The Archbishop of Canterbury has called a meeting of the Primates (the lead bishops) of the national and regional churches that together constitute the churches of the Anglican Communion. The agenda of this meeting will provide a context for rethinking the way in which Anglicans think of their "Communion" as well as the way others understand the Anglican Communion. The meeting is widely understood to be an effort by the ABC to keep the Anglican Communion going in spite of the disintegration of full communion among its members.
There have been many responses to this announcement, and in particular to the "meaning" of the meeting for the future of the Anglican Communion and the extension of an invitation for the Primate of The Anglican Church in North America to attend part of the meeting.
Two responses, one an article by Ruth Gledhill and the other a response by the GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) leadership are of particular importance. Ruth Gledhill's article in Christian Today is about the best summary of the reason for the meeting from a CofE viewpoint. Read it HERE.
The GAFCON statement makes it clear, from the viewpoint of those Primates that have broken communion with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, that they remain committed to the principle that they are unwilling to attend a meeting where The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are in attendance. The GAFCON statement can be read HERE.
Full attendance not likely.
There one point on which the proposed meeting is likely to fail to materialize as planned.
The ABC is inviting the heads of all the Anglican Communion members (the list of such members being that promulgated as Anglican churches with which the Church of England is in full communion).
That list does not include the full participation of The Anglican Church of North America, a church formed from a collection of clergy and people, some of whom left The Episcopal Church because its actions and theology had moved and they had not. Others in ACNA came from other parts of the communion and still others of earlier breakaway groups. The Archbishop of Canterbury's invitation to ACNA is for part of the meeting (which part is unspecified). This signals that ACNA is not a member church of the Anglican Communion by the ABC's standards, or at least that he stands by the niceties of the Anglican Communion as those churches in communion with the CofE.
The Primate of ACNA knows that and takes his marching orders from GAFCON, the organization of Anglican Provinces that does recognize him, and does not recognize TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada.
The Primate of ACNA has stated that "If my fellow GAFCON Primates accept the invitation, and I am expecting that they will, then I have also pledged to attend."
ACNA then appears positive about going. But the statement from the Primate is an "If - then" statement. "If GAFCON primates accept... then I accept."
The GAFCON statement gives a less positive sort of response.
"We are now a global family standing together to restore the Bible to the
heart of the Anglican Communion with a strength and unity that comes
from our common confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely from
historic institutional structures.
It is on this basis that the GAFCON Primates will prayerfully
consider their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter. They
recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of
relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which
continues without repentance or discipline.
Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the
Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which
The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of
Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which
the Anglican Church in North America was excluded."
The meeting invites (for a time) ACNA. It also includes (for the whole of the time) TEC and ACoC. Apparently the meeting fails the criteria for purity set down by GAFCON.
Unless GAFCON leadership changes its tune, some eight or so primates will not attend, nor, if that is true, will ACNA.
Is such a meeting the proper venue for exploration of reunion or reconciliation?
Bringing ACNA into the meeting might well be an effort towards reconciliation, however the focus of such reconciliation rests with the churches where communion is already broken - namely TEC and ACoC, and possibly the Church of England itself - and the Churches aligned with GAFCON. This is not an agenda that can be handled within a Primates meeting. I believe the possibilities for reconciliation rest not at the top, but at the bottom, with local churches finding ways to relate across the divide and ways to reestablish trust.
Matters have already proceeded beyond disagreement among Primates. There are now two distinct communities of Anglican Churches where formerly there was one. Now the efforts towards reconciliation will have to be direct and differentiated: (i) efforts need to be initiated by two groups of churches in communion with Canterbury, but not with each other, an (ii) efforts need to be initiated between ACNA, not in communion with Canterbury and TEC and ACoC which are. Even on the level of provinces the front edge of ecumenical conversations will need to be below that of the heads of churches.
This meeting of the Primates will likely get caught up in thinking of models for the future - Federation, Communion, World Wide Church.
That is a losing proposition and will be a thankless job, possibly costing Archbishop Welby his spiritual sanity, for most of the models are based on past experiences in the divisions that constitute the Church in modernity. It makes little difference if the churches are in the "first" world or the "developing" world, across cultures and across the world Christianity exists in the modern world of denominationalism and its models reflect denominational concerns for place and power. For the Primates, the question as to what sort of thing the Anglican Communion is to be will be filled with the subtexts of the power issues of the churches as they exist in modernity.
Giles Fraser, in a short and quite fine piece in the Guardian outlines outlines another possibility - that the church of the present and future is based on the "hypertext church – connected horizontally," based on a model derived from the Internet, and not on hierarchical authority models. This of course will be far from the Primates minds since they are the prime examples (pardon the "prime" thing) of people who get to speak on matters of governance because they govern. Fraser suggests that they can go ahead and govern as they will, the matter is already out of their hands. True interaction and governance will reflect practice, which is much more based on a neural network and less on a organizational chart.
This is, of course bad news for episcopal churches (churches with bishops) because we have mostly forgotten any other way of thinking about ecclesial roles than in terms of hierarchy and power. But I believe that can be turned.
I am an Episcopalian because I continue to believe that the fourth element in the Lambeth Quadrilateral - bishops whose roles are molded to local needs and times - is still of the essence of church. It has nothing to do with bishops as "princely powers." It has little to do with bishops as administrators. It mostly has to do with persons called by God and community to reflect with us on how the Holy Spirit works in our midst. Bishops might be thought of as pastors or maybe guides, rather than as kings or queens.
In an Internet sort of way we would begin to sort out those who provide this guidance and their ordination would be by acclimation or recommendation or more importantly USE.
I wrote in "The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post Modern Era," about 20 years ago now, that the Anglican Communion is an organic thing, and as such came into being (about 175 to 200 years ago) and will do its work and will eventually die. At least we can hope it will in its present state, die.
The future does not belong to a church modeled on the British Commonwealth of Nations any more than a church modeled on the Roman Empire or one modeled on Greek City State ideas. The future belongs, as does the present, to the church as neural network, with some really fine people emerging as guides while we work out how to be the church in place and for the time to come.
Will there be an Anglican Communion in the future? Yes, but not this one. This one is falling apart. The one to come may consist of people informed out of Anglican Churches by Anglicanism, churches who find their spiritual and social energies informed by the their predecessor church - the Church of England and its pastors and thinkers. These churches may or may not get along with each other. They may not hold together as one in various jurisdictions. But their members will strive to be members of a way of being Christian, sort of a religious order, one called Anglican, and who we will recognize as cousins, sometimes twice removed.
It will be alright. Really alright.