(Note to readers of Preludium: I've been recovering from General Convention these past few days and using the time to try to pull together my understanding of what happened there. The result is this essay. It's rather long but hopefully worth the read. I realize that I am exhausted, both physically and emotionally, so this will be a bit long and rambling. MH.)
The doomsayers ACAWKI bird.
Following the actions of the General Convention this last week a wide range of predictions have been made concerning the the end of the Anglican Communion As We Know It (ACAWKI).
Behold the ACAWKI - pronounced a-ca-wi-ki - bird. At various moments in the unfolding drama of the Episcopal Church and its relation to the Anglican Communion the ACAWKI bird drops by to squawk a few warnings of impending doom.
This bird is a favorite of religious writers who don't have to actually make the attempt to understand just what the Anglican Communion is but can just wring their hands and say, it is too bad, or great, or just awful, or quite understandable that there is "no more" ACAWKI.
The bird has been squawking a a lot these past few days. What just happened? And what is going on with the Anglican Communion that it might cease to be the thing we knew as the Anglican Communion? And what happens now?
Answering these questions is like telling a story. Here is one way of telling the story of just why we are hearing the ACAWKI bird again.
Getting to know the Anglican Communion.
Oddly most of us know more about the Anglican Communion than in the recent past. Fifty years ago most Episcopalians were pleased in a more or less distant sort of way that we belonged to something called the Anglican Communion but that was about it.
We may have know that there was an Archbishop of Canterbury, that the Episcopal Church grew from the Church of England's ministry in the colonies, that there were Anglican churches around the world, and that we supported some of them. Most of us never visited them and only some of us were anglophile enough to visit England.
Prior to the most recent Book of Common Prayer, which included it in a documents section, not too many Episcopalians knew there was a Lambeth Quadrilateral or what it said. The word Anglican did not appear in our prayers or in our Constitution and Canons. None of us read those canons anyway.
What we had were the Holy Scriptures (including we pridefully remembered the Apocrypha, thereby setting us apart from other Protestants), the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the episcopate in Synods related somehow to Nation States rather than to the Empires of the East and West. We thought these sufficient.
We learned that The Lambeth Quadrilateral was actually the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and that American bishops invented it. It was an attempt to identify the characteristics of an episcopal church, led by bishops in Synods of more or less national or regional character, but differing in form as context required and still retaining the marks of the ancient church.
It gave legs to the notion of an Episcopal Church that was not monarchical and not related to the Church of England except as "part of the family." More, it envisioned an Anglican Communion that would not be governed everywhere in the same way as the English Church. From its outset the Anglican Communion was not the English Church at play in the fields of the Lord. Bishops outside England became missionary in ways that bishops in England were not, and the Anglican Communion was the better for it.
But ecclesiastical paternalism and imperialism remained and everybody knew it. English and American bishops were sometimes known to receive missionaries by the front door and local clergy by the side. Deans of Cathedrals across the Anglican world were likely to be from the mission sending country.
The Anglican Communion as we knew it even thirty years ago was a comfort to our catholic sensibilities and provided an easy foothold for our evangelical yearnings. We were part of a world wide faith community and evangelism could be practiced in missionary sending and receiving. The visiting overseas bishop was the perfect icon for the Anglican Communion: episcopal, catholic, exotic, and friendly. The trouble was, the Anglican Communion was also shot through and through with paternalism and its near neighbor, racism. The end of that ACAWKI was a blessing, howbeit an uncomfortable one.
The troubles for the Anglican Churches is not the doctrinal matters of scripture, creed and sacrament. It is the episcopate - the foreign Anglo-centered episcopate.
The Anglican Communion as a community of mutual regard.
The efforts to describe the Anglican Communion in ways that fostered a different sort of catholicity and evangelical fervor has been ongoing and at every turn the ACAWKI bird has reappeared.
The idea of "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ," was put forth in 1963 with great fanfare. MRI changed the missionary dynamic of the whole Communion. But when The Rev. Burgess Carr proposed that the churches in Africa stop receiving missionaries - the first moratorium to roll around the Communion - MRI became too dangerous. MRI proposed a different sort of relationship among the churches and the ACAWKI birds swooped in. It turned out the Anglican Communion as we knew it was not ready to think of the relations of missionary support and mission sending in different terms. The ACAWKI cry was heard again. "If we get rid of missionaries we will lose the ACAWKI." Lots of good talk took place about missionaries from the rest of the communion to the parent churches, but not much came of it.
The early years of the Anglican Consultative Council were taken with the effort to better describe just what sort of thing the Anglican Communion was and what the relationships of mutuality and interdependence were about in fact. Out of those conversations grew a series of missiological statements, the latest form being the Five Marks of Mission.
