2/16/2007

Not at the Lord's Table

Over on the Church of Nigeria (Anglcan Communion) website the following has been posted today:

SITTING AT THE LORD'S TABLE:

Statement from Global South Primates

CONN/100207

A number of the Global South Primates have not shared in the Holy Eucharist
today with their fellow primates. They include Abp. Peter Akinola, Abp John
Chew, Abp. Benjamin Nzimbi, Abp Justice Akrofi, Abp. Henry Orombi, Abp.
Gregory Venables, and Abp. Emmanuel Kolini. They represent more than 30
million faithful Anglicans. They have released this statement:

"We each take the celebration of the Holy Eucharist very seriously. This
deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican
Communion. It makes clear that the torn fabric of the Church has been torn
further. It is a consequence of the decision taken by our provinces to
declare that our relationship with The Episcopal Church is either broken or
severely impaired.

Scripture teaches that before coming to sit with one another at the Lord's
Table we must be reconciled. (Matthew 5:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) We
have made repeated calls for repentance by The Episcopal Church and its
leadership with no success. We continue to pray for a change of heart.

We are unable to come to the Holy Table with the Presiding Bishop of The
Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of Scriptural
teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding, "Ye that do truly and
earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your
neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of
God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith"

(Book of Common Prayer)

This is a painful decision for us and also for our host and brother, the
Most Rev¹d Donald Mtetemela. He understands our painful dilemma and accepts
our decision. Pray for the Church."


Friday, February 16, 2007
White Sands Hotel, Jangwani Beach, Tanzania


This is not surprising, except to note that the Global South group gets smaller every day. Now there are not twenty primates stepping back, but seven, five from Africa, one each from South American and Asia.

This then is not a statement from THE Global South Primates, but from some Global South Primates. Actually, mostly from the Steering Committee of the Global South Primates.

I continue to be amazed at their read of the requirements for coming to communion. These, as I understand it, have nothing to do with the sins of my neighbor at the rail, but with my own sins. If I have not been reconciled, then I should not come.

And, if they do not wish to associate with notable sinners (not so recognized by the priest at the table) then remember the Lord was willing. The gang at the Last Supper were pretty notable in their falling away.

The remnant of the Global South Leadership claims to represent 30 million Anglicans. But they do not represent either the Global South, or much else except themselves at this point. Thirty million Anglicans did not stay away. Seven did.

10 comments:

  1. So the "breaking news" from Tanzania is that seven (that would be seven out of thirty-eight for those without a scorecard) petulant primates have declined
    to break Eucharistic bread with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
    Stop me if you've heard that one before.

    OK ... I AM stopping ... because we HAVE heard that one before.

    In Dromantine. Where, according to The Most Reverend Andrew S. Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada: (http://www.anglican.ca/primate/writing/trinity-address-2005-06-28.htm)

    " ... some 14 of the bishops did not attend the daily Eucharist, even after the specific invitation of Archbishop Williams, and instead caucused together as
    we celebrated."

    Hmm. Math isn't my strong suit but it's looking to me as if we're actually making PROGRESS on this communion stuff if we've managed to reduce in half the number of primates who exclude themselves from the table because we're present. Doesn't bode well for those hell-bent on schism, does it?

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  2. Let's look at this again.vfmacdj

    The seven primates in question were (and are) apparently not "in love and charity with their neighbors," and appear to have no intention of "leading a new life." So it would seem as though their choice was theologically and spiritually correct.

    However, that action does not, as some would suggest (and the men in question seem to believe), reflect godly condemnation of those others at the table. Properly understood, it reflects concern over the state of their own souls.

    There is the sad thing... that these seven are in such a spiritual state that they feel unable to accept the body and blood of Our Lord. Further, rather than quietly declining to receive (as anyone may do), they feel the need to proclaim themselves so publicly. How tragic.

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  3. Thanks for reminding all of us that one of the accusations brought against Jesus leading to his becoming the outcast, scapegoat, and victim was that he sat at table with sinners. Thanks, too, for so clearly pointing out the difficulty the GS primates have maintaining unity. Scapegoating religious mechanisms have a very limited ability to bind people together, particularly people who have been under the influence of the gospel.

    burl

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  4. Perhaps you are correct in your reading, Jane Ellen. This would, then, no doubt be consistent with Archbishop Akinola's statement reported in the New York Times, "Many people say I embarrass them with my humility."

    It is encouraging to see this as an act of public penance by the seven primates involved. It is up to the rest of the Primates then, to assure them they have been forgiven, and are welcome at the table, and that they have no need of further qualms or demonstrations.

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  5. Jane, I think that is a very charitable reading--that the seven in question are doubting the state of their own souls's fitness to receive communion. I think they are in no doubt that they are fit to receive, but that they are being defiled by receiving alongside the unworthy.

    This is a refusal, in the words of Rowan Williams, to identify 'with they unfaithful apostles at table with Jesus'--words written long before his translation to Canterbury and all this Windsor and post-Windsor kerfuffle.

    But the important thing is, for the next while, there is a way that more of us than before will try to walk together--even with a bit of a hitch in the gitalong.

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  6. This one I couldn't pass up. I posted about this whole mess over on my blog. It seems to me that these men have (once again) missed the point, as well as continuing to hold to a very narrow view of why they can't receive communion.

    Someone should remind them of the Prayer of Humble Access.

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  7. Jane - I likewise believe that you are graciously giving the seven primates who absented themselves from receiving communion the benefit of the doubt.

    Their statement in part reads:"Scripture teaches that before coming to sit with one another at the Lord's Table we must be reconciled. (Matthew 5:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) We have made repeated calls for repentance by The Episcopal Church and its leadership with no success. We continue to pray for a change of heart.

