Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sentamu and Williams: Playing with Fire?

Well, it's time for the party that never seems to end: the Church of England General Synod. You may have noticed, from time to time, that Crusty Old Dean has at times looked to the General Synod as a possible model for reforming some elements of Episcopal Church polity -- particularly the way that all three orders sit and debate together, voting separately as needed.

One thing COD certainly does not wish to model is the abominable frequency that this body meets. Every other week, it seems -- in reality twice, sometimes three times, PER YEAR. Thus it appears that Synod is either in session, doing a post-mortem of its previous session, or preparing for the next session.

Anyway, General Synod will be debating, in part, how it should relate to the Anglican Church in North America (which is actually not a church, but an umbrella group of various organizations, dioceses, and parishes, including denominations which have kept much of their own autonomy intact - but that's another post for another time).

Previously, Synod had passed the this resolution:

That this Synod, aware of the distress cause by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,

(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

As part of its discussions in 2011, Synod took no formal action, though there was some discussion about what it meant to be "in communion" and under what conditions clergy from other Anglican Churches could serve in the Church of England.

For its upcoming Synod meeting, the reports have now been published, and ACNA is mentioned again:

18. We would, therefore, encourage an open-ended engagement with ACNA on
the part of the Church of England and the Communion, while recognising that
the outcome is unlikely to be clear for some time yet, especially given the
strong feelings on all sides of the debate in North America.

19. The Church of England remains fully committed to the Anglican Communion
and to being in communion both with the Anglican Church of Canada and the
Episcopal Church (TEC). In addition, the Synod motion has given Church of
England affirmation to the desire of ACNA to remain in some sense within the
Anglican family.

Everyone relax. This is actually good news -- spectacularly good news, in fact. COD was concerned that somehow the General Synod or Archbishops would act without thinking through the implications of their actions. York and Canterbury have consistently underestimated the intention and resolve of conservative groups within the communion to be willing to fundamentally reshape the Anglican Communion along their own lines. The leadership of the Communion has consistently thought if they could "contain" the American contagion, everyone could go back to pretending that all gay clergy were celibate, and have been proven wrong every time. GAFCON, Lambeth 2008, other provinces ordaining clergy to serve in England itself. Similarly with the Covenant, which conservative provinces want to be exactly the enforcement mechanism ++Rowan claims it isn't. See, for instance, the Province of Southeast Asia's endorsement of the Covenant. They endorsed it, and further appended a claim saying the Covenant reaffirmed the Kuala Lumpur statement on sexuality and that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 from 1998 was the binding interpretation of human sexuality on the Communion as a whole.

COD was terrified that General Synod would publish some vague resolution which would be seen as paving the way for formal membership of ACNA in the Communion -- thus, COD believes, ending the Communion.

Sidebar: COD actually would have no problem admitting ACNA to membership in the Communion, with an important proviso. Often the model of the Lutheran World Federation is cast about glibly as what a federation would look like (ignoring the fact that the LWF also calls itself a "communion of churches"). The argument is, "Well, the Lutherans allow for multiple expressions in one country." Yes: IMPORTANT PROVISO that all members of the LWF have pulpit and altar fellowship -- intercommunion and recognition of ministries -- with other LWF members. This is why the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is not a member and has formed its own global Lutheran body (98% of all worldwide Lutherans are LWF members). COD would welcome a discussion on broadening an understanding of Anglicanism IF all members would be willing to acknowledge the ministries of one another and be in communion with one another. There are strong elements within ACNA and the Anglican Communion that want to replace the Episcopal Church, provinces that openly state they are not in communion with the Episcopal Church and do not recognize certain ordinations.

In a previous life Crusty Old Dean worked on an ecumenical dialogue with the Reformed Episcopal Church and Anglican Province in America, willing to have conversations on mutual recognition -- unless they recognized Gene Robinson's orders -- recognize, not necessarily invite him to do confirmations in their dioceses -- we could not recognize theirs. The reality is we have an imperfect system of interchangeability of clergy: priests ordained by women bishops, for instance, may not serve in the Church of England. But the Communion is based on the recognition of the ministries of one another and being in communion with one another.

This report is good news. Translated from Church of England speak, it basically means, "Nothing's gonna happen with ACNA for a long, long time. This is what "open ended" engagement means.

It also clearly affirms being in Communion with the Anglican Church of Canada and Church of England, given that many conservative blogs have been spinning the 2010 resolution that the C of E is in communion with ACNA and recognises it -- and thus by the unitary nature of Communion ecclesiology (one valid expression per country), meaning the Episcopal Church is on its way out of the Communion.

It then returns to delightfully ambiguous language by speaking of ACNA "in some sense" remaining "in the Anglican family."

Thus, good news. Clear affirmation of being in Communion with the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church; abstruse and recondite Rowanspeak when referring to ACNA.

So the main concern now should be conservative provinces seeking to hijack the Covenant, like Southeast Asia, rather than the Church of England going rogue and complicating matters by recognizing ACNA. This is why COD thinks the Episcopal Church needs to adopt the Covenant, with reservations clearly stated, and remain part of the conversation. We showed how disastrous removing ourselves from the process can be when the Anglican Consultative Council adopted the Windsor Report by one vote, because we chose to abstain.

Of course, anything can happen on the floor of Synod, but, as they have with appointment of openly gay bishops and in the women bishops debate, Sentamu and Williams have shown they are willing to play hardball and exploit the route of backroom machinations to manipulate the processes of the C of E to get their way.


  1. In a recent radio interview on a Lutheran channel the PB expressed the hope that at some stage there might be ecumenical relationships with ACNA, and that future hope seems to me to be in keeping with Cantuar's and Ebor's statement. I worked for such an outcome at a couple of stages. Events overcame desire. We first have to see whether ACNA survives and develops into a church rather than a coalition.

  2. The new North American Lutheran Church (NALC) has made application to join the LWF; the responses has been, "Are you willing to be an altar and pulpit fellowship with other LWF churches?" It's a rule for LWF membership, and NALC has not committed to that. The PB of the ELCA has repeatedly expressed willingness to be in conversation, but it's hard to do so with a group that at times considers you apostate.

    It's the same question I asked the REC and APA almost a decade ago, and which they were not willing to answer: Are we willing to mutually recognize one another? Or at least begin a conversation on those grounds? The willingness of ACNA to be led by those who seek replacement, not recognition, is going to be a problem. Of course ACNA is not a monolith anymore than the Episcopal Church is, but the conversation is not being framed in a way conducive to dialogue.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.