness in the process of evaluating what has already been said and decided.
May I put it this way. In terms of exact wording of the Windsor Report so far as the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada are concerned — so far so good but much remains …
Perhaps we need to recall the plea of the Windsor Report for generosity and charity towards steps taken to meet the requests of the Report. Let us under God find it in our hearts no matter what our individual views on the issues may be to adopt that generosity and charity in these days. (para. 156)
In short, I think we find ourselves in a situation where the North American churches have taken the Windsor Report, and the subsequent Statement of the Primates at Dromantine, extremely seriously, and have complied, in so far as it lies within the power of bodies less than their national synod, to meet the requests made of them.
The suggestion in the Windsor Report that the creation of an Anglican Covenant epitomises much of the real dilemma for a diverse fellowship of Provinces attempting to live in some degree of communion. What I have said about Provincial autonomy hopefully illustrates the strength of diversity. It also underlines what I see as its weakness in producing unity beyond mere bonds of affection.
Beyond the reactions I have mentioned in north America lies a continuing picture of divided opinions. Hurt and dismay remains obvious in parishes and dioceses of both ECUSA and Canada. Opinions continue to be expressed here which do not encourage any expectation of reconciliation as I have described that process in my first lecture. Judgement must await the decisions of the other synodical organs of both Churches before anyone can attempt a full assessment of an overall situation. For the moment as one who has long valued the contribution of north America to the Anglican Communion I share the pain of ECUSA and Canada.
Beyond these shores since Windsor contrary views have continued to surface. The global south has produced alternative suggestions to how Anglicanism could be organised among those the world terms ‘conservative opinion’. The depth of feeling among conservative Anglicanism is beyond denial. From a position of dismissing Windsor as irrelevant to the basic issues there have been voices calling for radical reassessment of relationships. In my opinion prior to the next Lambeth Conference the furtherance of such alternatives raise serious issues not just about ‘bonds of affection’ but about the nature of authority as it has been accepted through the history of the Communion. I can understand the frustration which has produced much of this reaction. But I believe there needs to be much greater understanding of the long-term consequences of developments which could turn the diverse voice of an Anglican Communion into a divided family other traditions of the Christian Church would find it hard to take seriously.
The Windsor Report contained the suggestion that an agreed Covenant could help to produce the circumstances where degrees of common purpose and accepted norms of principle regulated the life of the Anglican Communion. This suggestion took Anglicanism to the heart of the autonomy dilemma. To what extent did diversity and the realities within Provincial autonomy for self-Provincial government dictate independence? The argument to which I would subscribe is that as long as total autonomy in the ecclesiological sense is a reality differences such as at present will continue to be a threat to any common expression of Anglicanism.
I submit that the Covenant proposal in Windsor is not the revolutionary document some commentators have described it to be. As Professor Norman Doe of Cardiff University has put it:
“For the most part it (the Covenant) is a restatement of classical Anglicanism. Generally, of the eighty-five separate provisions, contained in the twenty-seven articles, fifty-nine are derived from existing Anglican texts and twenty-six are ‘new’ formulations, but themselves either adapted from existing ecumenical documents … or based on the recommendations of the Lambeth Commission.” (2)
Windsor produced the Covenant idea not as some final proposal demanding acceptance of every word and comma. We put it forward as an ideal, not written in stone, but rather as a tangible concept of how communion and the living in communion could assume working reality. It is also vital to understand that this suggestion is not a threat to Provincial autonomy so jealously protected throughout the Communion. Local autonomy is recognised in this suggestion. But what is surely achieved in the Covenant proposal is the recognition that there are instances where divisive issues threatening the common life of Anglicanism can be addressed from a common starting-point? If it is accepted as a way forward and something like it included in Provincial constitutions the essentials of inter-Anglican relations will be recognised. If recognised – then protected. It challenges traditional thinking on ‘bonds of affection’ as the sole ingredient in relationships within our Communion.
Now as a lawyer I recognise the advantages of a Covenant proposal. It is tidy, it is a source of clarity. As a Primate whose Province since disestablishment in 1869 has sternly protected what I would term ‘self regulation through synodical government and process’ I equally recognise if autonomy is our sole criteria this concept will have little attraction. To that I have to say – how much do we want to avoid future deeply damaging divisions, open conflict and erosion of the being in communion concept?
