The Tasks at Hand and the Anglican Communion as an Instrument of Grace.
I have tried several times to start this essay. I wanted it to be an essay on “why I wish to the Episcopal Church to continue as part of the Anglican Communion.” I kept trying to begin with analysis first, thoughts based on feelings second and I have failed. My thoughts are outrunning the willingness to plod through the analysis and my emotions are running too strong for the cool analytical stroll through the problems facing the Anglican Communion. The reader will I hope forgive the shortcomings of this effort. This is, of course, a work in progress. (Sigh)
I was not at Lambeth, not being a bishop, an organizer of the event, a lobbyist or a camp-follower. I was here in the village of Lewes by the bay and the ocean. I have however been very aware of my love for something called “the Anglican Communion,” derived at least in part from moving about in churches part of the Anglican Communion.
My credentials for being able to have emotional, analytical and theological sensibilities and feelings concerning the Anglican Communion do not come from the experience of Lambeth, but from walking too and fro in the world I sometimes call Anglican Land.
I avidly read the reports of goings on at Lambeth and rejoiced that bishops and others found ways to be together and talk of many things. I also read the results of their talk, and more importantly the implications for further work as articulated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his last Presidential Address (no. 3). I believe that Lambeth 2008 left things precisely as they were, say two weeks prior to Lambeth – with matters in disarray.
Thus my despair for any resolution to the mess we are in by simply going on and on with the agenda set following this Lambeth, an agenda which for all intents and purposes could have been set without the gathering at all.
I am and have been for a long time committed to the global mission of the Episcopal Church and the to Anglican Communion. I see the Communion through the eyes of engagement with others in the Communion and the Episcopal Church occasionally with the eyes and witness of others.
The Anglican Communion has been a continually experienced reality in my life and ministry. It is not, of course, an immediate experience, but a second level experience, by which I mean I have never “seen” the Anglican Communion, and yet I believe I have come to know it.
I was ordained priest in Puerto Rico while it was a diocese of the Episcopal Church. It since left and came back again. For a short while I went to the Seminary of the Caribbean as a student. Later as a priest in PR I working with a seminarian assistant from the Seminary. When we worshipped in Spanish and French, or when the seminarians formed the choir for my ordination, or when the diocese argued through a resolution not to accept any more foreign missionaries (which passed) I never saw the Anglican Communion, but I knew it was there. In similar ways I have experienced the Anglican Communion as the extra person at the table in many conversations and engagements with churches around the world.
My ministry has been about equal parts campus ministry, ministry in various offices of the Episcopal Church Center and parish ministry and covers 40 years. In every context the Anglican Communion has been both central and elusive to my ministry.
It has been as if there was always a friend not seen but somehow felt in the background, always adding to the experience of the moment some sense that there was indeed a great cloud of witnesses, not only to the Christian faith, but to this peculiar religious expression that we have come to call Anglicanism. It has been as if I belonged to a rather large religious community and had found myself among brothers and sisters in many places. When I couldn’t find an Anglican community I could still find them in the sense of common prayer and even in the affirmation that absence brings. Even when there were no Anglicans around I felt the presence of the Communion.
My sense is that this understanding of the presence of the Anglican Communion is shared by many of us. It is the presence of the wider fellowship.
For others, I am aware, the Anglican Communion has to be more than that sense of connection to a wider fellowship. Some have wanted the assurance that being part of the Episcopal Church (or any other Church in the Anglican Communion) meant we were part of the Anglican Communion and that in turn was sufficient as proof of our intention to be part of the Church catholic.
For others there has been the need to stress the reformation experience and faith stance of Anglicans as an assurance that they belonged to a sufficiently reformed catholic body so that the faith anciently delivered was still being expressed.
Perhaps for many of those it is not enough to say that the Anglican Communion is an experience behind an experience, or a sense of the presence of a wider fellowship. Perhaps for some it is important to say that it is primary, actually experienced, and proof (or at least partial proof) that we have not gone astray from the catholic and reformed faith. All I can say is that I don’t need that particular proof. The fellowship on the other hand continues to form everything I do.