The Five Marks, expanded perhaps by one, are the Communion's latest effort to describe, in missiological terms, just what we are as Anglicans. That description might have worked, but it too meant the end of ACAWKI, because the Five Marks did not identify distinctly Anglican understanding of mission or missionary tasks. The Five Marks simply walk away from the matter of Episcopal oversight.
Again, the problem was the episcopate. If there was not this Anglo-centric model, including some sort of reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury as a 'symbol of unity,' the episcopate became, from a missiological standpoint, irrelevant.
The notion of a Covenant.
Recently there has been the hope that the stuff of the Quadrilateral, MRI, and the Five Marks of Mission might provide a framework for a new way of thinking of the Anglican Communion, one which would not contribute to the end of the ACAWKI. The movement that gave rise to the Anglican Covenant began long before the publication of the Windsor Report and its call for such a covenant. It was not called a covenant, but was rather thought of as a document for Anglican self-identification.
Most of which is encapsulated in the first 3 1/2 parts of the Ridley Cambridge Draft of an Anglican Covenant is simply this material slightly reconfigured. It was meant to provide a way of talking precisely about the ACAWKI and at the same time to provide a way for the Anglican Communion to continue to be something we know and in which the many Anglican Churches could participate. The covenant idea, however, has been captured by the Windsor Process and made not only a document for self-identification but an instrument for self-regulation.
Those who believe the proposed Covenant goes too far and becomes a regulatory mechanism that gives added power to international, inter-Anglican bodies, cry that it spells the end of the ACAWKI. Those who believe it does not weed out those whose interpretation of the basic documents (scripture, creed, etc) and sacraments presents a scandal to others. They too cry "no more ACAKWI."
Doom is prophesied and blame is found and the death of the ACAWKI is pronounced or announced.The issue still is the Episcopate.
The Episcopate as organizational and moral force:
The focus has changed, however. The struggle for the character of the Anglican Communion concerns the moral actions of the Episcopate - Episcopal restraint of bishops themselves in consenting to the elections of bishops who are a scandal to other parts of the communion and episcopal restraint of clergy concerning their blessing life commitments of persons in same sex relationships.
The local context for the Episcopate, in which bishops conformed their administration of their office to the context and concerns of the nation or region in which their synod was located, has been displaced by the notion of bishops for the whole church universal. They are both, of course, but some weigh in on the local, others on the universal.
Anglican bishops are being seen as guarantors for what are considered universal or Communion wide moral decisions based on universally recognized Scriptural interpretation and catholic tradition. This in spite of the fact that there is no single unbroken moral voice of Christianity on a world wide level. Never the less, that which is claimed to be held by the whole church everywhere and conforming to the plain words of scripture are held as moral standards for all bishops of the Communion.
The turn from describing the Anglican Communion in terms of what Anglicans believe to how Anglicans act as a moral consequence involves a great leap, for the local context as it relates to moral action is complex and not at all easily subsumed under the heading of what is believed everywhere by everyone to be right.
The matter of the inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians and their full participation in the life of the Church brings into play a new set of markers concerning criteria for belonging to the Anglican Communion. No matter how the issue is resolved - with their inclusion or not - it is the end of the ACAWKI, for now the Anglican Communion is viewed as a moral universe.
The Anglican Communion we knew was determined by belief statements - statements about being guided by scriptures, creeds, sacramental life, episcopal oversight. Now the Anglican Communion is being described by moral stance on specific issues which are argued to be in turn the right understanding of scripture, reflective experience (reason) and tradition. So the end of the ACAWKI has happened again: now there are those who are arguing that the Anglican Communion is being determine by specific moral stance on specific issues, viewed as a world wide single proper response.
It is in this context that the workings of the 2009 General Convention are to be understood.
The Anglican Communion as a Moral Community and a Community of Mutual Regard.
Forces in the Anglican Communion - from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the leaders of several national or regional churches, to various critics, visionaries, and in particular those people who have been working for a realignment of the Communion - have been critical of the actions of some bishops of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada on moral grounds. They have contended that the moral teachings of the Anglican Communion stand against the blessing of same sex relationships and the ordination of homosexual persons, not celibate, to the episcopate.
They have tied these moral judgments to the standard identifying characteristics of Anglican Churches and the Anglican Communion primarily by Scripture and secondarily by tradition. They argue that pretty much everywhere and always the overwhelming moral stance of Christians, Anglican and otherwise, is that homosexuals who are not celibate are engaged in immoral acts, and blessing them and their partners in such immorality is itself immoral and that ordaining them to the episcopate is an offense to the whole Church. Allowing these things they contend means no more ACAWKI.