(2) Ecclesiastical Law Journal, July 2005, page 160
Anglicanism has already embraced the Covenant principle in ecumenical relations. Provincial links with other traditions have involved agreements which are in fact covenants. As others have argued the historic Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral was in essence a form of covenant. May I also join with those who have regarded the Windsor suggestion of a Covenant relationship as classical Anglicanism?
As an example I would quote the Called to Common Mission agreement of the Episcopal Church (USA) with the Lutherans. This agreement binds the partners to particular commitments, especially the Lutherans to the historic episcopate. There was cost to both parties in that agreement. The “Churches uniting in Christ” process which is the wider ecumenical process in the States sees several denominations binding themselves into commitments about Church order and doctrine together.
If churches can reach out to each other in these and many other agreements such as the Porvoo Agreement between the Baltic Churches and those in the United Kingdom — why I ask do we find it so difficult to reach out to other members of the same family?
The Lambeth Commission concluded
“the case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant is overwhelming.”
The Primates have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to encourage discussion of the concept prior to the next Lambeth Conference. I for one am convinced that eventually Anglicanism will incorporate the Covenant principle in some form. I believe this will happen not necessarily because it will be an end in itself but simply because we can no longer live with the danger of major crisis such as at present.
So where does all I have said in these two lectures lead me to personal conclusions about the future of the Anglican Communion?
My personal opinion is that two documents should remain central to our thinking about the future. The Virginia Report of 1996 completed on this campus and the Windsor Report point us in a direction. In Virginia we tried to see ‘communion’ as an expression of our Anglican understanding of the Gift of God to His Church. In Virginia we saw that communion with the triune God lies at the centre of our Anglican pilgrimage. In Windsor we tried to see how the transparency of communion was more than theological theory. It has practical application. But in both Reports I continue to see in the light of my years of Episcopal service the benefits but also the dangers of bonds of affection’ alone. Controversial it may be for a Communion which is jealous of provincial autonomy and fearful of a central curia to contemplate any attempt to produce agreed protocol which will bind us all. But is there any realistic alternative to some restriction on complete autonomy? Is there an alternative to something akin to the Covenant concept of Windsor? Will the day come when the lessons of our current divisions will again remind us we are in bonds of affection when all is going well — but in serious trouble when we cannot agree?
At the centre of all we are discussing is the question of how we relate to each other. Historians could claim that Anglicanism has been obsessed with the nature of authority. But surely it could be claimed that whether we have been too pre-occupied by authority, communion or the meaning of autonomy or not, there is now emerging a real need to understand what relationships mean within Anglicanism. What are the basic theological considerations of what constitutes how we relate to each other? What should guide Anglicans when they seek to build or maintain relationships with fellow-Anglicans or with other traditions? Such questions are not in my submission restricted to human relationships. They take us to the heart of the way forward for the Anglican Communion. They are some of the real needs to emerge from a Communion in crisis.
I remain a convinced Anglican. I remain a firm believer that God has a purpose for the Anglican Communion. But I also remain convinced that the Anglican attitude to the nature of the Church needs fresh recognition, that Anglicanism needs a theology of relationships and that a new feeling of trust across our Communion cries out for new means of cementing what we all most long for — unity in the life of Christ.
The text of Eames’ first presentation at VTS.
[Source: Church of Ireland]
It is an immense privilege and pleasure to have been invited to deliver two lectures on Anglicanism here at the Virginia Theological Seminary. VTS will always hold a special place in my affection and reflections. Among my previous visits was to chair a meeting of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission as we prepared what was to become known as the Virginia Report, a theological analysis of the meaning of ‘communion’. We gave this Report the title ‘Virginia’ as a small token of our appreciation for the hospitality and support of the Diocese of Virginia and its bishop and my long-standing friend, Peter Lee; the support of Dean Martha Horne and the VTS community and the membership of Bishop Mark Dyer. Those friendships mean much to me and I acknowledge them today.