The Anglican Communion, and Anglicanism, is not for me the answer to “what is the true Church or the true faith” The Anglican Communion is not the true church and Anglicanism is not the true faith. These are more simply names applied to people in a peculiar community that does church and lives out being faithful in a peculiar way.
But I do believe being a member of an Anglican Church can be a way of being called into the Church, the body of Christ. And I do believe Anglicans and the Anglican Communion have had experiences useful to the whole body.
What the Anglican Communion is and is not.
So, a beginning point: I believe the Anglican Communion is not an ecclesial entity or identified with a corporate entity. It is not a corporate person or a syndicate. It cannot be pointed to or captured in a code or made into a movement. It is a way of naming ourselves and being part of something behind the reality on the surface. Perhaps it is an inward and spiritual grace related to the outward and visible church in which we gather or to which we belong.
We gather with Christians who came from the same source religious community with its quirks and joys and odd ways of doing things and we when we do so we know we are home. We eat at the same table because the hospitality of the meal extends to us across quite remarkable boundaries. We eat together because we can, and sometimes because we must if we are to get things done. The Anglican Communion is a sign of an inward and spiritual grace that has to do with a family of churches.
What happens when the leaders of the churches in the Anglican Communion get together matters because I see in their fellowship an echo of the fellowships at other levels in which I have participated. Lambeth becomes a sign of the life of this religious community beyond the borders of this or that parish or diocese or church.
The Bishops and others experience the Anglican Communion there, and I experience it here. Our meals are the same, although the folks at Lambeth got a larger church and more elaborate fixings. But in the end they too settled gladly for a crumb that falls from the table. We all eat bread from the same plate.
The Anglican Communion that claims to be a real thing – a church, a corporation, a syndicate, whatever – is of considerable less interest to me than the church that is at its best a spiritual presence as a sign of gracious familial hospitality worked out not by covenant or common mind, but locally by the transformation that comes from love and respect for others.
Many of us put considerable effort into keeping this fellowship alive. If that effort fails it will be a source of sadness. But I believe it is time to stop putting an effort into making the Anglican Communion become a church – a reality with a corporate charter and enforceable rules. That is no longer a fellowship of churches, that is a world wide church.
It is therefore appropriate for all of us to think on the future of the Anglican Communion and ask ourselves if the tasks the Archbishop has set out related to the outward and visible signs which some take to be signs of the Anglican Communion bear any resemblance to the tasks of keeping a place for this inward and spiritual grace we call the Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop Assigns Some Tasks.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged members of the Communion (mostly bishop members) to several tasks which he believes are essential to the corporate life of the Communion. It is much easier to see these tasks as related to the outward and visible signs of corporate life deriving from union among churches than it is to see these as related to the inward and spiritual grace that derives from union in Christ Jesus.
The tasks the Archbishop sees before us are (i) to maintain the role of Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, (ii) to maintain the moratoria proposed in the Windsor Report, (iii) the implementation of the Pastoral Forum, (iv) to give greater utility to the Instruments of Communion, (v) to put in place an Anglican Covenant. All of this takes place, as I understand it, in the following context:
1. The Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) General Synod will meet in 2010. The Episcopal Church (TEC) General Convention (Synod by another name) will meet in 2009. (In terms of the current difficulties, the reference to North American churches means those two.)
There is no indication that any of the interventionist Provinces will cease activities in North America and no indication that bishops of those Churches will cease to be bishops here. Both North American Synods will need to respond in some fashion to those interventions.
More importantly, if the recommendations of the GAFCON Jerusalem Statement are implemented, there may be in 2009 a North American Province recognized by a number of GAFCON related Provinces who in turn will not recognize TEC or ACoC.
This means that both TEC and ACoC at their general synods will have to respond to the presence of an ecclesiastical entity meant to supplant TEC and ACoC as member churches of the Anglican Communion, supported by a group of churches part of the Anglican Communion.
