Premature Obituaries: Surely un-Anglican...

Anyone who gives a damn about the Anglican Communion or the Church of England knows that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has announced that he will retire at the end of 2012 and take up a teaching post. He allows as how he still has some things to do - the Queen's Jubilee in June, the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council and various activities in the Church of England where he both heads the church and a diocese. But to read, hear, and see the media in action one would have thought the ABC had died. Obituaries, or things that sound a lot like that, have been cropping up everywhere.  His tenure is summed up, his good and bad points brought forward for critical analysis, and that is that.

Or is it?  In the first place we might remember that it is unseemly, not to say un-Anglican (the two often go together) to sum up a person's life prior to their death, or for that matter a person's work prior to the closing of the books. There are several good reasons for this: (i) the good Archbishop may have a surprise or two left to play out, (ii) who is to say that some sort of epiphany or pentecostal experience, or actual focusing of unity might still take place?, (iii) and more, he has eight months left to serve and he deserves our continued prayers as the living ABC, rather than our faint praise as a lame and perhaps dead duck.

And, if the Archbishop is alive and well, and only about to retire, we ought also to continue to listen respectfully and criticise constructively as the occasion requires. 

He is not retired but only about to be.

As for the rude and crude slap in the face issued by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), there is nothing much to say.  Words fail me in attempting to respond to the following:

"Since Dr. Rowan Williams did not resign in 2008, over the split Lambeth Conference, one would have expected him to stay on in office, and work assiduously to ‘mend the net’ or repair the breach, before bowing out of office. The only attempt, the covenant proposal, was doomed to fail from the start, as “two cannot walk together unless they have agreed”.

For us, the announcement does not present any opportunity for excitement. It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction."

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh is insulting and lacking in charity, Christian or otherwise.  If the ABC has done anything it as been precisely to "work assiduously to ‘mend the net’ or repair the breach."  Some of us believe he did so at the risk of his own soul and voice.  

It is one thing not to agree with the ABC. Many of us have been in disagreement at one time or another with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Most of us have been amazed and sometimes appalled  at the lengths to which he was willing to go to try to keep as many people as he could at the table, including asking at one time or another for some to leave. The Archbishop and Primate of all Nigeria is not only wrong on this one, he is uncharitably wrong.

Meanwhile, two small notes:

(i) Nigeria is not listed formally on the No Anglican Covenant page as having said "No."  Still, doesn't it appear that they have? To quote the AB of Nigeria, "the covenant proposal was doomed to fail from the start."

(ii) The AB of Nigeria talks of "whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction."  Is he talking of the new Archbishop of Canterbury?  If so, why not say "next Archbishop of Canterbury"?   No, dear friends, I believe he is talking about a "next leader (not an Archbishop of Canterbury at all) who pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction." Is this a set up for a leader from the Jerusalem Declaration crowd or perhaps from a Primates Meeting  where some would find this a prime time to move away from Canterbury at all?

All along we have known that "the episcopacy, locally adopted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God" might lead in strange directions.  I think that Nigeria has just walked into a strange land, no longer very Anglican and for that matter not very Christian.


  1. Mark, i believe that Archbishop Okoh has already 'walked apart' from the traditional Anglican Communion. With the publication of the faux-Anglican 'Jerusalem Declaration, GAFCON, and the associated Primates, wilfully set themselves apart from the rest of us in the Communion who were intent on seeking the 'unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace'
    (ACANZP Prayer book)

    Okoh may well be predicating a GAFCON push for authentication as the future of Anglicanism. However, their intentional severance from the Founding See of Canterbury would invalidate that stance.

  2. Excellent analysis. Archbishop Okoh's statement was chilling to read, but your response revealed it to be even more so than at first glance. I think you have found precisely the issue.

  3. Mark, as soon as a president or any leader becomes a lame duck, people will begin to sum up the time in office. The ABC is a lame duck, so I don't see anything unseemly or un-Anglican about a summing up of Rowan's service as Archbishop of all England and Primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion. True, the ABC may have a surprise or two up his sleeve that will need to be added to the summary, but a summing up is not the same as saying that he is dead.

    Having said that, Abp Okoh's response to the announcement is ugly and insulting in the extreme.

  4. I find the summings up to be premature. Mark, you have articulated well the reasons why. Clear, concise, to the point. Thank you.

  5. I am reminded of the scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail:

    "I'm not dead yet!"

  6. Certainly premature re: fate of covenant. It borders on racist to assume that CofE defeat (with 80% of Bishops saying Yes) is covenant defeat as such, when 30+ provinces still are considering it. The covenant itself states it is operative for those who adopt it. CofE not adopting may actually incentivize things.

  7. "Racist" how? [An argument, BTW, that the Sugdenites will pull out of the hat, banking on its tugging at the white liberal heartstrings and crushing further discussion, when one of their associated provinces is "attacked" and they have no valid or logical defence to what has been charged.]

    Do you seriously suppose that the "Covenant" stands the proverbial snowball in Hell's chance minus the Church of England?

  8. As I have blogged elsewhere. All of this reinforces the point that what the Anglican Communion needs now is a period without initiatives, appeals or cajoling.

    It will be best if the new Archbishop of Canterbury does nothing very much at all.

    This is an argument for an older candidate and a relatively short-term appointment during which the new incumbent announces (no doubt to everyone's relief) that the next Lambeth Conference will be deferred for two or more years in order to save money and allow for reflection. His successor will then still have plenty of time to prepare.

