Friday, July 25, 2008

An Anglican Holy Office?

The Lead reports the following:

The Windsor Continuation Group has endorsed a strong centralizing agenda that elevates the role of the Primates Meeting, diminishes the influence of the Anglican Consultative Council, and endorses the establishment of an "Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission." The proposal, which is sure to face stiff resistance, is the strongest signal yet that this important body intends to recommend wide ranging changes in Communion governance.

The recommendations, contained in part two of the group's "preliminary observations" says the survival of the Communion may depend on "communion with autonomy and accountability."

The Communion suffers from an emphasis on "independence at the expense of interdependence in the Body of Christ," the report says. "This has led to internal fragmentation as well as to confusion among our ecumenical partners."

Resolving the current controversy over the morality of homosexual relationships will require "a common understanding of the place and role of the episcopal office within the sensus fidelium of the whole Church.

The members of the committee, all but one of whom are bishops, and none of whom supports the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, said that the Lambeth Quadrilateral, which once provided the framework of Anglican unity now required "strengthened" instruments of communion to stand "alongside" it to hep the Communion "regain a sense of Anglican identify."

"It is a flag raised to see who salutes at this stage," said the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury."I think there is a kind of head of steam behind [it], said Williams, adding that he was "quite enthusiastic" about the proposal.

He said without additional governing structures "we shall be flying further apart."

Ruth Gledhill writes:

So what does this mean?

It means that the people in charge of this process have at last realised, perhaps thanks to Gafcon, that the African provinces who are boycotting Lambeth are serious. There is a desperation to keep them on board to prevent the Church from splitting.

If this new Commission enforces the new canon law blueprint in a way that is strictly in line with Lambeth 1.10, it also means there will be huge anger in the US. The Episcopal Church could well find itself riven by a formal split, leaving questions over which will be recognised by Canterbury. (Maybe those behind the name change from the former PECUSA saw this coming and that was a preparatory step.)

But we are fools if we think just the US will be affected. There are many traditionalist, catholic parishes in the Church of England that might well prefer to be aligned with a liberal TEC than a strictly conservative evangelical province.

Jim Naughton says: "It's troubling, but perhaps unsurprising to see a group composed almost exclusively of bishops, and advised by Anglican Communion Office bureaucrats recommending new structures for the Communion that strengthen the role of bishops and bureaucrats at the expense of clergy and lay people."

Off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why this proposal is bad news and could be a non-starter.

First, it will need to be approved by participating provinces. Right now, there is not enough support for the current version of the Anglican Covenant, it is hard to imagine any more enthusiasm of this kind of central structure.

Second, the Gafconites are already going their own way with their leaders, who are largely not present at Lambeth (or about to abandon it). They are ready to unilaterally vote a non-existant province (paired with a church out of communion with Canterbury for about 125 years) into existence in North America without regard to any of the instruments of unity. They don't care what Rowan nor what anyone else thinks. They are moving ahead.

So, if the goal was to keep the most conservative churches in the fold then this idea is too late and certainly too little to satisfy them. The Gafconites have clearly left the building. They have concluded that there is nothing the Anglican Communion can do that would be good enough for them.

Finally, the proposed process appears to me to be at odds with the very heart of the concept and process that is supposed to be at work in the Lambeth Conference.

Which is it? Is Communion strengthened when people who don't agree choose to stay in fellowship and listen deeply to one another? Or is Communion preserved by a centralized body designed to enforce rules chosen by a body not selected by the churches that are meant to follow them?

No matter the ultimate fate of this proposal, it causes me to wonder how this proposal, coming out as it is in the middle of what is supposed to be a new kind of Lambeth, is indicative of the two minds of Rowan Williams and the Anglican leadership.

On the one had, Rowan had the capacity and vision a different way of having bishops meet and deliberate. It has taken creativity and risk to step away from the legislative wrestling match that was the 1998 Lambeth by designing a very different conference. It took imagination to invite Brian McLaren speak to Bishops about the unique gifts of Anglicanism in speaking to an emerging generation and warn us that excessive internal focus will kill our proclamation.

On the other hand, he has consistently aided and abetted the formation of increasingly restrictive communion structures that freezes out synodical and representative processes and the laity and ordinary clergy in the process.

I wonder if The Windsor Continuation Group that came up with this idea works like the folks in this video?

Here are the great majority of Anglican bishops doing in Lambeth exactly what needs to happen to hold the communion together--the hard work of listening, developing face-to-face relationships and choosing to stay together--and now the fellow who called the party and designed the activities is saying "hey gang! let's have a curia!"

I don't know which is more worrisome. This dreadful "fifth instrument" idea or the bi-polar nature of Anglican leadership.


the Reverend boy said...

I prefer to think of it as the "Cake or Death Commission."

In seriousness, it does seem a bit schizophrenic. I feel yet another commission commission and study group coming on ...

Maybe +Cantuar's grand scheme (if there is one) is to keep the troublemakers busy in committee while the rest of the Communion gets on with building the Kingdom?

Christopher said...

This is the direction I have long feared we were heading...

It's beginning to have an Orwellian feel or something out of Harry Potter.

John Julian said...

Thanks for the good posting, Andrew

The proposal for an Anglican Holy Office is not at all surprising to me, and I don't think it should surprise anyone else who has been following things for the past few years. Somewhere along the line, something like this was bound to come up.

But the thing that really scares me is that the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently WANTS it and seems willing to promote it and stand behind the proposal. I ask myself, "Has he really gone over the edge? Is this more detritus from his meetings with Benedict XVI? Does he really want Lambeth 08 to become the Anglican Trent? Has he absolutely no sympathy with anything except conformity? Has his experience with Establishment of the C of E contaminated his understanding of Anglican comprehensiveness elsewhere? Can he not sense that the people who would like this have already virtually left? Does he really simply despise the Episcopal (or 'American') Church so much?"

'Tis a wonderment -- and a fright!