A thought on the Bishop of Exeter's Reflections Offered to the House of Bishops of ECUSA
Opining on what might happen if there was a breakdown in the Anglican Communion, the Bishop said,
“It would immediately become impossible to claim that there was any body that spoke for the Communion as a whole, and several existing relationships would be irrevocably altered. All the signals seem clear that for example there would be no further round of ARCIC and that the dialogue process with Al Azhar would end.”
I am committed to the work together that constitutes the reality of the Anglican Communion and deeply convinced of the need for ecumenical and interfaith engagement. But I have to say that the Bishop of Exeter’s remark provides an amazingly strange argument, for it rests on the proposition that there is NOW “any body that (speaks) for the Communion as a whole.” This proposition is false, although obliquely so. NO body speaks for the Communion as a whole. It may be argued that the "instruments of communion" and the Archbishop of Canterbury speak FROM the whole Communion, but even these do not speak ex-cathedra FOR the Communion.
The representatives to various ecumenical conversations speak FROM particular locations within the Communion and are responsible to their sending organization – ACC, the Primates, the Lambeth Conference, the General Secretariat of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office, etc, none of whom “speak for the Communion as a whole,” or at least not in a binding way.
So while there may be a breakdown in ecumenical relations, it is not because we suddenly don’t have a single body with a single voice. We don’t have that now, and there have been plenty of complaints about that fact in the past. The breakdown will be because there will have to be different tracks with particular churches who used to work together.
Would a breakdown in the Anglican Communion make ecumenical life more difficult? Sure. Would it be much different than the current state of multi-church parallel discussions? No. ARCIC would have to decide if it continues its work to think about “branching” what was first a two way conversation, or by continuing with one and opening a second with another set of representatives.
The charge that disruption in the Anglican Communion will spoil our ecumenical relations is a horse already beaten to death. It is based on a naïve premise and an implied accusation of spoiler.
Or at least that is how I see it.