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Time For A Little Introspection in the Church of England?

Some may object to the title of this post on the grounds that we seem to do nothing but gaze at our collective navels in the Church of England. But I think General Synod has just shown us that collective thinking about our future too often becomes simply a restatement of each lobby group’s point of view. Each statement becomes progressively louder, more clearly enunciated and more deeply felt, and positions become ever more entrenched.


I am an insider in the sense that I have been a member of the Church of England for 63 years and, through social media, engage with people involved in the Church from top to bottom of the candle. But I am really an outsider, as I sit on no synods and currently hold no position in the Church. I therefore lack detailed knowledge, but this very weakness is perhaps the strength that I can offer to those who take decisions on behalf of the Church as a whole: I ought to be in a position to see the wood, not just the trees.

The Anglican Communion that is the Church of England

When we say, as we frequently do, that the Church of England is a broad church,  we are considerably understating the case. It is more like a coalition. Because of its historical position as the established state Church of the whole nation, it has always attempted to represent the whole nation at prayer. But a visitor from outer space would find it very difficult to understand that worshippers at, say, Walshingham or St Mary’s, Bourne Street belong to the same denomination as, e.g., Holy Trinity, Brompton.


The Anglican Communion Covenant: Lessons and Parallels?

I listened to the live streaming of General Synod in York, and I have checked the agenda, but could find no mention of the fact that diocesan synods recently voted to reject the Covenant, despite, for the most part, strong episcopal pressure for its adoption. I hope that, behind closed doors if not in public, there has been a post-mortem on the reasons why this should be so, and whether there are any lessons to be drawn from it. ‘Peasant Revolts’ on this scale only come along every few hundred years, and their origins and causes are likely to be significant.

As a ‘draft’, may I suggest the following:

  • The Covenant arose from a desire to draw up a document which would strengthen the bonds of unity between the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It attempted to do so by imposing bonds of uniformity, a very different thing.
  • It ran into difficulties because of, e.g., widely differing cultural attitudes towards LGBT individuals. Whereas in Britain it is illegal to discriminate against them, in parts of Africa –notably Uganda– homosexuality is criminalised, with attempts to introduce the death penalty in certain cases. The respective Churches broadly reflect their countries’ social norms, although in theory  ‘practising’ LGBT individuals in the UK are not ordained. In the ‘old Commonwealth‘ countries, there is generally no bar to the ordination, or indeed consecration as bishops, of the LGBT community.
  • With hindsight, strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral might have avoided the whole problem, relying on its provision for Anglicanism to be  ‘locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples.’

The Measure on Women Bishops

  • Whereas consideration of  the proposed Measure, with the controversial addition of amendment 5.i (c), was postponed until November to allow for further episcopal consultation, and whereas Sir Tony Baldry, Church Estates Commissioner, declared that Parliament would not pass any Measure which discriminated against women purely on the basis of their sex, it is expedient for the Church to amend the Measure once more. (Apologies for the cod legalese, it is catching).
  • All attempts to square the circle by inducing those who are against the ordination of women as priests, let alone bishops, to sign up to a measure committing the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops are doomed to failure, no matter how much time is allowed to lapse, or indaba sessions are undergone, if the Measure is to apply to the Church as a whole. This is because of the physical laws of geometry and the universe. It is unreasonable to expect the Holy Spirit to change the laws of the universe to suit the Church of England.
  • Therefore, a means must be found to agree that the Church of England be ‘locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the‘ congregations, as in the Chicago-Lambeth formula.


A Suggested Way Forward

  •  All those who at present believe themselves to be members of the Church of England may continue to do so.
  • In view of the overwhelming support for the Measure on referral to diocesan synods, the Church of England will seek the approval of General Synod to proceed with the submission of the Measure to parliament for approval (as it stood when referred to the dioceses).
  • All members of the Church of England will be required to accept the authority and oversight of their diocesan bishops, whether male or female.
  • Those who are unable to accept the validity of ordination by a woman priest may choose to form their own congregations, in effect form a denomination within the denomination of the Church of England. In addition to ordination  by a Church of England diocesan bishop, they may seek further sacramental measures by a subsidiary bishop of their own choosing, such bishop also to have been consecrated within the main framework of the Church of England. These subsidiary bishops will have no geographical designation, but be available to all.
  • The Church of England will seek to re-vitalise its efforts at mission and evangelism, that is to look outwards rather than inwards.
Of course, the finer details would remain to be worked out!
But I hope that the idea might receive serious consideration. I draw a parallel with the distribution of the eucharist. Some (though I know not all) Roman Catholics are at liberty to take communion in the Church of England on the basis that, while not valid as communion, it promotes ecumenism. Similarly, I hope that Anglo-Catholics who do not accept the validity of women’s ministry would be prepared to take part on the grounds that it would not be harmful and would promote their membership of the Church as a whole. They could then follow up with additional sacramental ministry by the subsidiary bishop.

