Last week there was a bit of a splutter of, dare we say, new thought out there in Anglican Land. It's about an Anglican Congress.
A small group of bishops from various dioceses in the Episcopal Church and Africa met at General Seminary in New York. They were:
The Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi
Archbishop of Burundi
The Most Rev. Albert Chama
Archbishop of Central Africa
The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Southern Africa
The Most Rev. Jacob Chimeledya
Archbishop of Tanzania
The Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo
Archbishop of West Africa
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls
Chief Operating Officer,
The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves
TEC Bishop of El Camino Real
The Rt. Rev. Ogé Beauvoir
Bishop Suffragan of Haiti
The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, III
Bishop Provisional of PA
Six Primates and four bishops from TEC, one being non-diocesan, one provisional and one from Haiti.
It was a fairly "big gun" sort of meeting. In their final statement they suggested:
"Over our time together, we found ourselves referring repeatedly to the
spirit of the Anglican Congress of 1963, which contributed greatly to
the transformation of our understanding of mission in the Anglican
Communion. It gave us the language of mutual responsibility and
interdependence in the body of Christ and helped lead us to understand
ourselves as partners in mission rather than in categories of givers and
receivers. In that same spirit, and with eagerness to share the
blessings we have received in these days, we express our fervent and
urgent hope that another Anglican Congress might be held in the next two
years, and encourage the active leadership of all who might help to
make it a reality for the good of God’s mission to heal and reconcile
the world. We hope that representatives of all the baptized—bishops,
priests, deacons, and laypeople—will be present and heard. We hope that
the Communion’s strategy to address the next iteration of the United
Nations Development Goals might be part of the agenda. Aware that
Africa is now the demographic center of the Anglican Communion and has
always been mother to us all, we deeply hope that our leaders will take
this opportunity to call us home to Africa for such an important
gathering of our Anglican family."
Aside from a bit of fluff regarding Africa as the mother to us all and the demographic center of the Anglican Communion, the basic idea is:
(i) An Anglican Congress in the next two years,
(ii) Held somewhere in Africa
(iii) representing all the baptized from within "our Anglican family."
What are we to make of this suggestion, particularly in the light of the growing sense that Lambeth will not meet in 2018, and GAFCON's most recent bit of triumphalism that it has become an instrument of unity in the Anglican Communion where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates, Lameth and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) have failed? It would take a bit of generosity of spirit on all parts to see this idea through, that and a high dose of patience, and perhaps some desire for reconciliation.
It seems to me the time is right for an Anglican Congress, but one which will dare to included not only representatives from dioceses within the member churches of the Anglican Communion as now constituted (ACC membership being and communion with Canterbury being the touchstones), but also those churches of "Anglican descent" that are in communion with one of the member churches of the Communion, but not necessarily Canterbury. This would include then members of ACNA, a body with which GAFCON memebers are in full communion, but not Canterbury, the US and who are not part of the ACC. or members of churches with which the CofE is in full communion, but not part of the Anglican Communion. It would include members of the Old Catholic Church, several European Lutheran churches, The Philippine Independent Church, and so forth.
Perhaps a rule for invitation would look something like this:
"Churches part of the Anglican family of churches throughout the world are invited to send members to the Anglican Congress. Inclusion in the Anglican family of churches is defined by each church being
(i) in communion with the See of Canterbury and part of the Anglican Consultative Council,
(ii) in communion with a church in communion with the See of Canterbury and part of the ACC.
"In communion with" will be understood to mean that the churches "in communion" welcome inclusion of the members of each church in the full life of the other - participation in the sacramental life of each church, recognizing the validity of orders and having a mechanism for easy interchange of ministry assignments, and affirmation of the distinctive life of each church.
Additionally invited churches would have to understand themselves as part of "the Anglican family" of churches, either by direct historical and episcopal connection or by strong bonds of theological, sacramental and common prayer life formed from the influence of Anglican thinking and witness. That is, they would have to think of themselves as part of "the Anglican family."
There would be some fine lines of distinction and perhaps some quarrels along the way about who to invite. But the trail of links would have to be (I believe limited to two) - Either a church of the Anglican Communion as defined above, or a church in communion with one of those churches.
The question is, would this sort of Anglican Congress make it possible for churches who have broken communion or have impaired communion status with The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, or the Church of Southern Africa or the Church of South India, and so on, to sit in the same room with those they left? Would The Episcopal Church really be interested in sending attendees to a meeting with those who constantly trash their leadership and the actions of their churches? Would GAFCON get off its high horse and come to a meeting where Canterbury, Primates, and the Anglican Consultative Council still were considered touchstones for Anglican unity?
The one thing that would have to be avoided at all costs would be to make such an Anglican Congress a PRODUCT of two supposedly world wide agencies - the Anglican Communion offices and instruments on the one hand and GAFCON instruments on the other. The Anglican Congress should not become itself an instrument of further power politics in the church.
My thought is that the invitation to an Anglican Congress should come from a group of bishops (including Primates), priests, deacons and lay people who, of their own volition and with the support of Canterbury and the leadership of a growing number of Churches in the "Anglican Family," JUST DO IT.
Two years out sounds about right. So, think late 2016 or early 2017. By all means meet in Africa. Maybe the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia could offer an invitation for us to meet there. Speaking of "mother," pretty close to ground zero, and with not too much Anglican family problems in place.