Canterbury's Question and a Response

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in his second presidential address to the Lambeth Conference closed by asking, "Having heard the other person, the other group, as fully and fairly as I can, what generous initiative can I take to break through into a new and transformed relation of communion in Christ?"

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

(i) "a transformed relationship of communion in Christ" means taking Anglican polity, unity, inter-communion among the churches, and relations among the churches, provisionally. We must give up assuming we have the right answers.

(ii) "communion in Christ" is not negotiable since it is not ours to establish, but rather ours to receive. Communion in Christ can be had by people whose churches can't stand each other and whose officers will not allow the mutual reception of communion or even welcome of the other. Nothing, it turns out, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)

(iii) We Anglicans need to cool down and be even a bit more humble. Being in communion with one another has been a special gift and of great value, but it is not the only thing of value and for that matter it is not the only way of relating to other Christian churches. Remembering that every Province of the Anglican Communion is FIRST the church it is and only second a province of the Anglican Communion, we might rethink the whole business of being the Anglican Communion. It is a way of being connected by bonds of affection, but all affections are best served by a sense of humility. We are not the answer to the question, "what is the church?" Anglican Churches (Provinces) are religious communities within the church, not its defining or sole model.

(iv) The Covenant being proposed is as formulated a statement of union. It is written by people who have been given the task of protecting an idea of union that on some level does exist in the Anglican Communion. But for that very reason it assumes what it cannot prove - that the desire of every Province, or even most of them, is to be a union not in the communion sense but in the "more perfect union" that constitutes a world wide ecclesial body.

In that sense it has become a shotgun wedding. Having shared the same bed, and now making it in the morning, concerned parental units are showing up and demanding we all get married. This will not fly. Try reforming a Covenant as an aspiration of friendship across cultures, distances, communities.

Try forming a covenant based, as the Archbishop suggests, on life, not on death. Perhaps such a covenant would begin,

"In as much as God has seen fit to encourage friendship between churches whose understanding of the faith, the scripture, the sacraments and the common life of prayer and church governance was formed from the experience of the Church of England, we the undersigned pledge, in so far as we are able, to constant prayer for one another, companionship in mission and evangelism, and mutual regard.

We pledge to honor the baptism of persons from every church so pledged, to accept ministers of the Gospel from any of our churches in so far as our own canons permit, and to extend sacramental ministry to members of every church so pledged provided they follow the godly council of the church in which they participate as regards preparation for reception of sacramental ministry."

(v) We will be in a transformed relationship of communion to the extent that we give up the desire or search for ways to be a world wide church.

The first transformation is to say that we will not become yet another world wide patriarchy, but rather that we will be autonomous churches making our pledges to one another as possible. It will not be neat and tidy. It will be provisional.

The second transformation is to be willing to die in order that life might come. I would just as soon those who have given up on the Episcopal Church as their church leave. Of course there will be problems with the goods, the position, the relationships with other Churches in the Communion. Those will require we be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. So be it.

Just as it is not of utmost importance that all members of the Anglican Communion be in communion with one another, it is not of utmost importance that people stay in the Episcopal Church. If the Episcopal Church holds to an inclusive vision, and works the harder to do so, and discovers by that fact that it loses members, so be it. What goes around comes around. The failures we make in our way and the failures made by others in their way will catch up with us. But so will the joy and new life we find as well.

We will be transformed as our faith in a communion greater than our abilities to order it is made the stronger. We will not be transformed by rehash of old remedies proven not to be transformative, but deadly. That is why the Windsor Report and its Covenant is a dead end. A more adequate Covenant among friends is possible.

So there it is...simple (I think) and satisfying no leaders in the leaders tents, at least as far as I can see. The vision is of an Anglican Communion transformed - consisting of autonomous Churches who are bound by affection, shared history and values, and friendship. The marks of this transformed communion would be that we are:

bonded in friendship
desiring little
giving much.

