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.