I have chosen as my subject for these reflections two aspects of our current life as members of the Anglican Communion: what I term ‘its reality’ and second, the role in our corporate life of communion. These reflections will be subjective and personal. Due to time I will only be able to develop my thoughts in a limited manner. However I offer those reflections to you at a time when our world Communion is listening to many opinions and views as to its nature and future.
It is debatable if the Anglican Communion has faced a more searching period, more public scrutiny and more transparent heart-searching than in the past two years. Our divisions have been all too obvious and our public agonising has provoked sharply divided opinions, broken relationships and serious questions about what Anglicans believe and practise. Above all those divisions have compelled us to ask questions about what being in communion means given diverse attitudes to deeply held convictions. But I have to ask whether the debates we have seen are about the real issues which confront the Anglican Communion? To put it plainly, has the sexuality debate hidden other issues, other agendas and other questions of principle which are of greater significance to the nature of Anglicanism? Has the Anglican obsession with sexuality been merely the tip of an iceberg hiding other deeper issues which will ultimately dictate the future of the Anglican Communion?
On the surface the appointment of a practising gay bishop to the diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church USA and the blessing of same sex relationships in New Westminster, Canada, plunged Anglicanism into a crisis. That crisis was manifested by dramatic statements, at times vitriolic words and public denunciation of opposing opinions. In media terms — and how the media has enjoyed itself — north America was portrayed as the focal point of liberalism and the global south the defenders of conservatism. Those terms soon became synonymous with others as the ecclesiastical fury gained momentum : other aspects and identities which themselves evidenced the complexities, contradictions and dilemmas of a Communion in crisis. As time passed it was not possible to limit the struggle to a confrontation between a liberal embracing north and a reactionary and conservative south. Within many Provinces, not least here in the United States, issues about pastoral recognition and protection of minority groups, justice and episcopal leadership burst to the surface as attitudes, concerns and apprehensions long dormant for other reasons became focused on the sexuality question. With few exceptions the Anglican north and west began to recognise the extent of internal diversity which had existed long before the name of Gene Robinson became known internationally.
For the purposes of this first lecture let me consider what I call ‘the reality’ of these questions.
First — the tapestry before which our problems exist. The Anglican Communion at present consists of some 80 million believers across the world. We have proclaimed a historic relationship of inter-dependence and a historic communion with the See of Canterbury. We have advanced the joint theological approaches of Scripture, tradition and reason, we have proclaimed the centrality of Scripture and our ecclesiology is based on episcopacy and synodical structures. Yet beyond these features there is another principle which has developed as the cement of our autonomous and diverse world family.
The words ‘bonds of affection’ are the most overworked attempt to describe what has held the Anglican Communion together. These words have been a useful but not necessarily a clinical description of how a truly international body of autonomous Provinces could relate. Pressures on those bonds have come from many directions down through the years but of late have greatly increased. When communion meant identifying with each other as agreeing partners who all thought alike, bonds of affection were adequate. But with rapid growth in size, growth of cultural difference and search for structure their inadequacies and limitations became obvious. They were a basis rather than a working entity. They were adequate when there were identifiable aims and common purpose. They were happily used and embraced when the Anglican Communion wanted the religious world to see and indeed envy a cohesive family led by an Archbishop of Canterbury. They were adequate when agreement existed simply because there was no division. But they proved inadequate when pressures built up. As divisive issues surfaced they became what bound together only those Provinces which agreed with each other.
What was the nature of those pressures?
First we need to be aware of their historical context. For first generation Anglicans the notion of Empire stemming from a mother country and a mother Church ‘Anglican’ equated completely with colonialisation. The Book of Common Prayer and the concepts of Anglican episcopacy bound the dioceses of the Church of England to the colonies. The missionary outreach of the Church of England was the Communion. This is how you do it — this is how it works — this is what you need — was the message. The context of the first Lambeth Conferences made it plain that the mother Church and mother country offered the benefits of English piety, English social structure and religious Englishness and the expansion of the Empire also meant expansion of a Canterbury-based establishment. The eclipse of colonialism was also the eclipse of the influence of the Church it brought.
