Little noticed on the blogs in the past week is the continuing and quite extraordinary travels of the Presiding Bishop. In her latest trip she engaged the post-denominational church in China, an ecumenical range of churches in Korea, Anglicans from throughout the Communion concerned with the mission of peace, and the small Episcopal Church community on Guam.
This year she has visited Anglicans worldwide: she has visited them at least Tanzania, Cuba, South Africa, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Puerto Rico, China, Korea and Guam. Several of these visits were to dioceses or missions of the Episcopal Church. Others were visits in conjunction with Anglican Communion meetings. They were all affirming the breadth of engagement by this church in the life and activities of the wider Communion.
The Anglican Communion is a fragile fellowship. It only exists to the extent that individuals, parishes, dioceses and churches purposefully take work at encounter, intersection, engagement, life together. For this reason, the Presiding Bishop's travels are an important part of both her ministry and the way by which the Episcopal Church makes known its commitment to the greater community.
Whatever the mess of the past ten years in Anglican-land, the awareness by members of the Episcopal Church of the Anglican Communion has expanded considerably. The implications of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral regarding "the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called by God into the unity of His Church" have become apparent. The principles of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in Christ (MRI) which were first raised at the Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1963 are now returning to challenge all Anglicans again.
It appears that the historic episcopate, locally adapted, means that churches in the Anglican Communion are not uniform in their understanding of the role of the episcopate in the ordering and discipline of church life. It appears that mutual responsibility and interdependence is not simply about a reordering of mission priorities, autonomy, and the "growing up" of the churches of the Anglican Communion but rather about actually getting together and doing something of the Lord's work together.
The hard work of affirming life together as a fellowship of churches requires more than uniformity and more than shared mission priorities. It requires a willingness to embrace a considerable ecclesial diversity, a desire to talk across that diversity to find common tasks in the service of God and the peoples of the world, and a preference for commensal relations.
The Episcopal Church, in a variety of ways, has committed itself to seeking ways to maintain this sort of fellowship - one that is diverse, missionary in focus, and commensal. The willingness and ability to share in a common sacramental life - to eat and talk at the same table - has been at the core of these visits.
The Anglican Communion is fragile enough that this basic activity has not always been possible with all she has visited - witness those Primate who would not receive communion with her in Tanzania. But in all the other visits of the year that commensal engagement was a major element in maintaining the bonds of affection that make the Anglican Communion possible.
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently asked the Primates to comment on the response of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to the House of Bishops' responses to questions posed by the Primates. ( The request is long link leading back to the demands - couched as requests - from the Windsor Report). Those responses have been posted and tell us not very much new.
Sevearl of the responses acknowledged that the Episcopal Church had taken time and engaged deeply in the issues of life in the Communion, at greater length and with greater depth than perhaps most other provinces. To that effort we might also note the extensive engagement in Communion wide activities related to matters of mission and justice - particularly the TEAM conference in South Africa and the Anglican Peace Conference "Towards Peace in Korea," and our continued attention to Anglican partners and Episcopal Church communities outside the United States.
Taking the Anglican Communion seriously is not only a matter of finding common ground, but taking the common ground we have seriously. To do that requires face to face encounter, engagement and commitment. The Presiding Bishop is doing her part. Let's do ours.