Thursday, September 17, 2015

It's The End of the Anglcan Communion As we Know It - And I feel Fine

And Lenny Bruce is not afraid...

Like all GenXers, Crusty Old Dean prides himself on knowing when, exactly, to shout "LEONARD BERNSTEIN!" during the REM song "It's the End of the World As We Know It...And I Feel Fine." For COD, the key phrase in that song title has always been "as we know it."  The band isn't saying the
It's not the REM way. Let's recycle these shards!
world is ending, only the world as we know it, which is true.  The world as we know it is ending and changing all the time.  For example, as the song itself points out,  we sadly don't live in a world with Lenny Bruce or Lester Bangs anymore.  Yet also in the title, and in the manic exuberance of the song, there's also a sense of resignation, or outright relief, or even rejoicing, that world as we know it is ending -- because we feel fine.

This is what Crusty thought when he read the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Janury of 2016, which can be found here:  It's the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it, and I feel fine. In his call the Archbishop noted the need to "consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion."  He also wrote of the "way in which proclamation [of the gospel] happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between Provinces. We each live in a different context."  Notably, the call for a primates' meeting also includes the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, who will be invited to part of the gathering.

Some parts of the Anglican world melted down quickly, with (surprise!) the Guardian in the UK producing the hyperventilating headline that the Archbishop was "urging the breakup" of the Anglican Communion.  Some parts of the Communion greeted this with a shrug.

Crusty welcomes this announcement, for several reasons.

1)  As Gram Parsons once sang, "It's time to stop pretending things are real."  We do not need to be concerned about some sort of split or schism:  it has already happened.  It give me no pleasure to state that, but it's reality.  A third of the Primates did not attend the last meeting in 2011, hundreds of bishops did not attend the Lambeth Conference in 2008.  An alternate communion, the Global
Grievous Angel with Emmylou Harris -- sounds of angelic choirs.
Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) has already held several global gatherings, set up its own relief and development agency, and has talked about missionary work in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  There are at least half a dozen foreign provinces operating some kind of franchise in various parts of Canada and the United States.

And this division is not solely about human sexuality; we have had impaired communion for over forty years, since the ordination of women began in some provinces in the 1970s.  Hell, until the Church of England authorized the service of women as bishops, clergy ordained by women bishops were not eligible to serve in the Church of England.  The separation has been brewing for nearly forty years.

2)  The Anglican Communion is a lot more recent than we think.  Prior to 1867, there wasn't even any kind of mechanism for people in the Anglican world to get together.  From 1867-1960s, all we had was a once-every-ten-years bishop's conference that had no binding authority.  Starting in the 1960s, we had the Anglican Consultative Council, which coordinated ministries among the Communion but had no governing authority over member provinces.  Starting in 1979 we had the Primates' meeting.  The Anglican Communion, as a concept, is barely a generation old.  That doesn't mean outward signs of unity and coordination of ministries are not important -- just that we keep in mind we have done this in different ways over the past 500 years, and perhaps this can be part of visioning for how we can model how to cooperate and collaborate. 

3)  The Anglican Communion, if anything, is the last vestige of colonialism.  Can we really be taken seriously as a global communion when our titular head has to be a subject of the British crown?  Any male in good standing in the Catholic Church can, in theory, be elected Pope, and they elected an Argentine from the Global South.  For all of our huffing about ourselves as global church, the Englishness is still written into our systems.  From 1534-1789 there was exactly one province of the Anglican Communion -- the Church of England.  From 1789-1869, there were two  -- the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Church of England -- until the Church of Ireland was disestablished and became a separate province.  (The Scottish Episcopal Church was duly ignored as a kind of aunt locked in the attic.  The Canadian church started holding synods in the 1850s and was granted self-governance, but didn't hold its first General Synod until 1893.) The formation of the structures of the communion in the 1960s were a direct result of postcolonialism and the creation of new provinces in the 20th century from former British colonial possessions.  We had to come up with something to hold this disparate group together other than being former members of the British Empire.  And hey: we did a pretty good job at it!  The Anglican Communion is widely dispersed, majority non-European descent, and has taken root in many places that were never part of the British Empire.  But the structures created are still heavily Western and European centered. 

4)  Hopefully it means we can finally put an end to the Anglican Covenant.  Amirite?

So Crusty welcomes the discussion.  He is all for a communion which reflects how member churches can cooperate and collaborate on mission and ministry where there is common ground, and agree to disagree where there are differences.  The Lutheran World Federation is often trotted out as an example, but that's not necessarily the best example.  The LWF, despite its name, has very close ties between member churches, and a mechanism for disciplining member churches (as the Lutherans in South Africa found out, when two LWF member churches were suspended for refusing to admit blacks as members).  Likewise, the LWF requires as membership that all churches have altar and pulpit fellowship (that is, full communion and interchangeability of ministries) with other member churches.  If anything, the better parallel are the Orthodox Churches, whose members churches are entirely autonomous, but connected to one another through a common ministry and by virtue of being in communion with one another.  There are fourteen different officially recognized Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, for instance.  This isn't always the best model, however, since the Orthodox churches can bicker with one another and threatening to be in and out of communion with one another.  Heck, they've been planning the Great and Holy Synod -- a global meeting of all Orthodox bishops -- for nearly fifty years...on second thought, maybe having the Lambeth Conference once every fifty years doesn't sound so bad.