2. It is already clear that not all dioceses in either TEC or ACoC are willing to continue or return to a state of moratorium on the blessing of same sex unions. It is equally clear that the moratorium on ordaining a gay or lesbian person in relationship remains untested by the actual election of such a candidate, whose consents might be withheld, and that cautionary resolutions of General Convention will not go further than GC2006 and may indeed be withdrawn entirely.
3. Both TEC and ACoC will hold their general synods prior to the completion of the final text for an Anglican Covenant. They may be asked by the “Instruments of Communion” (Primates and Anglican Consultative Council) to signify their approval of the process and to give their “in principle” approval of the next draft version.
4. There will continue to be an effort to develop some form of alternative oversight for parishes and clergy distressed by the actions of their own bishops or by dioceses of the leadership and structures of their own church. This effort is now being called the “Pastoral Forum.” It is being put into place without any clear indication about how it would be received by churches affected.
At the moment it is an idea that has no warrant in resolution or action of any of the bodies of the Anglican Communion. It is an idea growing from suggestions made by the Windsor Continuation Group, discussed in the bishops groups at Lambeth, and carried forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury. For it to have ecclesiastical legs to stand on, it will have to be approved by the leadership of the churches where it is to be applied. While executive councils can act on the issue of approval on a temporary basis, the synods of both churches will surely have to act to give more permanent approval. It is not at all clear that such approval will be forthcoming.
5. The continuing effort to put in place some set of rules governing the basis on which member churches of the Anglican Communion come to be included or rejected is still rolling over into a wider discussion of some form of Anglican wide codified expectations of life together, in a form very much like canon. The problem has been on the one hand that the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches, not a world wide church, and therefore its practices are not of a single whole, but a group willing to share common values. On the other hand most Anglican churches have acknowledged only the universal or ecumenical councils as regards matters of core faith. All other conciliar canons have been understood to be valid within the churches whose councils deliberated those canons. My sense is that Lambeth 2008 did not resolve the real problems concerning the force of Anglican norms on particular Anglican churches.
The Probable Outcome of those Task Assignments
Lambeth 2008 left things as they were, say, two weeks before it began. The status quo ante is just there. Nothing changed save the fact that people mostly kept talking, except for those who were not going to talk.
The strong possibility is that every element of the “status quo ante” will fail to be resolved in the near future. My sense is:
Moratoria concerning blessing and ordination of gay persons in relationship will not hold.
The Pastoral Forum, like its predecessor proposals, arises not from the affected churches but from some committee or commission of the “instruments of unity.” My sense is it will not be accepted by the Episcopal Church as it relates to dioceses who wish to leave the Episcopal Church. It seems clear that the Common Cause Partnership finds this proposal lacking as well.
The Anglican Covenant is an important exercise in finding a way to express the sense we have that there is a friend in the room, an inward and spiritual grace. It is only modest as a bill of particulars about the Anglican Communion or Anglicansim. If it contains clauses, appendices, or other addenda that require submission to the rule of an extra church council it will not easily be signed by any church that values its ecclesial autonomy. This is as true I suspect for the Church of England and the Church of Nigeria as it is for the Episcopal Church.
One thing we can be sure of is that the failure to complete any of these tasks will be blamed more and more on the innovative churches of North America (TEC and ACoC and increasingly on other Churches in the Anglican Communion who share some of their pastoral and prophetic concerns (Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Mexico, etc.). While willing to share the “blame,” we should understand the blame game to be toxic and spiritually deadening.
The Mirror of Inclusion
The Episcopal Church, with considerable bumbling and not too easy a time of it, is learning how to be inclusive. The track record is not all that great, but we keep trying.
Perhaps one day, in the great getting up morning, we will have figured out a way to have “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” actually extend to African Americans who left this church because of its racism and unwelcoming stance and formed other churches and will have it affirmed by actual reapproachment with the African Episcopal churches in the US. Perhaps we will grow in our welcome of people of color and people of other languages. Perhaps the inclusion of women in leadership in the church will finally result in equal duties in the sanctuary and in the parish hall kitchen both. Perhaps we will grow in our welcome GLBT peoples.
