1/28/2009

The Primates Meeting: A few cautionary thoughts

Anglican Land, at least the Internet community thereof, is about to have a spike in its on- line life. The Primates of the Anglican Communion churches are meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, February 1-5. There will be all sorts of mutterings going on about what they do and say. So, just a few notes on perspective:

(i) The Primates only have as much power as we (the member churches of the Anglican Communion) give them. In some of our churches it is clear that among the favorite Articles of Religion is the one that says, "The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England." (XXXVII) We find it applicable to any bishop foreign to the church in our particular place (i.e. The Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Church of Nigeria, etc). So the Primates of the Churches of the Anglican Communion have no jurisdiction or power here, unless we give it to them.

Some have argued that that is precisely what the augmented role of the Primates was meant to address - unity as a fellowship in the diversity of church life. When the discussions about the four "instruments" of communion was first begun the idea was that the Primates might provide moral or theological guidance in the communion and that their collective opinions might carry significant weight. Unfortunately how that opinion was to be obtained was not made clear and the calm and deliberated conversations among equals quickly became party contention. The American realignment group in particular exercised considerable pressure and gave advice to the Primates who believed that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada had gone too far. Whatever the hope, the actuality is that the Primates have become a venue for voicing differences, not finding consensus.

(ii) The "communique" as a concluding statement of a Primates Meeting as been give status that does not face the test of reality. It has never been what some expected of it - a definitive statement on this or that matter to which all the primates were bound. At the most a communique can report out what the Primates did, levels of consensus on various matters, and requests they might make of member churches or of the Anglican Consultative Council and what sort of advice they give the Archbishop of Canterbury.

No communique can commit member churches to any recommendations until such time as that church takes those recommendations and enables them. It is always appropriate to step back from recommendations, or to enable them in part rather than in whole. If it were not they would not be recommendations but orders.

At the close of this Primates Meeting there will be some sort of statement, probably called a communique. It will report out on the discussions of the group and their concerns. It may or may not issue in matters to be considered by the churches. But it cannot issue directives to the churches.

George Conger in his piece for The Church of England Newspaper writes,

"In organizing the agenda, Dr Williams solicited the views of his fellow archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators, asking what topics they wished to discuss. From these responses he developed a lesson plan that will include a session on global warming, international finance,co-ordination of development work among church agencies, and theCommunion’s theological working group. Time has also been set aside for a discussion of the May agenda of ACC-14 in Kingston,Jamaica, the Anglican Covenant, and a presentation from the Windsor Continuation Group.

Five primates: Uganda, the Episcopal Church, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa have been asked to prepare briefings on issues facing their churches, while leaders of the Gafcon movement have been asked to present a paper on the third province movement in North America.
"

This agenda opens the possibility for a venting of opinions on matters in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as well as the incursions by other provinces in the jurisdictions of these two churches.

There is every possibility that the split in the Anglican Communion will only become wider at this meeting. Ruth Gledhill reports in the London Times that "one source said there will be no formal joint eucharist at the meeting, to avoid Primates the public embarrassment of former meetings where conservatives have refused to go to the communion table with liberals." If that is true it is yet another sign that de facto intercommunion, mutual responsibility, interdependence and such, at its deepest level, is gone. Table fellowship has become an embarrassment and I would suspect the closing photo fellowship may go the same way it went in Tanzania - Primates will have wandered off rather than group together for a photograph. No common meal, no family photo. But perhaps this is too gloomy a tale.

Still, we might remember that difficult as all of this is, the Anglican Communion does not rest on the Primates being in fellowship. The Anglican Communion is about churches in relation, in relation about real concerns and hopes for mission. Common action around the "five marks of mission" is a better plumb line by which to measure the health of the Communion than any measure of consensus among the Primates.

(iii) There are mutterings around the Internet that the press for a new province in North America overlaying TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada will come to this meeting and that the Primates may at that point request the Anglican Consultative Council to admit the Anglican Church in North America to the Anglican Communion. The most recent is from Ruth Gledhill, London Times, which can be read HERE.

She reports, " A new traditionalist grouping from North America, led by deposed Pittsburgh bishop Bob Duncan who now styles himself as their Archbishop, will also present a new constitution and canons to the Primates in an attempt to secure recognition as the 39th province of the 77-million strong Church." It is not clear from this that Ruth understands that Moderator Duncan will be present at or near-by the meeting. It may be that Primates supporting this effort (GAFCON Primates) will present the materials on the emerging Anglican Church in North America for them. In any event she believes that the move will be made at the Primates meeting.