While Crusty welcome this discussion, he has the following MAJOR concerns at this time:

a)  He hopes this is not actually a back-door to a two-tiered communion, with some "full" members and some "double-secret probation", less-than-full members.  Either is it is a decentralized Communion for all member churches, or it the current Communion with member churches as full members.

b)  He certainly hopes that if it is a decentralized structure, with member churches agreeing to collaborate and cooperate on areas of common concern, then those churches who participate in those ministries bear the burden of those ministries  Right now, for instance, we have an Anglican Communion where The Episcopal Church would love to collaborate on ecumenical dialogues.  However, for five years we have not been permitted to do so solely because the Archbishop of Canterbury decided we should not be on them (by defining both what constituted a violation of the Windsor Process and by deciding what the penalty for that violation that he determined should be). Meanwhile, we have been funding those dialogues through our financial contributions that we would love to be on but are not permitted to be on.  A future communion should have a financing and governance structure that reflects the kind of decentralization and coalition-of-the-willing spirit that the Archbishop has floated.

I'm off to Lester Bangs' birthday party, maybe there's some cheesecake.  Crusty feels fine.


23 comments:

  1. However, for five years we have not been permitted to do so solely because the Archbishop of Canterbury decided we should not be on them (by defining both what constituted a violation of the Windsor Process and by deciding what the penalty for that violation that he determined should be).

    Roger Goodell as ABC?

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  2. Crusty just spit out his tawny port in a snort of laughter.

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  3. Amen. Bravo! (Save me some cheesecake!)

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  4. It is indeed sad when bigotry, prejudice and nod, nod, wink, wink, take precedence over real and serious study of Scripture in the context of its culture and the context of its various full narratives. None of the so-called proscriptions can withstand anything other than cherry picking various verses, using them out of context and then calling it theology. Marriage is a good example. Jesus spoke of marriage only in the larger discussions about divorce and adultery. Yet we claim He "hallowed and sanctified" what we now call "traditional marriage." It's only been traditional a few hundred years and even then the intent was more for the proper passage of property to legitimate heirs! Reading 2Kings is like reading a combination of the Khardashian's and The Young and the Restless! Morality? Hardly.

    Our bishops have, for the most part, stood around wringing their hands and whining for the last 30-plus years rather than study and teach....based on the most current interpretations and information about Scripture. We wonder why so many are "spiritual but not religious?" They see through the veil of not so secret anymore. Faith does not need manipulation, it does need honest and integrity. Not sure the ABC or his predecessor has much of either. (Of course some of the Primates brought female assistants with them to Lambeth......uh huh.)

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  5. I see this also as admitting what is actually the case--that the "communion" is simply a group of churches with a common ancestor in the Church of England. We are not the Anglican Church (as much as some would prefer and pretend that we are). We have a common "mother church" in the Church of England and it is nice to do a "family reunion" occasionally, but that's pretty much it.

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  6. I am grateful that, according to the NY Times, our new PB will be attending, bringing his holy gifts to the conversation: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/world/europe/meeting-of-anglican-leaders-could-lead-to-a-looser-federation.html?emc=edit_th_20150917&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=29133353&_r=0

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  7. So basically, "We tried it. It didn't work. The Anglican Communion is done; let's fold up the tent and go home." I'm not sure I like admitting that, but that seems to be where we are. And Tom Sramek is right, we really aren't "Anglican," are we? We're Episcopalians and we have a very different way of doing things from that old Anglican way. We have an Anglican heritage, but we've grown beyond it in many ways.

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    1. Episcopalianism ≠ Anglicanism

      If so, this is rather a significant point.

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    2. See some of the thread below - I'm unwilling to draw hard and fast boundaries between what is "Episcopal" as opposed to "Anglican" because a) it presumes there is some kind of "normative" Anglicanism, which frankly I have yet to see; b) thinks the Episcopal Church is somehow special in its uniqueness, when there's staggering diversity in other provinces, and within provinces.

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  8. Eric: It's always hard to walk away from something, but I think that twist I'd add to that is "We tried being a colonialist pretense of a communion, where all flows from and back to England, but we realized how ridiculous that is and we've stepped away from it. What honest value is there in letting the values of a diverse body of churches be set by a diplomatic Etonian?

    I think there is a big difference emotionally for me at least between "We tried it and it failed" and "We tried something that admittedly makes no sense in retrospective. A global communion would be lovely, but it needs to be decentralized and not directed by Mother England."