Such a Communion will be smaller, I think, than the existing 38 Provinces. Transformation may take some churches to different circles, or no circles at all. But guided by such marks I believe the Communion can indeed thrive and have life.

I'm glad the Archbishop asked the question.


  1. Mark: I pretty much agree with you on this one, but I wish there was a way of parting ways with congregations where the majority wish to leave without massive litigation. If, say, 300 people leave a church building they should, at the least, be able to purchase it from the congregation and diocese that are left. We would sell surplus buildings to any other Christian denomination, why not disaffected ex-Episcopalians?

  2. If the Episcopal Church holds to an inclusive vision, and works the harder to do so, and discovers by that fact that it looses members, so be it.

    I THINK you meant "loses members", Mark. (Loose vs. Lose Confusion is one of my biggest internet pet peeves ;-/)

    Ironically, however, IF TEC loses some members (admittedly sad) it may, nevertheless, loose (i.e., FREE) its remaining members for a more Spirited practice of the Gospel!

  3. (i) ..."We must give up having the right answers." Huh???

    Otherwise this is the best plan put forth so far and by far.

  4. Thus far, every plan coming out of Lambeth is unworkable

  5. jcf...thanks changed it.

    -frank...thanks modified it (don't know if this helps, but it more precisely means what I meant it to say.

  6. Sorry, Mark. It sounds nice, but the devil is in the details.

    To remain in this communion as you describe it, the "much" that TEC would give would end up being their surplus money. The "much" the Global South and American conservatives would give would be their lives and their souls -- unless, of course, they leave, as you invite them to do so pseudo-graciously.

    Your answer does not convince me that your have heard "the other group ... as fully and as fairly as [you] can." In fact, I see no indication that you've heard the other group at all.

    Actually, the ABC's speech has finally convinced me that a covenant is the right way to go, even as I know that TEC and GAFCON will almost certainly not accept such a solution.

  7. I keep hearing that we, TEC, have not "heard" and have not "listened" to those who disagree with us. In short, I think what that means is that we haven't knuckled under to their thoughts, beliefs and ideas and so therefore we don't know, hear or understand what they are saying.

    I'd say the shoe was on the other foot as well. We have tried to be heard without being demanding, to listen and to speak in turn and to clarify what we believe God is calling us to be and do at least here in The Episcopal Church. We've acknowledged the ways of some others are not the way God is calling us but that we are happy to allow them to follow God in the way they believe God is calling them. Instead we've been faced with incursions into our dioceses (even some dioceses that agree with our detractors), been called names ("heretic" and "Apostate" are not words to bandy about lightly), threatened and condemned.

    I believe that during his temptation Jesus listened to Satan. How else could he counter the arguments Satan put forth? Jesus didn't try to out-yell Satan or put his hands over his ears and loudly chant "LA-LA-LA-LA" to block out Satan's voice and words. Yet there seems to be a good deal of this going on, not solely with one side but with aspects of both. What is being lost is the middle who say they HAVE and CONTINUE to listen but who are committed to following Christ in the way they believe the Spirit is calling them. Who are we to tear up wheat and tares and judge which is which? Isn't that God's job? So let's tend the fields and wait for God's purpose to be worked out in God's time, not in ours. Meanwhile, tending can be a very big job. We'd better get crackin' on it.

  8. We would sell surplus buildings to any other Christian denomination, why not disaffected ex-Episcopalians?

    I think we'd have to watch that, Tom, on a case-by-case basis.

    Some parishes have a "majority wishing to leave"...

    ...because dissenting, loyal-to-TEC members have been DRIVEN OUT (See re the Diocese of San Joaquin).

    "Other Christian denominations," to whom we've sold TEC property, aren't responsible for unchurching Episcopalians. I wouldn't want to REWARD the schismatics, for bare-knuckling their way to a schismatic-majority!

  9. It certainly needs to be a case by case basis. I believe that John Howe's diocese had what seemed to be a sensible approach on how to proceed.

    (Perhaps someone could find the link.)


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.