It is certain that a number of Primates will not associate with this effort and it may be that enough will push back so that nothing will go forward from the Primates to the Anglican Consultative Council. If some recommendation does come forward it will not be with anything like unanimity. The Archbishop of Canterbury's office has indicated in the past that the process of admission to the Anglican Communion on a formal level takes some time. And, of course, there is the additional problem that there is no case where a province overlaps others with the clear intention of presenting itself as the carrier of the faith which it claims has been lost to the provinces with which it overlaps.

ACNA rejects the churches and leaders of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada and they, and others who have signed the Jerusalem Declaration, are proposing a different sort of thing than multiple provinces in North America. The Primates will not, I believe, send this recommendation forward. If they do it will carry only recommendatory weight and that from only some of the Primates.

So where does that leave the Primates Meeting? It is an important element in the struggle to keep the Anglican Communion together. The Agenda is filled with important elements of common work and struggle. If the Primates focus on them the Anglican Communion will be well served. If they are sent on the path of a "third province movement" in North America there will be blood on the floor and grinding of teeth. The notion of a third province is a polity nightmare and the product of not very clever innovation. If the Primates get sucked into this one, and we with it, the fellowship that is the Anglican Communion will cease and what will be left are some church people seeking yet another world wide patriarchy with just a touch of English liturgical sensibilities and others still willing to be united at the table and in the world of service even if with differences.

The Primates matter, but not nearly as much as the lowliest parson whose sacramental and pastoral ministry reaches all sorts and conditions of people yearning for the sense of God's presence.

It's a matter of perspective.

23 comments:

  1. Nothing good will come out of Alexandria. Just ask Nestorius or John Chrysostom!

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  2. The Primates matter, but not nearly as much as the lowliest parson whose sacramental and pastoral ministry reaches all sorts and conditions of people yearning for the sense of God's presence.

    Lest we forget, our BCP Outline of the Faith (the Catechism) states that the ministers of the church are the laity, bishops, priests and deacons.

    My emphasis on laity.

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  3. "Whatever the hope, the actuality is that the Primates have become a venue for voicing differences, not finding consensus."

    Oh....ouch. That should be banner headlines everywhere before their meeting--on the chance that they (the Primates etc) might all read it.

    And your next to last line quoted above is a real keeper.

    Thank you. Again and again.

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  4. If there's to be no table fellowship, then as far as I'm concerned, the Communion is over.

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  5. "'one source said there will be no formal joint eucharist at the meeting, to avoid Primates the public embarrassment of former meetings where conservatives have refused to go to the communion table with liberals." If that is true it is yet another sign that de facto intercommunion, mutual responsibility, interdependence and such, at its deepest level, is gone."

    How have we got to this situation? (Is it not a direct result of TECUSA ignoring the pleas of all the Primates in 2003 and since then?)

    What if most of the Primates want to restore genuine fellowship in the AC? How could that be achieved? (Maybe quite easily by letting a few small provinces like TECUSA, Canada, Wales, Scotland and NZ go their own way....unless they sign up the Covenant and accept constraints on their freedom to go against the "mind of the Communion" - a Covenant idea which has the ABC's support.....as he still tries to get genuine fellowship and trust in the AC) - only the small revisionist provinces want / need the AC to be a loose federation......what's in it for everyone else to deliver that given the division we have had in the last 5+ years as a result of the demand not to be constrained by being in a Communion???

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  6. Of course, Rev Ref, we are the ministers of the church. But it is also true that every Bishop and every priest has a responsibility for the teaching office of the church--something sadly ingnored for decades in ECUSA, or underplayed at least in favor of the sacramental functions--and surely the Primates have some enhanced responsibility to guard the faith and the unity of the church. We hardly have to worry, it seems to me, about being a narrow, fundamentalist church. And the Primates will never have the force or power (Mark Harris is right) that a pope has. But they have true weight, true authority. And it seems a little too convenient and self-serving for those pushing the progressive agenda in ECUSA to denhy this, as they have done, making it seem like there is some usurpation of authority or grasping at an authority that is not there but just soi disant. The truth is that ECUSA never stopped, truly stopped, and listened to the voice of the Primates, and the communion, before VGR's consecration in 2003. And that failure to listen to the voice of the wider communion IMHO is one of the key reasons we are in the mess we are in. Those who claim ECUSA is acting "prophetically" never seem to think that a prophetic voice can rise elsewhere. Really. I know the Bishop of RI has said "Maybe we did the wrong thing in 2003" but very few others on the left wing that I am aware of have even paused, let alone prayed over, their support of the movement of ECUSA.

    John 2007

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  7. Reid Hamilton29/1/09 9:11 AM

    I expect no end of mischief from the wearers of tall pointy hats. Primates' meetings make me feel VERY Protestant!