And they are right, but only about the ACAWKI as it has been understood in the last twenty years and as that vision of the ACAWKI as a community based on a particular and universally defined moral authority. That moral authority found its voice in the arguments against and for inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the full life of the Church. This way of thinking of the Anglican Communion is a new thing, and it is unclear if it will last. And it is particularly unclear that the issue of the participation of homosexuals in the church will serve.
It turns out slavery didn't serve, or divorce, or the need for peace, or polygamy, or women's rights or abortion. The basic dividing line turned out to be homosexual behavior. This was (it is whispered) because they were so easy to beat up on. Slaves are revolting, there are too many divorced persons, polygamy is regional but pervasive where it is, too many governments justify war and it is hard to go against the patriotic will, there are just too many women, and enough of them will control their lives. But homosexual persons are relatively few in number, spread across the planet and are prime examples of people whose behavior can be condemned even while claiming to love them as people.
The focus of all this turns out to be the episcopate again, the episcopate that supposedly is for the whole church but locally conformed in its administration to the needs of particular peoples.
At General Convention 2009 we addressed these problems - in D025 on Episcopal Elections in the Anglican Communion, in D020 on the Anglican Covenant, and in C056, on liturgies for blessings. In each case the bishops play a central role in addressing the moral implications of actions.
These three resolutions passed at the 2009 Convention are the primary place of landing for the ACAWKI bird. They cry that the Anglican Communion is now seriously broken, that schism is at hand, or that The Episcopal Church is going to get thrown out of the Anglican Communion councils, that there is no more ACAWKI. Not now.
D025 (see text HERE.)
Various blame games are in play, but the main culprit has been resolution D025 That resolution concerning the election of bishops and the Anglican Communion.
According to this theory it turns out the end of the ACAWKI is the result of a small document of 401 words that attempted to tell the truth about where The Episcopal Church is on matters related to the Anglican Communion, the ministry of gay and lesbian persons in the church and the making of bishops. (the wordle.net picture of the most prominent words in D025 is to the right - "be it resolved" removed.)
The whole thing is surreal. While there is indeed a difference between where The Episcopal Church is today and where it was three years ago, the difference is not at the core about the reality of how bishops are elected and their elections consented to.
Rather they are about how the electors and those giving consent understand the restraints that loyalty to the Anglican Communion brings to the matter. Those who believe that the Anglican Communion is an outward and visible sign this or any church belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church value belonging to the AC, however that is determined, as a matter of high regard. Those who believe the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is determined by a different sign - say baptism - and that the various churches are all equally at fault for the brokenness of the visible church community are less perturbed.
This resolution contends that Episcopal bishops and Diocesan Standing Committees, working with the experience of this church, the inclusiveness of baptism, the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and the commitment to life in the Anglican Communion have all the tools necessary to make appropriate decisions about the consent to the election of a bishop. The prior attempt to produce restraints based on the Windsor Report request are therefore simply part of the moral universe that guides decisions, not a restraining order.
Resolution D025 affirms bishops as moral actors but in context, not as abstract judges.
The Anglican Communion could indeed morph into something else as a result of this decision, Frankly, that would be no surprise. The English Church could not hold the Methodists, damned the Quakers, and generally made reunion a thing wholly on their terms. The other churches of the Communion who have had their fill of contextualizing of the Gospel being dictated by the "mother churches" might well split the Communion in two. The realignment groups see this as a time to establish an Anglican entity on close moral grounds rather than close faith engagements. All this could happen and that would be the end of the ACAWKI.
But of course the Anglican Communion, or at lest the Episcopal Church has already morphed itself a bit. The fact is we are defining ourselves by a theological stance - that all baptized persons are citizens of the Church - and in doing so we are limiting the moral role of the episcopate. Not a lot, but a little. We are asking bishops to make their decisions concerning consent to elections on the basis of experience, Anglican marks of faith and mission and a regard for the Anglican Communion, not on the basis of a restraining order provoked by the Windsor Report or for that matter by General Convention 2006.
If there were people who understood the Anglican Communion to be organized around a specific moral stance concerning homosexuals or any other matter, Resolution D026 was the end of an ACAWKI. General Convention reaffirmed its membership in the Anglican Communion on the basis of a community of sacramental life, not moral judgment.
C056 (the text is HERE.)
CO56, on Liturgical Blessings, was passed by the House of Deputies on the last day of General Convention after prior passage in the House of Bishops. It proposes that the Episcopal Church opens the door to conversations, gathering of theological and liturgical resources, etc, on the whole range of possible civil and religious contexts for affirming and blessing same sex relationships.
It is the opening of the door, and as such it is viewed with suspicion by those who see this as the beginnings of officially sanctioned rites for blessing same sex relationships.