    I read this paragraph to suggest that this group of specific Global South primates are seeking repentance from The Episcopal Church and its leadership. Moreover, they are unwilling to participate in a common confession of sin and absolution from sin in the presence of their primatial (sp?) peers. We stand or kneel with one another to confess our corporate sins so that all of us may be absolved and move to newness of life through Christ our Lord.

    Personal and communal reconiliation requires shared space and commitments. ++ Peter Akinola and the others cry out for a change of heart from somewhere on the Internet while displaying a lack of willingness to examine their own hearts. Jesus' parable in Luke 6: 40-42 is an interesting bit of text to refer to when regarding what we are once again witnessing from the Primate of Nigeria.

    40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

    It is a worthwhile practice to acknowledge our own human failings. Should we not expect this from ourselves as well as, and before we expect it from our bishops?

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  8. Mark,

    To offer yet another voice to what has already been so excellently offered here:

    This from my blog earlier today:

    What is curious is the justification used. First, the admonition from Matthew 5:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, and then this passage from the Book of Common Prayer:

    Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith.

    It may just be me, but all of these passages point to individual decisions to attend Eucharist, not to conditions laid down for others who also might be attending. Put another way, these passages do not call me to examine by brother's or sister's conscience or repentance, but my own. "When you are offering your gift at the altar," says Jesus to his disciples. "Examine yourselves," writes Paul to the Church in Corinth. And the passage from the Book of Common Prayer, as read in context, is clearly calling me to examine my own life.

    How have I been reconciling? How have I been reaching out in peace to my neighbor? How have I been endeavoring to follow God's call to me?

    If I have been engaging in these redemptive and graceful acts in Christ, I may then approach the Table of God and receive.

    In this particular case, even if the seven Primates believe Katharine Jefferts Schori and, for that matter, the Episcopal Church, is unrepentant and sinful, that is on our heads, not theirs. Her conscience and actions (or inactions) are not prerequisite conditions, if I read these passages correctly, for their attending eucharist.

    It is, well, a curious interpretation, rooted in a sense of reconciliation that demands repentance of the other. If this were indeed applied thoroughly in my life, I would never be able to approach the Table of God. There are those in communion with the Church who have not repented of the the harms they have done me or my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I have reached out to them, in as much grace as has been given me, for reconciliation. So I approach the Table, I hope with some degree of humility, just the same.

    I will only concede that these Primates are acting this way because they wish to make a statement: that they believe the Episcopal Church is wrong. And because of that, they believe the Anglican Communion vis-a-vis the Episcopal Church is broken:

    "This deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion. It makes clear that the torn fabric of the Church has been torn further. It is a consequence of the decision taken by our provinces to declare that our relationship with The Episcopal Church is either broken or severely impaired."

    Fine. I understand that much. It's their choice not to attend. But their justification from Scripture or the Book of Common Prayer is unnecessary, and moreover risks distorting the Christian message and eucharistic theology in these texts.

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  9. Oh, I do understand that those who refused communion see their behavior as something else-- as an act of defiance, or out of a sense of defilement if they receive, or as an objection to the presence of an invalidly ordained and/or heretical bishop, or as establishing the righteousness of their own position... or all of the above.

    And you know, if they were refusing to take communion from a celebrant whose authority they did not recognize, or if they were in the position as celebrants to refuse communion to one they felt was a "notorious sinner," as the prayer book says, they might have a theological leg to stand on.

    However, the fact remains that their objection has nothing to do with the authority of the celebrant, and everything to do with the presence of another redeemed sinner at the Table. And who may receive alongside them is not their call to make. Both scripture and tradition teach us that we are each responsible for examining our own consciences, not another's (the log in one's own eye, as Jim rightly notes).

    So, whether they acknowledge it or not, the only ones they are hurting in this judgment are themselves. That is a tragedy-- and doubly so, that they are bishops in the church and do not see it that way.

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  10. This whole language of the Communion being broken begs a question I haven't heard asked:

    Who is the Anglican Communion, anyway?

    Is it the 38 provincial primates? That is a pretty small minority of all Anglicans worldwide.

    I think, as an American Episcopalian laywoman working in a Church of England ministry training college, it's not the Primates--and very little of what happens in Tanzania is really going to have much impact on what happens on the ground.

    I was talking to the Principal yesterday--the person on whom my work here depends. And I asked him bluntly what would be different on Tuesday if the Primates couldn't carry on together by the close of business on Monday.

    And do you know what the answer was?

    NOTHING.

    As someone confirmed in the Episcopal Church, my job would not change--and he would still continue to look for ways to extend my contract here.

    Our longstanding exchange programme with a fairly liberal Episcopal seminary would remain--we would certainly not ask our current exchange from our sister institution to leave, and we would not recall our student who is visiting in the United States.

    If I went down the road to the village church and the Vice Principal was celebrating, he would not refuse to administer the sacrament to me, any more than I would refuse to receive it from him.

    And having talked to dozens of ordinands and clergy in the course of my teaching and research, this seems to be the future of the communion.

    The Primates are the visible part of the communion--but far from the whole thing. They, and their behaviour for good or ill, is what the world sees (and what can be most damaging in terms of the church's mission). They're like the skin on the body--it hasn't been the best complexion in the last few years. It does, however look like it's clearing.

    A rupture in the skin, however, is rarely fatal. It may fester and stink, it may leave ugly scars. But it doesn't mean the body beneath it is going to fall apart.

    We can survive a flesh wound. That's what any ruptures amongst the Primates is, after all.

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