In that significant period the missionary societies were the first to realise the change of emphasis. It was no longer ‘do it our way’ but a gradual recognition that growth of cultural confidence, the shedding of colonial power and the rising tide of local independence called for a co-operative, supportive and diverse ministry in which the mother Church among others would provide support for the new concept of indigenous ministry. Without realising it a quiet revolution was taking place in Anglicanism. From the early blue-print of Englishness the Anglican Communion was discovering local autonomy: discovering — but not yet recognising. Little of the documentation I have examined of this period fully appreciated the magnitude of the consequences of this change. Pictures on the walls of my home of successive Lambeth Conferences illustrate some of this transition. Pictures of bishops attending Lambeth Conferences demonstrated this change most vividly to the outside world. The colour of skin, the emergence of growing numbers of non-white bishops, spoke eloquently of an irreversible trend. The new confidence, the challenge of local strength and new elements of diversity should have spelt out warning signals that ‘bonds of affection’ needed much more if this quiet revolution was to produce a continuation of the concept of what I call ‘practical communion.’ Add to that doctrinal controversies over the question of women in priesthood and women in the episcopate which was to produce in the early 80s the seeds of division and the stage was set for the current difficulties over sexuality. But that is itself an over-simplification of historical development. For other things were happening of equal significance.
I recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) views itself in historical terms as part of the revolutionary movement which broke away from colonial interest. Back in the eighteenth century this Church began a process which is now taking on a new significance for other parts of our world-wide Communion — namely, how to inculturate outside the ‘English’ pattern. This was done on a primarily democratic model. But not alone in a historical context for ECUSA but now for the Communion as a whole : our history may indicate the development of means to inculturate beyond the English scene — the problems of today on which we focus stem in many ways from the results of that process. How do we hold diversity together? Or as some are now asking — is that ‘holding’ a price too much for them to pay?
The historic significance of Canterbury itself for generations the fulcrum of those ‘bonds of affection’ continued to be acknowledged in spirit. But post colonialism and with its questions about the ‘happy band of brothers’ was being replaced by the machinery of independence. Autonomy and in the case of the Anglican Communion, provincial autonomy enshrined in provincial synodical and constitutional enactment was beginning to raise questions about the nature of the relationship between autonomous freedom and central allegiance. This development was to place new emphasis on cultural as well as doctrinal divergence. While ‘bonds of affection’ for the historic significance of Canterbury continued it now existed alongside a new reality. Was the real issue now as much about the nature of historic affection for and authority granted to Canterbury and a changing world picture of growing cultural and therefore doctrinal practice? I have heard the question asked: has the centre of Anglicanism moved to somewhere south of the Sahara? I have been present when without loss of historic affection for the See of Canterbury voices have been raised and opinions expressed which have compared the ‘old world of Anglicanism’ with ‘the new realities of Anglicanism.’ Where were the structures to embrace this new pressure? Did we give adequate thought to what structures were needed to hold the line of relationships when the respective parts of that relationship was moving into unchartered waters? Historically we had always refused the notion of central authority. We did not want anything akin to the central curia of Rome. Successive statements by Lambeth Conferences and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council said so. Anglicanism we believed then could survive on those traditional ‘bonds of affection’ because we wanted it to survive – because we had a relationship based on agreement to fundamental principles which worked simply because we had never had real disagreement? I have examined reports of synodical debates in several Provinces of our Communion held during this period and I am convinced the scenario for our present divisions was being painted. But we did not recognise it. Anglican ecclesiology was developing along two lines : Provincial autonomy and Provincial independence. Those two concepts were not necessarily identical. But there was a third element. Growth of autonomous confidence with its jealous protection of cultural as well as doctrinal freedom inevitably asked questions about the structures which allowed ‘bonds of affection’ to continue. All was well when there was general agreement. The distress signals arose when we did not agree on everything. The events in ECUSA and in particular the diocese of New Hampshire in 2004 lit a fire. But I have often asked myself ‘was this a division waiting to happen’ and ‘if it wasn’t sexuality questions which would divide the Anglican Communion so vividly and dramatically would it have been something else?’
Here we need to emphasise not just tensions between Provinces but also within Provinces. In the run-up to Windsor the Lambeth Commission saw such tensions at first hand. Despite developments since Windsor those tensions continue to exist within Provinces, within dioceses and indeed within parishes.
