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The ABC And The ABC Of The Anglican Communion

Rockefeller Centre NYC Atlas

Rockefeller Centre NYC Atlas

The Vortex

 Anyone who saw the Archbishop of Canterbury carry a wooden cross through the streets of Dover on Good Friday can be in little doubt that he feels genuine anguish at the agony the Anglican Communion perceives itself to be in, apparently incapable of resolution. On the one hand are the GAFCON countries, as convinced of the moral rectitude of their own position as any Pharisee; on the other are the rest of us, who find Galatians a better guide to Christianity than Leviticus.

On 4 April, somewhat unfortunately juxtaposed with his visit to The Episcopal Church, Archbishop Justin took part in a phone-in on LBC:

A subsequent report in the Daily Telegraph said:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested he is powerless to provide blessings for gay marriages because to do so would split the global Anglican Church.  In an interview with The Telegraph, the Most Rev Justin Welby says that the Church had probably caused “great harm” to homosexuals in the past — but there was not always a “huge amount” that could be done now to rectify the situation. Although indicating that he was sympathetic to calls for the Church to publicly honour gay relationships, the Archbishop says that it is “impossible” for some followers in Africa to support homosexuality. In the interview, the leader of the Anglican Church, which has 77 million followers globally, speaks movingly of the persecution faced by Christians in parts of the world. He indicates that the Church must not take a step that would cut off these groups, most of them in the third world, however much this angers parts of society in Britain…“I do believe passionately that unity is something we have to maintain,” the Archbishop said privately soon afterwards. “I may be wrong, but I also believe that to take a step that means that people who desperately need our help — and who we can help — can’t take it, feel in their own culture that it is impossible to be helped by us, is something that we can’t easily do.”
Interview in the Telegraph, 18 Apr 2014

Possibilities for Reconciliation

Church leaders, when faced with an intractable situation, are given to dumping the whole problem on God, and asking Him to to sort things out. Sometimes, though, one senses that God’s response is to decline to accept, and kindly but firmly return the problem to us. One reason may be that he wants us to come up with a third possibility, to think again. For one thing:

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Send for a child of five

Imagine that you are faced with a set of impenetrably difficult assembly instructions from IKEA. What do you do? Well, for Groucho Marx the solution was:

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. 

A child of five might suggest the following:

The Anglican Communion is not a Church, it is a loose association of Christian churches which were set up by the Church of England in British colonies around the world two or three hundred years ago and which have since developed through the work of the Holy Spirit and according to the characteristics of the country in which they were implanted. Rather as the Queen has the courtesy title of ‘Head of the Commonwealth’, the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day is primus inter pares of all Anglican bishops. He is not the ‘head of the Anglican Church’, for there is no such thing.

What’s the problem? Each province is entitled, and has always been entitled, to interpret Christianity in the way that seems right in their own circumstances.

Er, that’s it.

Peaceful co-existence or mutually assured destruction

The Churches of the Anglican Communion are essentially faced with this choice. Either we try and follow Krushchev’s policy introduced in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the CPSU or those of us on the sidelines, powerless to halt our leaders from taking us into the vortex through their intransigence, are in little doubt that the alternative is mutually assured destruction. And all for the want of a child of five.

9 comments on this post:


You are right in every particular.

Each ABC inherits a solemn duty to preserve “unity” across the Anglican Community, and this duty apparently trumps all other considerations. The CofE’s sensitivity to that, and to its historic position, puts it permanently on the back foot: any Church which disagrees with the perceived direction of travel or with the action of another Church in the Communion can threaten to leave, and the ABC will step in to ensure that it doesn’t. This means that change indicated by the local pastoral needs of one Church can effectively be prevented or slowed by the (perhaps equally local) objections of another. It must be clear to everyone that this is no way to run a Communion, since the apparent “unity” which results is artificial.

More courage is needed. The Church has always had need to adapt itself to local circumstance; and it is highly likely – and actually, perfectly reasonable – that a Church in Africa should have a different attitude towards, say, homosexuality from that of a Church in North America. Surely history – not least that of our own Church – has taught us that it is entirely possible to disagree profoundly yet remain united in Christ. Perhaps we have yet to grasp the true nature of unity.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Stephen.