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    1. See, I'm unwilling to say "we're Episcopalians, not Anglicans" because it still presumes that there is "a" normative way of being Anglican. Indigenous Maori in New Zealand are proudly Anglican. Francophones in Burundi who were never part of a British culture heritage are proudly Anglican. Singapore, a place where everything tells us religion should not gain hold (urban, westernized, secularized), has a growing Anglican church. Even within the Church of England that's staggering diversity. "Anglican" is more than "English", which means as Episcopalians we're in the same boat as everyone else.

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    2. Did you ever think "This may be one of the reasons people think less and less of belonging to a church-it's just another argument"?

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  9. I'm not sure the LWF is a good model, anyway. Ostensibly, we are all supposed to be in altar and pulpit fellowship with each other, but the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus cut off all relations and fellowship with the ELCA and the Church of Sweden, which goes against the idea of the LWF. Which is how the NALC could apply for membership and expect to be accepted, even though they would also not declare full communion with the ELCA (though their application was rejected). The fracture lines are being drawn.

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  10. Agreed, ecumenical life, it's far, far from perfect. I wasn't necessarily pointing to efficacy of the LWF as a better model, only trying to correct a notion in some Anglican circles that a more decentralized Anglican Communion is somehow us becoming like the LWF. If anything, as you point out, reverse is true -- the two are much more alike than being some kind of perceived alternative to one another.

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  11. Unfortunately the heresy of a "pure" church continues to haunt us. The idea of acceptance of the "other" continues to frighten us. Yet for all the nonsense that passes as concern for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we continue to be upheld by the Father in the love of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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  12. One thought- if we're going to include TEC, the ACoC and ACNA as fellow provinces in a more loose Communion despite the geographic overlap, and we're not expecting theological agreement besides the ancient creeds, we should invite the European Old Catholic Churches and the Philippine Independent Church to become full members of the new Communion.

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  13. We need conversations again among TEC, the ACNA, REC, and anyone else interested like those that led to the ELCA and Moravian Church in America agreements. Not all clergy will be able to serve in other churches; the consent of bishops, etc. is required for all - but that is the case now among Anglican churches.

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  14. One place to begin might be for BP Curry to withdraw the various statements of "abandoning the communion" made by his soon to be predecessor.

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  15. Sometimes a headline says it all, and COD's headline nailed it this time.

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  16. A minor correction-- there were two national churches in the Anglican Communion until the 1790s, when for a brief period there were three (unless we include the Scottish church, and the numbers would be three and four)-- the Church of Ireland was a distinct body until 1801 when, as a minor aspect of the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland, it was united with the CoE until 1871. A few Victorian antiquarians argued that the Channel Islands are part of the Church of France, but English law had put them into the Diocese of Winchester or under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester (take your pick) since the 16c.

    And as a minor detail, the Archbishop of Canterbury need not be a subject of the Queen, but must be able to swear allegiance to her-- perhaps a mediaeval sort of distinction but non-denizens have been CoE bishops and privy councillors in the past.

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  17. Fair enough, oursonpoliare -- naturally the Irish Church was established the church in Ireland, I was working from the understanding that the concept of "an" Anglican Church as a franchise with independent provinces was not part of that self-understanding of the Irish church prior to 1869; it was simply the established Christian presence. The PECUSA in 1789 helped to develop the notion of an independent church body that was part of a larger franchise identifiable as Anglican, as did the Scottish Episcopal Church.

    And yes, point taken as well on the question of the nationality of the ABC; was working from the perspective that the ability to swear allegiance to a monarch is eminently easier for Commonwealth citizen than a non-commonwealth citizen. For some, it could involve losing one's citizenship in their home country.

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  18. Jonathan Swift, when Dean of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, had some things to write about the Irish Church and its self-understanding-- although I would suspect that some CoI bishops were not too concerned over this, but were looking at it as if it were a branch plant of a multinational (and hoping to get promotion to head office!) rather than as a franchise-- but perhaps corporate terminology should yield to a more Cyprianic interpretation! Still, the establishment of ECUSA made it clear and unavoidable that Anglicanism was no longer a uni-focal enterprise and Lambeth conferences began as a way of trying to manage a communion relationship with a bunch of provinces around with no central authority after British authorities made it clear that the colonial churches were no longer established.

    These oaths were from the days before we thought much of nation-states apart from their princes. Several archbishops of Canterbury were subjects of the King of France, but swore allegiance to the King of England. Adrian Castellesi, Bishop of Hereford, then later of Bath & Wells, was a subject of the papal states but had to swear allegiance to Henry VII for the temporalities of his see(s)-- this was customary in pre-nation-state times when eminent folk had ecclesiastical and civil territories all over the place.

    Tom Ferguson is correct that, for many countries, an oath of allegiance to a monarch would presume a disclaiming of citizenship or even a serious criminal offence (in my refugee-processing days, I recall that taking an oath of allegiance to the Queen of Canada was a capital offence in Bulgaria). Countries of the person's original citizenship would likely make an exception in the case of Canterbury -- I remember a rumour that South Africa looked at doing so when it was bruited about that Desmond Tutu was Canterabile, And Tom Ferguson provides a valuable service in reminding us that Anglican does not mean English or English-speaking.

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