Winds of change

 — Feb. 24, 200724 févr. 2007

Rather than be split by a much-trumpeted schism,the Anglican Communion emerged from its meeting in Tanzania this week as a new kind of twenty-first century Church, reflecting changes in ecclesial and geopolitical power

Will the Anglican Communion survive? Before the Primates’ Meeting in Africa this week there was much discussion of schism, and an atmosphere of crisis prevailed. At the heart of the problem is how Anglicans reconcile the value they place on diocesan and provincial structure of autonomy at the national level with the legitimacy given to a comprehensive range of practices and positions with the bonds of ecclesial communion that allow the Communion coherence as one effective, united, interdependent worldwide body of Christians. Given that, what does the Anglican Communion mean? Is it a fellowship of independent national churches with historical roots in the Church of England that worship through a provincial expression of the Book of Common Prayer, or is it a hierarchical system with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the top as a sort of mini-Pope?

These questions were answered in part by the way that the Tanzanian gathering responded to the United States Episcopal Church, its attitude to homosexuality and the election of a woman as its presiding bishop. Rather than excommunicate it or demote it to second class, or have primates from the South walk away, or refuse to sit at the same table at Katharine Jefferts Schori and receive Communion with her, those attending were able to sign a unanimous communiqué. In a surprisingly tough manner, it detailed what the Episcopal Church needs to do to heal the rift in the Communion over homosexuality in order to take its place as a full member of the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. The primates, through Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, have requested that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church now take two specific actions by 30 September 2007.

First, the House must enact a moratorium on gay bishops in America, making it clear that clergy in homosexual relationships cannot be ordained as bishop. Second, there can be no more same-sex blessings in the US authorised by diocesan bishops, if the Episcopal Church wishes to remain a full member of the Communion. The Americans must “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessings for same-sex unions in their diocese or through the General Convention”.

The communiqué makes clear that the shape of things to come for the Communion now rests in the hands of the bishops of the Episcopal Church. If its House of Bishops cannot provide the reassurances requested, the US Church could be reduced to second-tier status or even be expelled for failing to abide by the global Church’s resolutions.

The intervention of the primates in the American Church was striking. While falling short of establishing a new Anglican province in North America, they have involved them

selves in the Church’s future to a significant extent, requesting conservatives be allowed to elect their own “primatial vicar”. The vicar is to report to a council of five members, and Bishop Schori and the council will decide the vicar’s powers of oversight. Most significantly, it is the primates collectively, from outside the US, who will establish this “pastoral council” within the US and outline its structures, in consultation with the Episcopal Church. In this manner the secessionist parishes and their clergy will be invited to exercise their ministry and congregational life still within the Episcopal Church, and they will be allowed to function outside of the regular oversight of the presiding bishop.

All of these actions, and many other steps taken in Tanzania last week, move the provinces of the Communion towards a greater interdependence than would have been imagined even a decade ago. A Covenant design group will draft the text of an Anglican Covenant to be presented to the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Member Churches that choose themselves not to fulfil its substance will be understood to have abandoned it and be subject to discipline.

So instead of long-predicted schism, the Tanzania meeting helped create a different kind of Anglicanism of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The developing world is coming to the fore as a mature power within the Communion in this decade. In the last century, the liberals of the North Atlantic would have prevailed with their notion that the Church should be able to accept varying views on a moral issue like homosexuality. But this position lost out in Tanzania. The international “instruments of Communion”, like the primates, have won the right to intervene in national provinces. Although the American Presiding Bishop agreed to the new structures for her nation, the arrangement for a US “pastoral council” and a “primatial vicar” is highly unusual for an Anglican Communion. The koinonia ecclesiology of the agreed statements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue is reflected in these new structures of accountability for the twenty-first century. Contrary to inaccurate press reports of this past week that the Holy See seeks some accommodation with disaffected Anglicans, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican has now spoken of the value of the Anglican Communion remaining as one Communion, as indicated in this statement: “It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree.” At the same time, the Tanzania communiqué is also a classical Anglican document. Archbishop Rowan Williams calls it “an interim solution that certainly falls short of resolving all disputes”. It is a compromise, with various elements brought together, North and South, evangelical and catholic, liberal and conservative. As Archbishop Aspinall revealed, it was a product of “an intense listening mode, more discussion, and more discussion, exchange of views and debate, free and frank views, as well as areas of concern and tension that still need to be worked through”.

And of its classical Anglican character, Katharine Jefferts Schori has concluded this about the Tanzania communiqué: “The Episcopal Church has been asked to consider the wider body of the Anglican Communion and its needs. Our own Church has in recent years tended to focus on the suffering of one portion of the body, particularly those who feel that justice demands the full recognition and celebration of the gifts of gay and lesbian Christians. That focus has been seen in some other parts of the global Church as inappropriate, especially as it has been felt to be a dismissal of traditional understandings of sexual morality. Both parties hold positions that can be defended by appeal to our Anglican sources of authority – scripture, tradition and reason – but each finds it very difficult to understand and embrace the other… Each is being asked to forbear for a season. The word of hope is that in God all things are possible, and that fasting is not a permanent condition of a Christian people, nor a normative one. God’s dream is of all people gathered at a feast, and we enter Lent looking toward that Easter feast and the new life that will, in God’s good time, be proclaimed.”

Posted: Feb. 24, 2007 • Permanent link:
Categories: TabletIn this article: Anglican Communion, Christian unity, human sexuality, Rowan Williams
Transmis : 24 févr. 2007 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : TabletDans cet article : Anglican Communion, Christian unity, human sexuality, Rowan Williams

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