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  8. As I understand it, the Anglican Communion consists of provinces in communion with the See of Canterbury. As I've said before, the ABC needs to invite all the primates to the eucharist. Those who partake are the AC. Those who won't are something else. That would end the arguing, wouldn't it? Then those who want "control" could have their own denomination and go about their own business without the messiness of following Jesus's message to love all and leave judgment to God.

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  9. Get real, "Observer". The Church of England itself cannot sign on the the Covenant because of its legal, established status. Its December 2007 response to the draft Covenant states "it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take."

    If the C of E cannot sign on to such a Covenant, what chance do you think a process to establish a restrictive covenant for ex-colonials only would stand?

    C of E-Covenant First Q. & A.

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  10. Observer writes about "the mind of the Communion" a phrase that has been used a lot to describe resolution I.10 of Lambeth 1998. To be honest, the best that can be said about I.10 is that it reflected the mind of those Bishops who voted in favor of it at that time. In fact, there are very clear indications that for many of those Bishops it did not express their mind or their commitments, e.g., the commitement to listen to the experiences of gay and lesbain Anglicans. And for others, it may no longer express their mind on the issues - people do change their minds.
    So the most we can say is that I.10 expresses the mind of some Bishops on a particular day in 1998. Not the mind of other clergy. Not the mind of lay people. And because of that, not the mind the Communion.

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  11. Why would a primate boycott the Eucharist? Is there a risk of contamination? I think not. It's the Lord's table, not the primates' table.

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  12. I'm with counterlight. The shared communion is pretty foundational. Once that's gone, you ain't got bupkis.

    IT

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  13. Daniel Weir - you better tell the ABC as "the mind of the Communion" is his phrase.

    Lapin - you better tell the ABC that... he is fully supporting the Covenant idea.

    Mimi - no risk of contamination, they are just applying 1 Cor 5-6 to our situation.

    Pseudo - ae you seriously suggesting the Communion should be all those who will not object to anyone else who wants to be in it? The new testament does not teach that for the membership of the church or the table. The ABC is moving in another direction - the Communion will be all thoe who agree to the constraints of being in a communion i.e. not retaining the right to go against what he calls the mind of the Communion (regardless of the issue)

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  14. The paper, signed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, that will form the basis of discussion of the proposed Covenant, and that will be presented next month to Synod by the Bishop of Rochester, indicates that the C of E's leaders take the position that existing parliamentary legislation delegates to the Church the authority to authorize the Covenant by Act of Synod. The validity of this stance depends on whether or not Articles 7 & 8 of Synod's constitution apply to the situation. The paper is linked below for any who may be interested - see clauses 11, 12 & 13 of Annex 1, pp 4-5.

    Section 13 of Annex 1 shows just how twisted the logic of this position is:

    "13. Article 8 applies to, among other things, any “scheme for a constitutional union or a permanent and substantial change of relationship between the Church of England and another Christian body, being a body of substantial number of whose members reside in Great Britain.” Since the Covenant would appear to involve a substantial change of relationship between the Church of England and the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church (in their capacities as member Churches of the Communion), Article 8 is very likely to be engaged. Moreover, even if the decision to enter into the Covenant did not involve such a change it would be open to the Archbishops to direct that Article 8 should apply to it, on the basis that it was a scheme that affects the Church of England and another Christian body."

    So, "since the Covenant would appear to involve a substantial change of relationship between the Church of England and the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church" - here defined, for the benefit of the Covenanteers, as "another Christian body" [boggles the mind, does it not?] signing on to a Communion-wide restrictive covenant - a covenant which, we can be sure, the archbishops cannot conceive would ever be used against their own church - can be slid in on the quiet, avoiding UK legal questions?

    Tangled web.

    http://www.cofe.anglican.org/about/gensynod/agendas/feb09/gs1716.pdf

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  15. Mimi - no risk of contamination, they are just applying 1 Cor 5-6 to our situation.

    Observer, I would only observe that quite often Jesus seems to have taken the wrong path. He consorted with any number of impure and sinful people. Of course, he did not have Paul's words in Corinthians to guide him.

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  16. Observer,

    If I may be so bold:

    You make it sound as if the Anglican Communion is a Church, which it isn't. It is an affiliation of churches IN COMMUNION with the See of Canterbury. We are bound by a common worship of the risen Christ, not a common theology. Last time I checked, the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral did not state that we all believe exactly the same thing. That and the Creeds should be sufficient credentials.

    You then attempt to apply ICor 5-6 as a defense of the Primates who refuse to participate in the eucharist with eachother. My reading of ICor 5 is that Paul was speaking of a spacific incident of a man "living with" his Step-Mother. St. Paul had a great many issues to work out between his Christian faith and his Pharasee upbringing. When you read his works, you should remember this.

