Holding One Another in Mutual Regard.

Archbishop Robin Eames has recentily given three very important lectures, two at Virginia Theological Seminary and one, the 2005 Pitt Lecture, at Berkeley Divinity School. As the chairperson of the Lambeth Commission on Communion he was a primary participant in the publication of the Windsor Report and his words are carefully watched by those interested in the future of the Anglican Communion.

He is careful to say that he is speaking only as an individual in his opinions in these lectures. His words carry considerable importance however because he is an individual of rather extraordinary experience and a theologian capable of great nuance and considerable gentleness.

In the VTS lectures he was clear to say that, given the polity of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, both churches had done precisely what they were asked to do by the Windsor Report. He was also clear to say that that response is only the beginning.

Wordsmiths of all stripes were quick to pick up on this or that bit of his presentations, making of the scraps such hopeful or damning commentaries as they might. But almost no one seems to have looked at the “charge” he laid out for the Anglican Communion if it is to continue.

In the VTS Lectures, the Archbishop said: “In terms of exact wording of the Windsor Report so far as the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada are concerned – so far so good but much remains …

Perhaps we need to recall the plea of the Windsor Report for generosity and charity towards steps taken to meet the requests of the Report. Let us under God find it in our hearts no matter what our individual views on the issues may be to adopt that generosity and charity in these days. (para. 156)”

As concerns the plea for generosity and charity, the Archbishop clearly voiced concerns about several efforts in “the Global South” that seem to contribute to the disintegration of the bonds of affection that hold among the members Churches of the Communion. He said,

“The global south has produced alternative suggestions to how Anglicanism could be organised among those the world terms ‘conservative opinion’. The depth of feeling among conservative Anglicanism is beyond denial. From a position of dismissing Windsor as irrelevant to the basic issues there have been voices calling for radical reassessment of relationships. In my opinion prior to the next Lambeth Conference the furtherance of such alternatives raise serious issues not just about ‘bonds of affection’ but about the nature of authority as it has been accepted through the history of the Communion.”

“What all this amounts to is a question which I would again submit lies close to the heart of Anglican understanding or the lack of it : who or what speaks for a Province? What statement contains the authoritative voice of an Anglican Province? Once more we are compelled to turn back to the pros and cons of Anglican autonomy. Synodical process is at the centre of our understanding. But in a Communion which gives moral authority to Instruments of Unity or Communion and rejoices in dispersed authority I have to ask – is it possible to recognise a simple authority representative of one opinion on behalf of a Province?”

These two quotes from the second lecture at VTS speak to the problem presented by the Church of Nigeria when it changed its constitution so that there is no longer reference to the see of Canterbury. It also speaks to the considerable body of evidence that some leaders in Anglican Provinces of the Global South, with allies in several churches of the Global North, are proposing an alternative way of identifying as Anglicans, one which would exclude those they believe have strayed from orthodoxy. In the Berkeley lecture Archbishop Eames spoke in some detail about the dangers of these actions.

Generosity and charity are not the images of encounter that come to mind when one reads the comments of the Archbishop of Nigeria and others involved in this effort to “realign” the Communion. Certainly the “bonds of affection” so widely viewed as the real basis for the Anglican Communion are here sadly lacking. Archbishop Eames is right to say that the notion of the bonds of affection slides easily into being a slogan. But behind that notion is an idea of koinonia that is deeper than ecclesial and organizational relations.

All the hard work done by those in the Communion to build networks of trust and common action, all the companion diocese relations, all the work to make the notion of mutual responsibility and interdependence in Christ a reality, and more recently the covenants between emerging new provinces and their province of origin, has been based on the notion that intentional fellowship is at the heart of the Anglican Communion’s vocation. I wrote in THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE, “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.” (Chapter 5).

Archbishop Eames spoke to the concern for the bonds of affection (such bonds being primarily a matter of generosity and charity) in his lecture at Berkeley Divinity School. There he said, “My conviction in reflecting on the way forward for the Communion stems from my firm belief that the core values of Anglicanism have essentials to contribute to the world Church scene and that any erosion of those core values can have a negative effect on our partners, our fellow-travelers, towards the Church for which Christ prayed… in the end we Anglicans tend to return time and again not to new structures, but to new appreciation of a way of life, an attitude. In short – a being rather than a doing.”

The matter of being rather than doing is the core of the issue. The matter of who we are for one another (not what do we do and how do we justify what we do) gives a starting place for negotiation and dialogue. The quality of such dialogue is considerably enhanced if we hold each other in mutual regard.

Following General Convention 2003 I wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury, knowing that he was working towards a Primate’s meeting within a few weeks. I did not know at the time that he would be meeting with members of what would become the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. In that letter I said,

“I do believe the Anglican Communion has a purpose and a vocation and that it will contribute its part to the ongoing life of the Christian community in the world. When it dies, as it inevitably will, or successors in the faith will hopefully look back and find us to be ancestors they can admire and cherish….

In the Anglican context I understand Koinonia to concern a “community of mutuality.” In this sense koinonia is not simply fellowship, but fellowship committed to mutual regard.

It is mutual regard that lies at the core of the Anglican Communion – not structure, not appeal to authority, not even the coherence of communion wide agreement on specifics of interpretation of doctrine. Mutual regard holds us together and to the extent that we exhibit such regard it reflects our vocation to test this possibility as a future way for the greater Christian community.

When mutual regard does not hold I suspect the relevance of the Anglican Communion will dissipate and be replaced here and there by less edifying desires for a pure Church – purer than Rome or Geneva or even the Church of England. And should that happen, the notion of Churches in a fellowship of mutual regard will be lost and replaced by more strident agencies, and to our damnation, for the world does not need yet another world church claiming to be the embodiment of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in defiance of the obvious fact of doctrinal, historical and cultural fractures throughout Christendom.”

I am sure the letter got lost in the trickle up to his office and he never saw it. I am equally sure that Archbishop Eames never saw the letter. It was, after all, from a person of no particular consequence.

It is wonderful to see however that Archbishop Eames has said so well and so clearly what I believed would be the case two and a half years ago. At this point we are presented with strident agencies wanting a world church claiming to be THE Church. We are at the point of destroying the one elementary principle of our strange and wonderful Communion, namely our commitment to being FOR one another more that doing TO one another.

Koinonia, a community of mutual regard, is messy. Archbishop Eames is right to point to the messy start for our project in mutual regard – colonialism was a hard way to start. We are messy, and so much of what we are is without power and so much of who we are in the world is with limited authority as this world counts it.

Anglicans have mostly tried to be for one another, no matter the differences in how we work out our tasks in location. We need to take one another seriously, with real mutual regard, and with generosity and charity.

I commend the lectures of Archbishop Eames. They are primary tools for further understanding the value and life of the Windsor Report, itself a recommendation for the reestablishment of mutual regard.

It is my hope that General Convention 2006 will consider a resolution that the next Lambeth Conference give considerable attention to a reexamination of the idea of MRI – Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in Christ, not as it pertains to sharing of resources and exchange of ideas only, but as it pertains to the question of mutual regard.

1 comment:

  1. Great essay. I find myself almost entirely in agreement -- except that I would extend this to the rival factions in ECUSA as well, which would of course be more of a challenge. I don't have any reason to believe you would not do the same, though, so this isn't really a criticism.


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