04 July 2007

What Is It and Is It Worth It?

This reflection was written for a May assignment as part of my diaconal studies.

Britannica defines ‘communion’ as “an act or instance of sharing” or “intimate fellowship or rapport”. It also references “a body of Christians having a common faith and discipline (i.e., the Anglican communion). The key is ‘sharing and fellowship’. But we don’t see a lot of fellowship or sharing in the Anglican Communion at the moment.

The motto of the Anglican Communion, Hάλήθεια έλευθερώσει ΰμãς ("The truth will set you free"), is a quotation from John 8:32. Until recent events, the communion was held together by a shared history expressed in its ecclesiology, polity, and ethos, and by participation in international consultative bodies. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion’s titular head, has no real power to define or restrict the activities of a constituent member. Unlike the pope, he cannot discipline; all he can do is try to influence each member.

Recent events in The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada have strained that relationship. Consecration of a gay bishop, full inclusion of gays and lesbians and the blessing of same-sex committed relationships have caused some members of the Anglican Communion to determine that TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada are ‘out of communion’ with the Anglican Communion.

The Windsor Report was an attempt to define how members of the communion could co-exist, each with some individuality but also with some commonality. The TEC and Canadian response to the Windsor Report did not satisfy the most conservative members of the Communion. Demands have been made by members of the Southern Cone and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) during the latest primate’s meeting at Dar es Salaam have given TEC a timeline for ‘repenting’ and changing decisions made by the General Convention, House of Deputies and House of Bishops.

Not waiting for TEC to ‘come around’, the Archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda and Southern Cone have established missionary parishes in the United States "to provide a safe place for those who wish to remain faithful Anglicans but can no longer do so within the Episcopal Church as it is currently being led." And the consecration of Martyn Minns as bishop of CANA certainly does nothing constructive in trying to maintain a sense of communion.

But what is this really all about? It is the age-old issue of the power of patriarchy. Inclusion of previously marginalized children of God has CANA and the Southern Cone worried. Using biblical verses, these two major conservative members of the Anglican Communion are beating up anyone who does not agree totally with them and march to their drummer. There is nothing inclusive about the beliefs of these groups. Agreeably, the church in Nigeria has a serious threat from the Muslims which compromise the largest religious group in Nigeria. But one does not shore up their foundation by excluding any group of people from the fellowship. For the most part, these Biblical-based Anglicans espouse the Old Testament and do not follow the teaching of Jesus.

So why do we want to remain within the Anglican Communion? That is a really good question. There are many within TEC who have reached the point that they no longer see the need for being a member of a communion (‘organization of shared interests and beliefs’) where one or two groups are trying to dictate the actions of the entire organization. Our Presiding Bishop is walking a fine line between honoring the polity of TEC (particularly our baptismal covenant) and trying to maintain conversation with the rest of the Anglican Communion. She knows we cannot reach any type of common ground if we are not at the table talking and listening.

But when Archbishop Akinola deems that the Archbishop of Canterbury is ‘out of communion’, what chance is there that there will ever be any consensus while the current parties are involved. Suspicions are that Akinola wants to be named Archbishop of the ‘true Anglican Communion’; and he is working hard at consecrating bishops to give him more numbers at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. He well knows there is power in numbers (sometimes).

Although given until the end of September to fall in line, the House of Bishops has definitively declined two of the demands made by the primates. Interestingly, there have been some primates who acknowledged that the demands are not embraced by all members of the Anglican Communion.

Does TEC want to stay in the Anglican Communion? The opposition does not have the power to expel us and we are not going to walk away. Much of the funding that TEC gives to lesser countries has been done through the Anglican Communion in the past. Plans are underway by church officials to deliver the same amount of aid directly to the needy. That was my one concern with possibly not being a member of the Anglican Communion.

So, is it worth the tumult and rhetoric to stay in the Anglican Communion? I am not one to quit and we really can’t be kicked out, but at some point the decision makers of TEC are going to have to answer that question.

Post reflection: Now there are additional bishops and suffragan Bishops representing Rwanda and Uganda. My guess is that there will be several more before September.

The Executive Committee has refused to knuckle into the demands of the Primates (God bless them all!). We will have to see what happens when the House of Bishops meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury in September. Maybe then we will know the answer.

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