Exercising the little grey cells: Lenten Reading in a Difficult Time

It's the morning after the night before. This miserable Primates Meeting is done.

On a highly local level it's time to get on with the run up to Ash Wednesday, Lent and the whole thing. As I remarked the other day, "I think the best plan for the Episcopal Church is to get on with the work we have to do. Folks already have hearts and minds – committed to the Gospel and open to God's call. The Episcopal Church doesn't have to win those hearts and minds to some orthodoxy the do not now enjoy. It has only to be open to the positive struggle to do the very best that heart and mind can do in Jesus Christ."

I also want to reiterate what I said in reference to the news that seven of the Primates had refused communion with our Presiding Bishop.

"John Dominic Crossan says in The Essential Jesus, "We walk in the shadow of the Cross." We sometimes forget that in electing, contributing to the affirmation of, or giving allegiance to, the ministries of these 38 heads of churches we conspire in their path that leads to their Cross. And in our collaboration in their walk we will find ours as well.

A more cynic and stoic parallel to this sense of impending crucifixion is found in the writings of Epictetus, referenced by Crossan: "If you want to be crucified, just wait. The cross will come."

As Christians perhaps we meet the matter half way - We don't have to want to be crucified, but just wait. When it is time, there will be a Cross just our size."

So, what now? Well, for starters, it's never over. The work we need to do to be a redemptive, enlivening and progressive church is never finished. So perhaps a time of reflection and regrouping for the future is in order.

I have just picked up a wonderful little primer titled: Anglicanism, A Very Short Introduction by Mark Chapman. (Oxford University Press, 2006) It is very readable and in the context of the goings on in Dar Es Salaam and the church in general, very useful. A few tidbits:

"…the idea of a national church acting independently of others has remained at the heart of Anglicanism. However, where the old colonial ties and a shared history and linguistic identity no long bind churches together this means insuperable tensions are likely to emerge."

Some have suggested that Archbishop Akinola was reticent to sign off on the Communiqué because it wasn't strong enough. I am not sure. He is Primate of a church (The Church of Nigeria) that has acted independently on several occasions. Perhaps he was hesitant because the sort of covenant envisioned by the Primates will limit his freedom of action as well. We shall see.

Chapman also says, "The very idea of a global church raises enormous questions of power and authority." Amen to that!

And then he says, "To understand Anglicanism is to wrestle with globalization, with ecclesiastical and political independence, but also with post-colonialism."

Towards the end of the book, Chapman writes, "History reveals that there can be no compulsion: attempts to make authoritative decisions (as at Lambeth 1998) do little more than polarize an already divided church…cultural difference might be so extreme that conversation will prove impossible and different provinces will go it alone."

I am not sure that Chapman finally has any sense of what a solution to the problems facing the Anglican Communion might look like. He does have a sense that being Anglican may not be the same as being part of the Anglican Communion. And, if that is true, then we ought not sell our souls too easily at the altar of unity.

More later. For now, coffee and a good book.


  1. Fr. Mark,

    Here's my answer to all of this.

  2. There is an irony in the current situation of the Anglican Communion.

    As I recall, the Church IN England became the Church OF England when the king, parliament and the bishops threw off the yoke of a FOREIGN PRIMATE, to wit, the Supreme Pontiff, the Universal Primate, the Bishop of Rome.

    The Church of England thus began with an ethos of (for lack of a better word) HOME RULE in its own provinces of Canterbury and York. It passed that ethos on to its daughter churches and the practice of "foreign primacy" has been, wherever it was allowed to exist temporarily because of colonial or missionary history, ended as soon as practicable.

    Now, those who have liberated themselves from such foreign primacy (the Global South, in other words) are turning about and insisting on exercising foreign primacy in the Episcopal Church (and, I suggest, shortly in the English church as well).

    This may be anti-colonial, anti-imperial, anti-missionary backlash ... but it is also anti- Anglican. It is a betrayal of the very roots of Anglican identity.

    It should never have been proposed; it should never of passed the Primates; and it should never be accepted in ANY province of the
    Communion. I fervently hope that the deliberative bodies of other provinces react negatively and condemn this action even before the Episcopal Church is "required" to respond. I hope ... unfortunately, I don't really expect that to happen.

  3. Mark --

    That is an excellent book -- we read it in refectory!

    fr-eric --

    The exact point you make is made in the book!

    The WWAC is so paradoxical that it might actually survive :(


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