The Bishop of Exeter's Ecumenical Concern

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.


  1. I fail to see how silencing or censuring a province retains any sense of the Communion. All that would be preserved is a body that speaks for conservative hegemony while the voices of the ECUSA are silenced.

    You cannot lash an arm to your side, covering it in cloth, and then walk outside and show everyone a complete body.

  2. I agree.

    If the Romans or the Muslims break off ecumenical relations, it won't be because Anglicans speak w/ "multiple voices", but because they don't like what one (or more) of those voices is saying.

    That's their choice . . . and their responsibility. Not ours.

    "Thy Will Be Done"

  3. Quite right that there is not now nor has there ever been one voice in the Anglican Communion that can speak for all with authority -- as you have mentioned earlier, we are not a Church but a Communion.

    But ecumenically speaking, I find it extremely curious that the British Churches so quick to condemn the North American Churches are silent on the actions of their Porvoo partners in the Church of Sweden who have taken far reaching gay positive steps beyond anything done by The Episcopal Church -- maybe the Anglicans & Lutherans should all just re-allign according to their acceptance (& celebration?) of the presence & ministry of their gay & lesbian members.

    AND many thanks for the commment below on waiting for the official report & informed comments before over reacting to Kanuga (although I certainly DO plan to over-react! :) )

    BTW -- this SHOULD permalink to another reflection on the meeting & the address by Exeter:


  4. Do Rome and the Muslims believe we speak with one voice now? I'd bet they do because we have always maintained the polite fiction that the AC is one body for dealing with other groups of similar size. If we come to them at this point and say "Yeah, sorry about this, but we're really a bunch of people who can't agree" then both Rome and the Muslims would quite reasonably feel that we have been lying to them and that no agreement can be reliably made with the whole of the AC.


  5. Bill Carroll29/3/06 3:54 PM

    Part of the goal of our ecumenical conversation with Rome should be to get them to decentralize. The Petrine office couldn't be exercised among us in its present form. It would have to look a lot more like the Archbishop of Canterbury does (or at least did before Windsor started trying to confer on him authority that he doesn't have). No body without significant representation from the laity and clergy other than bishops could ever speak for the Episcopal Church.

  6. obadiahslope29/3/06 4:05 PM

    At the risk of stating the obvious can i note that +Exeter's main point was about relations within the Anglican Communion? Of course this bears directly on the delicate work that ECUSA faces in seeking to craft a position that reflects its internal stance and a desire to remain within the Communion in light of Windsor and our host is restrained from comment for a few days yet. But I think it is only fair to +Exeter to note that this was a side note in his speech.

  7. The Father Prior raises an important question on relationships with the Porvoo churches.

    In fact the Church of England has been making its views known on what is happening in the Church of Sweden. In a surprise move and without the usual consultation with her sister churches in the UK the English Faith and Order Group have issued a statement available here: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/ccu/new/response.html
    Written by Oliver O’Donovan and Jeremy Morris, this paper is to be followed by a major paper also by Oliver O’Donovan on the implications of ethics on Communion. I would be glad to send a copy of Jeremy Morris’ paper delivered to the Anglican Lutheran Society recently that does not make comfortable reading.
    The CofE is in fact dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s quite carefully. It looks very grim.
    The Leaders meeting of the Porvoo churches was held here in Cardiff a few weeks ago and was electrified by the news that the Baltic Evangelical Lutherans had in effect given notice of separation from their Swedish brethren – not a whisper of this on the agenda of course! I spent an hour with Archbishop Vanags of Latvia during the weekend and it was clear that attitudes so clearly displayed at last years Gay Pride March in Riga and in the Latvian Churches Common Statement issued just before are, if anything, hardening. Porvoo looks set to come apart over this too. (Latvia is currently only an observer)
    The work of Oliver O’Donovan is clear in the submission by Exeter, he is a very major player in all of this.

  8. martin reynolds --

    I stand corrected & I am sorry to hear it (& just who is Oliver O’Donovan?)

    Is it possible that the ABC's efforts to avoid a schism in the WWAC will end up causing one in the CofE?

    I would not be surprised if the House of Bishops tried to Port St. Lucie TEC, but I am counting on the Deputies to insist that there is nothing to repent -- Gen Con 2006 may make Gen Con 2003 seem quite mild by comparison

  9. And I was sad to be the bearer of sad tidings, Fr Prior.
    Oliver O’Donovan is here: http://resources.theology.ox.ac.uk/staff.phtml?lecturer_code=Oodonovan
    He is a principle author of the St Andrew’s Day Statement http://www.episcopalian.org/cclec/paper-st-andrews-day.htm upon which he has published an extensive commentary: http://maketiny.com/ez .

  10. BillCarroll30/3/06 9:37 AM

    O'Donovan is a brilliant man and a much better representative of evangelical Anglican theology than most of his U.S. counterparts. He is also a defender of the idea of Christendom, which most good contemporary Christian ethics sees as highly problematic.

  11. Martin --

    Thank you for the links, I guess.

    "Principles" is unobjectionable to an aging Athanasian like myself, other than the tiresome regurgitation of platitudes much beloved by Evangelicals (too much exposure to the rolling rhetoric of the Pauline epistolary style with too little understanding of the point?) but the leap to "Application" lacks all credibility (to me, anyway). My own journey is quite similar to that of Bishop Alexander described in "Thus Far by Grace" -- surprise at the (closeted) presence of so many gay persons (not that I knew the word "gay" at the time to mean anything other than happy) in the Episcopal Church (having come from the Baptists) -- when the gays came out of the closet (& refused to go back in) it was a matter of either kicking them out of the Church (refusing to recognize their undeniable ministry, lay & ordained) OR accepting them (affirmation came later).

    If there is common ground here, I fail to perceive it (God grant that I am mistaken)!

  12. Back on the subject of ecumenical relations w/ the Romans:

    In the 3 years since the last (+GR-confirming) GC, we've heard all sorts of dire warnings, about Anglican-Roman relations coming to an end.

    And how has that impacted the annual Lenten "Ecumenical Stations of the Cross" that my parish holds w/ the local RC one?

    Not one whit ;-)

    (If anything, attendance---both Episcopalians and RCs---is up this year! :-D)


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