The behaviour of the Church of England over this, if I may inject a personal note, reminds me very much of my own after the death of my mother. I was 17, my sister was 15 and my brother was 10. I took it upon myself to assume the role of mother to my siblings, housewife to my father and daughter to my grandparents. I found these responsibilities overwhelming, but pressed on, believing it was my duty to do so. No one had asked me to take on these roles, and it eventually became clear that my siblings, at least, resented my well-meaning but misguided efforts.

Why does the Church of England believe itself to be responsible for the unity of the Anglican Communion, even were such a goal capable of achievement? It is tempting to quote scripture – the view from high mountains is rather dangerous for archbishops and those who run the Church of England.

It is for the same reason that the English are so tempted to intervene in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc etc – our colonial background is so embedded in our DNA that we feel responsible for peace-keeping the world over. The countries of the Anglican Communion have, however, escaped our rule (however well-intentioned), some in the 18th century, some in the mid 20th century, but our offspring have all flown the nest.

How can we persuade the Church of England to wake up to this? Pax Britannica is no longer in vogue.

03 May 2014 10:27
01 May 2014 12:50
leonardoricardo said...

Thank you, Laura, seems to me your commets seperates the fact from fiction…and offers up a firm tone that is exactly what is needed, Deadling with what REALL]Y IS instead of harranging about what IS NOT at the cluster of provinces that make up the Anglican Communion is key. REAL as opposed to fake. I don’t thnk it wise to NOT use Christian stewardship to help provide other Anglicans with the sharing of freshly discoverd/basic health remedies no matter what they are. I think relying on God to provide the Maleria preventing mosquito netting is like beliving the Tooth Fairy will attend our every need during the night (when we are called to be of service to one another both in and out of any Church)…true, each Anglican Province is free to choose or reject enlightenment but I believe it is the critical duty for Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury to SUGGEST LGBTI Anglicans not be protected from REALITY when he is aware to a better way to live. Being nutured and loved at the Body of Christ Right NOW could be available for ALL but are not. LGBTI Anglicans in Nirgeria and Uganda are being subjected to the preventable spiritual diseases of Homophobia and Xenaphobia…++ Justin, and Ebor too, must HELP stop this disease from spreading like the PLAGUE of insanity that it is (and always has been). Action and more action I believe, is their DUTY as religious leaders amongst us..Sure it is a great challenge, but, that is what they are called to do. It is way past being dangerous to Anglicans/others.

Someone must set a moral standard, perhaps it will be a five year old or maybe it will be religious leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu or bishop Christopher Ssenyanjo/Uganda who have continued to fearlessly encourage basic decenty and human equality at the Angllican Communion. Frankly, I see no reason why TRUTH can not replace superstious Xenaphobia/Homophobia and help provide the preventative spiritual medicine, TRUTH is FREE!

The ABC, Justin Welby, ought stop doing the dance of death in Africa and beyond.


Lay Anglicana said...

Many thanks Leonardo. I think the problem is one of vision – you see things clearly, as I do, through our own particular spectacles. Cantuar and Ebor see the world through theirs. I hope that eventually our individual visions can be brought into collective focus so that we all truly see life in three dimensions, instead of one as it sometimes seems at present ;<)

03 May 2014 10:34
01 May 2014 13:08
UKViewer said...

Thanks Laura, for articulating things that I’ve been thinking privately and aloud for some years.

I remember the discussions here when they were talking about the role of Rowan Williams as ABC and the relationship(s) within the Anglican Communion. I see things from quite a simple perspective. I once belonged to the Catholic Church, which has a monolithic structure, straining at the seams and with fault lines running through it. This is an autocracy, run by one man, picked from a select elite who toe the line throughout a lustrous career (talking robes here) until eventually they’ve shinned up the greasy pole of success to attract enough votes from their elderly comrades in conclave to actually get to wear the white hat of Pope. The current incumbent of that role seems to be breaking the mould (in more ways than one), but inherently his hands are tied by the burden of history attached to the monolith that is the Catholic Church and through the historic gospel where Jesus anointed Peter as ‘the rock’ upon which he’d build his church. Throughout the ages there have been schismatics which were either dealt with by force and inquisition or they were just quietly ignored until they died out or became church in their own right. And the world didn’t end.

The difference for the Anglican Church is that in England is was essentially the Catholic Church, nationalised by Henry 8th, which struggled for a while to find it’s identity, but did so during and after the reign of Elizabeth 1st and than later under the Act of Union, which promulgated the place of the church as the National Church and with the sovereign as the supreme governor. But only of the CofE.