    Your further comments on the "mind of the communion" frighten me. You and yours seem bent on conforming all members of the AC to your view of scriptures. This, in my mind, would destroy the very thing that makes this Communion a beautiful place to be. One of the things that keeps me coming back to the Table is that it is possible for me to share the Eucharist with those I disagree with: that "no matter where you are on your faith journey, you are welcome at Christ's table". Christ broke bread with many who were deemed by society as unclean, and by the Law of Moses, risked becoming unclean himself. How can we call ourselves followers of Christ and not do the same?

    For me, as someone who left the rigidity of Fundangelical Christianity for Asatru before discovering my home here in TEC, the evangelion is this: that all are loved, all are forgiven, all are welcome. I am tired of Christianity being boiled down to an argument over sex and legality.

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  17. I know the Bishop of RI has said "Maybe we did the wrong thing in 2003" but very few others on the left wing that I am aware of have even paused, let alone prayed over, their support of the movement of ECUSA.

    This is an arrogant and ignorant statement. As if you are omniscient and can determine and declare who prays and perhaps wrestles with the Spirit regarding what.

    I think it would better serve us all if you lot stop these arrogant determinations of who is less spiritual and faithful than yourselves.

    These sort of ignorant determinations were directly addressed in scripture in a number of situations; the mote and beam and judgement of others immediately come to mind.

    LHM, this kind of crap really pisses me off!

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  18. Perhaps, John 2007, you should consider the difference between "authority" (auctoritas) and "power" (imperium).

    By virtue of their offices, individually and collectively, the Primates have authority. They speak with the moral authority which adheres to them severally and separately. Thus, the rest of us have a responsibility to listen to and to consider what the Primates say.

    But, despite the devious and dishonest revisionism of the hard right extremists, the Primates do NOT have power in the life of the Communion. Our responsibility to listen and to consider does NOT extent to any obligation to obey their diktats.

    And however you cut it, Observer, it would violate the current religious settlement of the United Kingdom were the Church of England to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the Primates. Signing the Covenant would constitute an act of lese-majesty and possibly treason.

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  19. Re: Resolution I.10 as the "mind of the Communion"

    Just because something is approved by bishops, that doesn't mean it's the mind of the Communion. Many, many of us are not of that "mind" as expressed.

    If one looks at the report that led up to that resolution one find a much more nuanced finding. It states that while same-sex blessings and ordination of gays and lesbians are not the fully accepted practice, the Communion is NOT of one mind regarding it but rather several minds regarding homosexuality and the proper pastoral responses to Christians who are gay or lesbian.

    Unfortunately, I can no longer find those pre-conference reports on the Lambeth website (though one can find them if looking hard enough elsewhere). They used to be there, but (shockingly) they then somehow disappeared when all of the "current unpleasantness" began boiling over. Let's get our history right, people.

    Kevin

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  20. Of course, Rev Ref, we are the ministers of the church. But it is also true that every Bishop and every priest has a responsibility for the teaching office of the church--something sadly ingnored for decades in ECUSA, or underplayed at least in favor of the sacramental functions...

    I will agree with John 2007 on this. I can say that the "listening process" never happened in any parish I belonged to as a member of the laity; and as a priest, I have had more than one parishioner tell me they've felt surprised by this whole thing because none of their former priests ever brought it up.

    On some level, there has certainly been a lack of leadership.

    The good news now is that I have many parishioners who want to discuss this issue (or these issues) openly.

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  21. Hillbilly.... 1 Cor 5-6 deals with a few issues including law suits .....and the "mind of the communion" is the phrase of the ABC and he is pushing for a Covenant and getting little pushback apart from most of the AC.... because ....most can sign up to the Covenant knowing that they will never come into conflict with it...... it is only a few small revisionist provinces which desperately need to be in the AC, for the global platform it gives them, but also want to do their own thing regardless of the "mind of the communion" who want a loose federation in which contradictory positions can be held..... Tier 2 status may be coming TECUSA's way since TECUSA is so desperate (see BO33) to stay in the AC (desperate because it gets 0.26% of Americans on a Sunday...and falling....even the Church of England does better than that!)

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  22. Lapin writes:
    "The validity of this stance depends on whether or not Articles 7 & 8 of Synod's constitution apply to the situation."

    I don't think that is correct. The stance may or may not be valid, but it is independent of the applicability of Articles 7 and/or 8.

    The synod is free to pass a resolution about the Covenant, regardless of whether either article is invoked, making it more complicated if they are. And the synod is then free to declare any resolution an Act of Synod if it wants to do so.

    The archbishops do appear to believe that
    "existing parliamentary legislation delegates to the Church the authority to authorize the Covenant by Act of Synod" but that belief is independent of the detailed mechanics for getting there.

    Simon Sarmiento

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  23. Stand corrected, Simon. Thanks.

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