    In the meantime everyone, even the Nigerians, remains more or less in full communion and the Anglican genius works its magic through old fashioned contact and dialogue without any agenda.

    Consequently, Lambeth 2021 or 2022 could be one of the best for decades as most of the old antagonists will have retired or be in the next world.

  9. Now let's see.

    1. S Cone has adopted (gafcon)
    2. SE Asia has adopted (GS)
    3. 4 others have adopted
    4. CofE does not adopt so Standing Committee must be reconfigured
    5. now remind me: why would GS provinces NOT adopt?

    There are 30+ provinces yet to consider the covenant, and you believe they will just cancel their deliberations because one province, 80% of whose Bishops said Yes, did not adopt. Odd.


  10. As to the PAC, having been rejected so vocally by some GAFCON leaders, and being not at all sure of adoption in England, it seems that the best we can expect in the near term is for it to be operative for only a slim majority of member churches.

  11. Well, let's see, Msgr. I take some of your points. I think you will agree the likelihood that failure of the Church of England to adopt will reduce interest in at least some of the 30 provinces that have not yet officially considered the Draft Covenant. Nor am I including the Episcopal Church in that. While this will certainly be brought into discussion at General Convention, I think the Covenant would (and will) fail in General Convention one way or another. Indeed, for some the very fact that the support of the bishops didn't convince sufficient lay or other clergy delegates may be seen in itself as meaningful. In any case, failure in C of E will, as they say, "knock some of the shine off of it."

    What I don't see is the necessity of changing the Standing Committee based on this action of the Church of England. While the Standing Committee is given significant authority in the Draft Covenant, it is still a creature of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting - and by the Covenant's own language those are not changed. Indeed, by the Covenant's own language the measure of participation in the Communion is participation in the Anglican Consultative Council, and not participation in the Covenant (yes, there is some expectation that interested folks could push to see the Covenant language amended; but we're nowhere near that now). Participation in the Covenant is a related but separate category from participation in the Communion, much less the Anglican Consultative Council. So, I don't see that this necessitates changing the Standing Committee. That would require action of the ACC, wouldn't it?

    Beyond that, Lionel Diemel has observed that "failure to adopt" is not necessarily the same as "rejecting" the Covenant. Could C of E spin this as just one step in a longer process of consideration and adoption? At that point, since the language of the Covenant about decision making is those churches that "have adopted the Covenant or are considering adoption," C of E can still claim participation in any discussions. While I don't expect it, a decision by the General Convention "to consider" for another three years would have the same effect.

    And of course there are the questions of whether SE Asia's "accession" or Ireland's "subscription," with their mutually exclusive "signing statements," are "adoption." That will have to be argued out at some point among those who do sign, at least if they want to pursue union specifically under the Covenant.

    So, the C of E's failure to adopt may not kill the Covenant process, as you note. It still looks like we're a long way from knowing who will end up living under the Covenant, or what that will be like for them. Now, if would be interesting (and telling in the sense you suggest) if Nigeria and Uganda suddenly turned around and embraced the Covenant precisely because England failed to adopt. That, then, would add some support to the process you suggest.

  12. 'best we can expect in the near term' -- exegesis:

    'near term' = from now until November, or seven full months.

    'best we can expect' = 'what I'd like to see happen'


  13. Msgr,
    I would prefer not to have my posts interpreted.

  14. "I think you will agree the likelihood that failure of the Church of England to adopt will reduce interest in at least some of the 30 provinces that have not yet officially considered the Draft Covenant" --

    No, I think this is exactly dead wrong.

    And recall, Nigeria and Uganda are but two of 30 provinces. One gafcon province has already adopted and a major influential province (SE Asia) as well. Do I think the moderate conservative provinces of Burundi, Tanzania, W Africa, Congo, Indian Ocean et al may actually want to signal YES to the covenant (and to the massive majority of Bishops in the CofE), Yes I do.

    So we shall see.

    Daniel--do you have some other way you'd like your comment to be stated? 'You hope that within the nine months before the ACC meeting provinces only a slim majority emerges in favor'. So, 20 or so out of 38. And if that number is 25-28, they will determine how the covenant is to be adminstered by virtue of the covenant's own language.

  15. Msgr,

    Why do you think it a good thing to read into other people's comments your own ill-formed opinions about what they really meant. I meant exactly what I wrote and nothing more. So I stand by my statement that it looks like the PAC will not be something that most of the churches in the Communion adopt. It will, therefore, be the effective tool for resolving conflicts that the drafters had hoped for. I don't think it would be if every church adopted it, but that is another matter. I am not opposed to some sort of covenant, but think this one is not the one we need.

  16. "...exactly what you said and wrote":

    "operative for only a slim majority of member churches"

    and now

    "it looks like the PAC will not be something that most of the churches in the Communion adopt"

    "It will be effective tool" -- how so? Because a slim majority adopt (or a clear majority) and hence we will have a covenant Communion and then those who do not adopt? That would be one effect, I suppose.

    A No movement can say No. It cannot prohibit Yes sayers saying Yes and moving forward.


  17. Although typos may have made my last post confusing, I hope that Msgr and others would agree that the PAC has not been the widely accepted document that its drafters had hoped it would be. Perhaps some of the churches whose primates were against it will adopt, and there may be a larger majority adopting than I have thought. In spite of my own objections, I think it may prove to be a good thing for some of the churches to see how the PAC works.

    One more note: Msgr my objection was to your reading into my comments your own ideas about what I really wanted to happen. I think in these discussions it is best to avoid exegesis since we can ask for clarification.


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.