I cannot over-emphasise the strength of conservative feeling about the identity of authentic Christianity as being “Biblical Christianity.” Undoubtedly this is an authentic Christianity in its culture. To a conservative Anglican it is the key issue. But what alarms me about our current crisis is the failure to engage in dialogue on an agreed playing field between two apparently opposing views. If Anglicanism is to maintain a global community dialogue on an agreed transparent basis is essential. Sadly, so far I have found little evidence that such a process is taking place.
Such questioning brings me to another and perhaps more controversial issue.
Is the real question about authority rather than sexuality?
Not just authority in terms of the authority of interpretation of Holy Scripture, but authority to be ‘in communion’ among diverse and autonomous Provinces while we’re growing not only in numerical strength but growing in the confidence to question what communion meant if it maintained a historic allegiance which satisfied ‘the old world’ but could not address the divisions of ‘the new’?
Much of the current crisis in Anglicanism turns on attitudes to the authority of Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture itself and its relationship to tradition and reason is one thing — it is quite a different matter when it is allowed to become an integral part of the process of cultural approach to communion. In the preparation of the Windsor Report I was made acutely aware of arguments on all sides which owed much of their persuasive nature to what was seen as the norm of cultural experience in north and south, east and west. A liberalist view spoke of the culture in which life-styles shunned by a conservative culture were now the norm. Many submissions I read in the production of Windsor quoted cultural approaches. I well recall the argument from certain Provinces which spoke of the climate of opposition to a liberal interpretation of Anglicanism from their Moslem and Hindu neighbours.
Of course all this was evidence if evidence the Lambeth Commission needed that cultural development across our Communion had become an equal if not a dominant ingredient within the ‘bonds of affection.’ In saying that I need to be aware that conservative Anglicanism resents any argument that places cultural difference above questions of theological principle. They argue obedience to God’s Holy Word must not become eroded by reference to cultural difference. The liberal argument of course takes the view that cultural diversity has a great deal to say about what I would term the ‘freedom of Anglican autonomy.’ Am I alone in thinking that at the root of those clashes, irrespective of our personal allegiances or preferences, lies the failure of succeeding generations of Anglicans to accept that there are parameters to divergence in scriptural interpretation, there are boundaries to ecclesiological autonomy and there are limitations to what a world family of vague technical relationships can endure and still remain a cohesive entity. I do not in any way question the depth of sincerity of the conservative or liberal Anglican in any way. I seek only to try to decode the pressures which were to produce reaction to New Hampshire and New Westminster.
There are many dilemmas associated with what could be called ‘the practical working of communion’ Broken communion declared between Provinces places serious questions not only on relationships between such Provinces but on others who are in communion relationships with them and with others.
For example, if one Province declares a broken relationship with another — what does this mean for Provinces already in communion with it or with a disassociated partner? Above all else it is an interesting question — what does such a rupture of relationships mean to other Provinces if broken communion refers to the See of Canterbury? The commutations for ecclesiology in such instances are immense. They underline again that ‘bonds of affection’ based on fraternal gestures alone were never geared to meet the challenge of division.
There is a secondary aspect to such a situation. How does such a fracture of communion affect the day to day relationships and work of Anglican organisations which do not owe allegiance to any one Province? I am thinking of such as the Missionary Societies and the Mothers’ Union. Their work and witness over the years has provided communion in practical and realistic ways. What are they to do in such a situation where their work and witness spans many individual Provinces and involves many conflicting attitudes? In a sense they are instruments of communion in their own right. I for one do not want to see their influence simply eroded because of the fractures between some Provinces. I also believe they represent useful, practical and positive means of contact in such times of bewilderment for many clergy and laity.
Just as it is difficult to be definitive of what communion between Provinces means, so it is even more difficult to define the consequences of a broken relationship.
The impressions of the Anglican Communion I gained in the preparation of the Windsor Report are dominated by one word — pain. I encountered the pain of those who were hurt because they felt they had become voiceless. I saw the pain of those who felt alienated from the hospitality of a parish or diocesan experience. I saw and heard the pain of misunderstanding, the painful consequences of angry words and the pain of broken relationships. Those fractured relationships were not just between autonomous provinces but perhaps were most visible at a level of great pastoral significance — the relationship of a bishop to his or her flock and the relationship of groups and individuals to their pastors.
