Ruth Gledhill, religion reporter for the London Times, posted a video interview with the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone and Bishop of Argentina, George Venables. It is a very helpful interview, and Ruth's additional commentary give some insight into Bishop Venables' thinking on Anglican Communion issues. Read her article HERE.
You can see that video HERE.
A few things to note:
It seems strange to raise such small matters in a communion fractured by divisions, but little bits and pieces of history come into all this and shape the differences in the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion. One of these concerns the title given to the chief bishops of the various Provinces. It is a bit clumsy. Still it hints at very different ways of understanding the role of the Episcopal leadership in each province.
This video titles Bishop Venables as "Archbishop," and Ruth Gledhill refers to him as Archbishop. He does not correct this. However Bishop Venables listed on the Anglican Communion Website as "Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone & Bishop of Argentina."
How many Primates are Archbishops, one might wonder? Of the thirty-eight provinces, twenty-three have Archbishops, four have Moderators (all united churches), four have Presiding Bishops, one each has a Primus, President Bishop or Prime Bishop, and four simply name the person Primate. In the strange world of titles, all who are not directly addressed as Archbishop (or if given to the use of "Your Grace," "Your Grace"), are addressed as Bishop.
Little differences are of some pride and importance locally, of course. The Scots seem to take delight in talking about the "Primus," the Episcopal Church in the Philippines speak of the "Prime," referring to Bishop Soliba.
I appreciate having this video for another reason. While I have known of Bishop Venables for a long time I have never met him. He comes across on the video as a thoughtful, caring and very available person. It is important to remember that the people of the Church, including those with whom we struggle, are likely to be people we will resonate with on some level. Some who have commented on this blog have accused me of demonizing Archbishop Akinola and I need to remind them that while I have often been critical of what he has done and the stance he takes on this or that matter, there is much I admire about him as well. In particular I admire his claiming for the Church of Nigeria an autonomy that I believe is true (but often unacknowledged) for all Anglican provinces.
Concerning the content of the interview with Presiding Bishop Venables:
He believes that the Episcopal Church will be unable, for reasons of conviction, to comply with the Primates requests by September 30, 2007 and that there may indeed be a split, certainly between Provinces. Ruth Gledhill reports Bishop Venables' assessment as follows: "He believes the States could become a separate The Episcopal Church, and acknowledges there is already a large number who would want to be part of an Episcopal Church. He named Mexico, Central America and Brazil as partners who would consider themselves Episcopal. He sees the CofE remaining in the Anglican Communion."
This of course does not address the Archbishop of Canterbury's observation that in a number of Provinces – including TEC and perhaps the CofE – there might well be internal splits leading to two or more major subgroups claiming Anglican identity. There is already, of course, such subgroups in existence, but they are fairly small. What is possible is a split into two larger subgroups, say TEC on the one hand and a coalition / partnership of a variety of smaller continuing/ conservative / realignment bodies on the other. In England, given the peculiar problems of the Established Church, it is difficult to know just how such a split might be manifest.
Bishop Venables says, 'I personally think there is not enough good will, or the opportunities to develop the relationships needed to make it (continued union) happen.' That good will has been used up in the power plays that have turned the Primates meetings into occasions for decision making. In ten short years we have seen the Primates Meetings, an "instrument for unity" turned into a body with assumed power. There is limited good will where there is power ascribed, then assumed and then exercised.
The claim once made in the famous Thirty Nine Articles, that the Pope has no more power than any foreign bishop, is coming home to haunt. What sort of power do foreign bishops have? What sorts of power does our Presiding Bishop have elsewhere in the world? Or the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea have here? They all have the power to persuade, but that requires precisely what Bishop Venables says is lacking, namely "good will (and) the opportunities to develop relations…" Persuasion works only when there is reason to trust, and there is no reason to trust when strategy meetings are taking place behind closed doors with advisers rather than life together.
I admire the Bishop's observation, which honors the Episcopal Church's situation. "They are just continuing with what they did as a result of conviction." On this matter, I hope we will stand by our convictions, tenuous as they are. We cannot go back.
Where this leads is of course unknown.