Most interesting, however, is that the work is assigned to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in consultation with the House of Bishops, and the experience of bishops in dioceses where same sex marriage, civil union, etc are legal are particularly given permission to exercise "generous pastoral response." The role of the bishops has been carefully circumscribed. They are given freedom to act, will be consulted, and drawn into the discussion, but the moral choices of the Church will lie with the General Convention and the Standing Commissions that are its immediate working groups.
The Windsor Report (143-144) called upon "all bishops of the Anglican Communion to honour the Primates' Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorise public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions." The General Convention of 2009 responded by calling upon the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to address the matter of same sex blessings in consultation with the Bishops. C056 clearly invisions a different base for moral and theological action. The decision to have such rites will not rest with bishops alone. The moratorium called for by the Windsor Report and the request for a statement of regret was addressed to bishops. The response of the General Convention was to move the respondant position to General Convention itself.
The surprise of General Convention 2009 was that C056 was sent initially to the House of Bishops where it might well have died. That the bishops worked on it so carefully and voted on it with such great support (99 to 44, two asbstentions) is a sign of their desire to see further work done. That the work was assigned to the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music is a sign that the bishops wish to work together with representatives of the whole church to develop the mind of the church. It is bishops and people in syond working here, not bishops alone.
D020 (the text is HERE.)
The General Convention took place just at the time that the third Draft Anglican Covenant was being perfected. Sections 1-3 are in "final" form, section 4 is subject ot one more round of criticial study. At that point (near the end of the year) that document will be given to all the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. They will be asked to what extent they can sign on to this Covenant. D020 is an effort to describe just how we ought to approach the use of the Covenant text during this next three year period prior to General Convention 2012 where the text will be presented for acceptance or rejection.
It is not at all clear that the next General Convention will accept it as it stands. There is an aversion in some parts of this Church to a document which gives even greater power to the episcopate, and in particular to the Primates.
Episcopal Church polity is very delicately balanced as regards the distribution of decision making. The Covenant calls for a body made up of Primates and Commuion wide clergy and laity (The Joint Standing Committee of Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council) to have the power to issue a restraining order accompanyed by the threat of removal from the representative bodies of the Anglican Communion. This is similar to the Windsor Report that called on bishops to either refrain from actions or voluntarily to remove themselves from Anglican Commuion bodies. The Covenant would give the Joint Standing Committee the authority to ask those bodies to remove them.
D020 in its origonal form asked us to provisionally accept the Anglican Covenant in anticipation of our vote on formal sign on. That language did not make it through to the final form of D020. Rather the Anglican Covenant was commended for our study working towards General Convention 2012 and dioceses and parishes were "invited to consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion."
Again the value of experience in the life of the Church took precedence over church-wide uniform response. Instead of provisional acceptance by the Province, we ask for reports on experience.
I think the Draft Anglican Covenant is a helpful document in so far as it spells out something of what we believe constitutes Anglicanism. How well it can be used as a constitutional document - stating what constitutes being in the Anglican Communion - is another matter.
D020 did not get great play in the church media. It does not excite the AWAWKI bird. But three years from now the bird will awaken and start squawking. If we accept, or if we don't, the Anglican Covenant will spell the end of the ACAWKI.
The Anglican Communion is organic and subject to change.
What General Convention in 2009 did is reassert that this particular Anglican Communion church continues to be guided by a broadly inclusive synodical structure. The House of Deputies and House of Bishops are together the instruments of determining the theological and moral stances taken by this Church.
The delecate balance between the General Convention and the dioceses, between the bishops in synod and bishops in location (at home), between laity, clergy and bishops at all levels of governance, means that The Episcopal Church is not likely to be at ease with imposed restrictions from without or directives based on threat from any quarter.
The doomsayers believe that this sort of behavior spells the end of the Anglican Communion was we know it. But I heard at General Convention another voice. It is the voice that says the Anglican Communion is growing and we are growing with it.
The Anglican Communion will either grow and change, or it will die. Rather than viewing the resolutions of General Convention as instruments that will destroy the Anglican Communion we might better think of them as contributions to the growth of the Communion.
I have no idea whether the other Churches of the Communion will view D025, C056 or D020 as contributions to growth or reasons for expelling The Episcopal Church from the various bodies in the Communion. But I do believe that our careful responses in these resolutions will clarify our own understandings of what the episcopate "locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples" might look like.
This strange and wonderful idea of the Anglican Communion is always in formation, always in flux. Were it to stop being the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it and become the Anglican Communion in some solid and unchanging state, we would indeed have become just another church. The Anglican Communion is meant to be a source of continuing growth. If not, it will become another shell in Christendom, and its inhabitants will be, like hermit crabs, living in borrowed houses.
Unless we are always on the edge of leaving the ACAWKI we will not ever become new. And some of us think that is one of the great promises. "Behold, I make all things new."