What sort of vocation might we envision for the Anglican Communion? In 1998 Church Publishing published my book, The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post Modern Era. The following is taken from that and modified somewhat in the light of events.
A VOCATION FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
Here are six major vocational statements or goals. I believe they hold the seeds of a vocational direction for the Anglican Communion.
1. THE GOSPEL, NOT THE CHURCH, AS FIRST PRIORITY
The Anglican Communion and individual Anglican churches find a common cause in the gospel of Jesus Christ and live that out in shared practice. Where we disagree about the effective way to respond to the Gospel, we remember that we are not, any of us, the final Word. Our vocation is to place the Gospel first, proclaiming it as well as possible and as we have lived and understand it in incarnational context, honoring the common life as we are able.
The Anglican Communion is a provisional conciliar body; and Anglicans are a provisional people. We believe and proclaim the enduring Good News with the best we have to offer, knowing that our best is not ours but the whole church's, and that our efforts are provisions for the journey, not the banquet at its close. Our decisions are not definitive of the faith but formative of our walk in the faith. We retain this stance in our vocation, knowing, too, that even this stance has its own provisionality.
The Anglican Communion is a koinonia, and Anglicans exist only in koinonia—in fellowship— rather than as a separate church. Our vocation is to insist that we are not the church, but only a fellowship within it, and to act on that belief
4. RESTORATION TO UNITY
The Anglican Communion lives conscious of the call to unity that lies beyond itself and all other communities of faith, and Anglicans pray for and identify with the catholic church. The vocation of the Anglican Communion is continually to live for that time when our separations dissolve in that obedience to Christ which is perfect freedom.
The Anglican Communion is a community rather than an organization, and Anglican churches are primarily identified as communities of prayer and mutual support in ministry. The Anglican Communion therefore has a vocation to community life—to mutuality, to shared authority, to different levels of engagement among its members—rather than to a set organizational structure.
6. COMMON PRAYER
The Anglican Communion has been informed and formed by the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. Anglicans are identified with the ordered life of prayer and sacrament that derives from the prayerful use of that Book of Common Prayer and the several Books of Common Prayer that are the descendents of the English Book. The communion’s vocation is to carry its liturgical and spiritual sense of common prayer into an ecumenical future, as one contribution to the building up of communities of the Way in an increasingly fragmented world.
These six together describe a fellowship very much identified with traditional Anglican marks and method, incarnational theology and experience. Yet in many ways these also describe a fellowship willing to die as well. In 1920, the Lambeth Conference reported the mind of the bishops at that time: “We aim. . .at extending not the Anglican Church with its special characteristics, but the Holy Catholic Church in its essentials, which each new Church, as it grows up, may exhibit under characteristics of its own.”
Anglicans express the courage, in many ways, to work for an end other than their own communion. It is perhaps our most wonderful legacy, for its basis is in humility. Regrettably, it is a virtue not often practiced by religious organizations in these days.
There will be no enduring Anglican Communion, not if we can help it. But that is not the point. Being Anglican is simply the way some Christians have tried to work out the implications of baptism in specific times and locations. What we have been will be of value to those who come after, and they will count us as among their ancestors. In doing so we have been greatly blessed by God. Often we have been under judgment by God, and yet most often led by God to what it is we are called to next.
The vocation of the Anglican Communion is to be a force for greater koinonia, for overcoming the fragmentation of life in a vision of the whole people of God, in a time when fragmentation is what seems to be the rule of the day. It remains only for us to take heart in our “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12: lb—2a).