Calls for remedies for this current crisis abound. They range from protection of minority parishes in dispute with the attitude of their bishop to high level commissions such as the Lambeth Commission I had the privilege to lead. But let me dwell on one aspect of a solution of which I have some experience within my work in Northern Ireland. I refer to the concept of reconciliation.
From experience in community peace-making and reconciliation I can share some conclusions with you.
First, reconciliation cannot be enforced. Reconciliation comes when parties wish to be reconciled.
Second, reconciliation involves pain just as the situation to be reconciled causes hurt.
Third, reconciliation does not mean the total achievement of individual aims. It speaks of honest compromise.
Fourth, reconciliation involves recognition of the possible and acknowledgement of difference.
The process of reconciliation means a genuine attempt at listening and understanding. It means no longer talking at one another but talking with one another.
Do these aspects of a process have any relevance to world Anglicanism today? But how in a voluntary allegiance of autonomous bodies do they work? They raise again the question of structures of machinery. They question the assertion which faced the compilers of the Windsor Report that there can be no compromise on a deeply held principle such as the authority of Scripture. They confront the element which says ‘If you are not with us then you must be against us.’ Does this mean the current sickness at the heart of the Anglican Communion cannot be addressed by any process of reconciliation? Does it means there can be no compromise on questions of deep principle?
I believe there are fundamental questions which need to be asked not of Anglicanism alone but within our Communion. I also believe they are questions which perhaps have lain submerged for too long in any healthy world debate in a world Church family. I believe in the future of our Communion — but I also believe we are only at the beginning of a period of self-examination of fundamental issues if the Anglican Communion is to move together into a future of self-confidence.
So, these are just some of the ‘realities’ which constitute the situation I see as I look across the Anglican Communion today. In the second lecture I will invite you to look with me at the realities of ‘communion’. For the present let me return to these current realities.
In the myriad of opinions and views I have heard and read in the past few years one thought has received less prominence than I believe it deserves. Is it just possible that future generations will look at this time not as a negative era for Anglicanism but rather as an inevitable sign of growth, a sign of maturity even in the history of a most diverse world Christian family? In other words, is our present ecclesiastical crisis an inevitable stage because of the very fact of diversity in theological, cultural and doctrinal terms? If it is – then surely the real challenge for Anglicanism is not in fact obsession with any one particular issue, but the challenge contained in the question – what price communion, what price ‘being together’ and do we honestly want to remain in relationships which mean something of value? I suggest that is the true reality of the contemporary Anglicanism. It is about what is really essential about being in communion as Anglicans, about what we mean by relationships and about how realistic historic structures are actually essential to a family ‘in communion’.
Let me conclude this first lecture by drawing attention to a consequence of our current structures in the Anglican Communion which to my mind most clearly illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of adherence to traditional ‘bonds of affection.’
I have tried to point out some of the consequences of an international Church body in which aspiration to ‘bonds’ is more visible than application to their realities. As far back as 1920 the Lambeth Conference concluded:
“The Churches represented in (the Communion) are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognises the restraints of truth and love. They are not free to deny the truth. They are not free to ignore the fellowship.”(1)
The Windsor Report(2) took this question and commented:
“This means that any development needs to be explored for its resonance with the truth, and with the utmost charity on the part of all – charity that grants that a new thing can be offered humbly and with integrity, and charity that might refrain from an action which might harm a sister or brother.”
Since the publication of Windsor I have personally given much thought to what all this means for the meaning of ‘bonds of affection’. In the course of that consideration I have found myself returning to the whole question of limits to diversity. Are there essentials on which there must be universal acceptance if Provinces are to be in complete communion? Are there issues which diversity protects, on which there can be disagreements, but which are not essential to full communion? If there are to be different levels of essentials or non-essentials in this sense – who decides into which category any action by an individual Church should fall?
Those are just some of the reflections which I will ask you to consider tomorrow.
(The End)
(1) Lambeth Conference 1920, SPCK (1920) Evangelical Letter p.14.
(2) Windsor Report p.38.