We are working on all that, all at the same time. And with that we need to know how to welcome those who find it difficult to see this urge to inclusion as comfortable, important, urgent, etc. We really would like it if it were true that “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”
But inclusion is not the same as tolerance. Inclusion it seems to me concerns bringing in those who have been lost to our table because of our injustice, mistreatment, debilitation or condescension has led them to feel they were unwelcome and unwanted. Inclusion is about broadening the community, enlarging the family and seeking out those we have wronged.
Tolerance has to do often with people who are not at all interested in being with us but would just as soon we not beat them up all the time, that we show some respect and even care for those who it would be too easy to hate.
It is sometimes important to distinguish between those we will tolerate, and those we wish we were together with. What the Episcopal Church is beginning to articulate is its move from being tolerant of gay and lesbian people to wanting to be inclusive of them. We are no longer trying to find ways to tolerate enough so that we can be pastoral to “them.” We are trying to find ways to say to some people who have felt, understood and known that they were excluded that they are included, honored members of the family.
The Episcopal Church is not all that good at this business of being inclusive, but it is working at it. In the process there is a considerable amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But that is no reason to give up the effort.
The mirror to inclusion – the Episcopal Church welcomes you – is to work for the day when we might find a sticker on the door of the households of African Americans, or Latinos, or foreigners living in the US, or Gay or Lesbian couples, or bikers thundering down the road, a sticker saying, “Episcopalians Welcome Here.”
I have spoken to this “mirror of inclusion” before, and still I come back to it again and again.
When I think of the Anglican Communion it is of that friend not physically present but there in the background. As a friend it values what we are trying to do, to be an inclusive church. I think of a friend who is willing to give us constructive criticism, advice, prayer support, and who is willing to do more than just tolerate us, but see our efforts as part of the fullness of witness by Anglican churches. I think of a presence, inward and spiritual, that derives from the actions of others in the Communion who do not reject, but rather engage. That Communion is real and I have experienced it.
At the same time I think of the Anglican Communion as those churches who put a sign in their window, “Episcopalians welcome here,” not because we deserve it, but because we are included. Sometimes when we come to the door it will be as the Prodigal Son or Daughter, sometimes as the long lost tribe, sometimes as the sometimes forgotten aunt or uncle, as familiar as an old shoe, but who shows up saying, “what’s for dinner.” That communion too is real.
I believe we need to work hard at being who we are, The Episcopal Church, called to try to be inclusive as that inclusion relates to justice and the redress of injustice. We must acknowledge that we are not particularly good at this call but we are working on it, and we are doing so because we believe it is part of the call to the whole people of God. We have a vocation in the midst of the general vocation of all Christian peoples.
We will work at including all the churches, and more locally all the Christian people, we can into our common life as they are moved to join us.
In that context the Anglican Communion will be for us our guests, welcomed to our table. We are in communion, for our part, with all the churches of the Anglican Communion.
At the same time, I believe we must work constantly and with transparency to be with others in such a way that they will say to us, “Welcome here.” Again this will not be easy. Colonialism and rank imperialism, both secular and ecclesial, is often just beneath the surface. The Episcopal Church needs to work at being commendable to others, so that we are welcome into the homes of many who at first may be suspicious of us and our intentions. In this context the Anglican Communion is wherever we too are welcome as guests at table and in homes.
The Tasks at Hand and the Anglican Communion as an instrument of Grace.
These tasks – to become inclusive with tolerance of minority opinion and to be welcomed as trustworthy companions of others – are at the core of the spiritual grace that is the Anglican Communion.
About this Anglican Communion I have no doubts. It will continue and we will be part of it, working out mutuality as we can with churches in the Communion and elsewhere.
About the Anglican Communion being envisioned by the tasks outlined by the Archbishop of Canterbury I have many doubts, so many in fact that I am close to concluding that pursuing those tasks will be an impediment to living into the fullness of the Anglican Communion we actually know and will be toxic for the Episcopal Church as well.
I gather Jesus said, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) Sounds good to me.