The Arch Bishop of Canterbury’s role in the Anglican Communion is really one of a figure head. It is recognized by a convention arising over the years as new Anglican churches were established, became independent and developed within their own context. This convention has no legal status – it’s essentially an ‘old boys agreement’.

Over the years the ABC has been given the poison chalice of being seen as the notional leader of the Anglican Communion, the role as a ‘keeper of the instruments of communion’.

“The ABC is the Focus for Unity for the three Instruments of Communion of the Anglican Communion, and is therefore a unique focus for Anglican unity. He calls the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, chairs the meeting of Primates, and is President of the Anglican Consultative Council. –

See more at:“.

It’s this artificial device which takes the ABC away from his role as Diocesan, Metropolitan and Senior Bishop and Spiritual Leader within the CofE. The burden placed on the ABC ties his hands and hampers the work of mission within the church. It is in my view, harmful and damages the mission of the church within the realm. It also provides the focus for blame whenever there is disagreement over how the Holy Spirit might be driving a particular Church, and the ABC is expected to arbitrate and be the peacemaker between differing factions and priorities. A bit like staring a dozen loaded guns pointed in your direction, wondering which will be fired first?

It’s essentially a role for a politician, not a Clergyman, who’s worldliness is bound up in the Gospel of the good news, who wants the best for all; and will struggle to walk the tightrope that is the relationships in the Communion.

GAFCON/ACNA etc are making mischief because they have the freedom to do so, are not bound by law or convention and are able to please themselves. This isn’t a communion it’s like a mutually abusive club of equals who will do each other down whenever possible. The smiling face with the dagger behind their back.

Being a focus for unity is a huge responsibility. The Pope doesn’t have an issue with this, because his flock are conditioned to obedience. The Anglican has escaped that straight jacket, but have forgotten about mutuality and responsibility and seem determined to work against each other. Time in my view to call STOP!!

The Arch Bishop of Canterbury should resign his Anglican Communion responsibilities and leave them to sort it out (or fight it out) between them and concentrate on the mission and ministry for the home church, whether established or not. How this could be achieved practically I don’t know, but it’s something that needs urgent exploration

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank you for this, E. I agree with your analysis, particularly ‘how we got into this mess’. Getting out of it again is of course nothing like as simple as I suggest, but my solution would have the advantage of being dramatic and unanswerable.

The Anglican Communion piece that you quote purports to be Holy Writ, but you could just as easily describe the Queen as a focus for unity (indeed, I truly believe she is and has been since her coronation) in the Commonwealth. There is no contract that I know of, even the Instruments of Communion (which do sound menacing, don’t they) are surely just a description of what has grown up, not a treaty.

Even if they are ‘solemn and binding’, I do think the problem is chiefly one of perception. You cannot prevent an Archbishop of Canterbury from interpreting the role as chiefly ceremonial, and hence refusing to wade in as ++Rowan did, and ++Justin now unfortunately shows every sign of doing.

I am disappointed that ++Justin is ignoring his own advice about fostering ‘good disagreement’. Exactly! Couldn’t have put it better myself!! Question: why is he applying it just to the Church of England, and doesn’t seem to see its relevance for the Anglican Communion?

03 May 2014 10:45
01 May 2014 14:56
June Butler said...

My thought is Archbishop Welby takes upon his shoulders a huge and unnecessary burden. We already have one more pope than the Christian church needs, and we surely do not need another. How about Jesus Christ as the focus of unity in the one holy catholic and apostolic church?

Mark said...

“How about Jesus Christ as the focus of unity in the one holy catholic and apostolic church?”
I think it’s safe to assume that the Gafcon bishops consider that they are being faithful to Jesus Christ, and are happy to unite with anyone else who is faithful to him – according to the terms they define.

01 May 2014 23:07
01 May 2014 21:58
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you June and Mark – (can’t seem to reply to you individually).

‘A huge and unnecessary burden’ – this is exactly my point. Irrespective of the personalities involved, the rifts in the Anglican Communion are logically impossible to bridge. The only way is to ignore them.

It is rather like when you are forced into the company of someone you cordially dislike. It is pretty pointless to spend the time yet again trying to convince the other of your point of view. Agreeing to disagree and trying to focus on something you can both agree on is surely the only way out.

In social situations, this is why we break bread and drink wine together.

It could work for the Anglican Communion. Oh wait…

03 May 2014 10:50

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