The Message from John’s Gospel

Whatever happens next will not have a successful outcome unless we remember:

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

8 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

My problem with the suggested solution is that it is in reality the creation of a separate province. Something that the Anglo Catholics and Right Wing Evangelicals called for at the start of the process (in particular those who exited to the Ordinariate). This option was rejected substantially at the time, and I don’t believe that it will be an option that would run again, unless substantially tweeked.

While I can see the sense in what you suggest, I’m torn between wanting to take the hard line of ‘live with it or leave’ or the softer line of, continue with the existing system of PEV’s, which is a fudge, but has worked well for Anglo Catholics so far. An extension for an Evangelical PEV (as suggested by John Richardson on his blog some time ago) might be a solution.

It seems to me that a great deal of listening needs to happen, not just between the pressure groups. Pastoral letters to parishes from Diocesan’s should go out not, inviting either parish led responses or individual responses to Dioceses for collation to actually discern the mind of the local church, not just those who sit on Diocesan or General synod, the majority of whom have an agenda.

At least with the PEV system, we know where we are, and bishops other than PEV will have to commit to being fully members of the wider church, who ordain women. Anything less would be unacceptable. Those troublesome parishes are contained, and can continue with an honoured place in the CofE and feel part of the broad church of all traditions.

Lay Anglicana said...

Answering backwards again, the PEV system has, I agree, ‘worked well for Anglo-Catholics’. However, it has also fallen foul of the law of unintended consequences. Until the invention of PEV, England was divided geographically into dioceses, each with their appointed bishop(s). You could not be a bishop without a piece of land to stand on which you represented. Now, we have opened ourselves up to the inroads of AMIE. Admittedly, this has not yet really got off the ground, but you only have to look at the disastrous effect of AMIA in the United States to see that the Church of England would be unwise to continue down the road of more than one bishop for any diocese. Mine would have to keep flying!

My suggestion is not really the creation of a separate province. The idea is that there would be certain ‘minimum standards’ (like acceptance of the creed) which we would all sign up to. ‘Common Worship’ is already not 100% used across the board, although here I would imagine that it is the Evangelicals, not the Anglo-Catholics, who are the problem. No names, no pack drill, but I have attended Evangelical services which bear little relation to our supposed common liturgy, despite being the principal service of the day. Like a tree, where individual branches are allowed to form, but which still all come off the same trunk and still come under the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the diocesan bishops.

We can certainly listen more, though as explained in the post I am not convinced we will ever be able to find enough common ground to agree on women’s ministry or the exact nature of the eucharist.

I don’t feel we would be justified in saying ‘live with it or leave’. We, the majority, feel inspired by the Holy Spirit to take advantages of the changes in society since the foundation of the Church of England to make use of women’s ministry. We have changed. Those who stick to the original package feel they are in the right and we are in the wrong, so it is us that should leave. My idea (though no doubt flawed) attempts to keep us all as part of the Body of Christ, with some of us arms and some of us legs.

13 July 2012 06:22
12 July 2012 16:52
Amir Emrra said...

WRT your analysis of the covenant, isn’t ‘Peasant Revolt’ a little strong? Whichever way you look at the stats, except among the clergy, there was, an albeit slim, majority *for* the Covenant. In fact the laity produced the greatest majority for it.

I’m not that familiar with the Chicago-Lambeth Quad but are you not extrapolating its meaning beyond that which was intended? “Methods of administration” are not comparable to doctrine or ethics.

Lay Anglicana said...

Welcome to Lay Anglicana, Amir.
I think actually that bishops were the greatest majority in favour of the Covenant – as you say- the laity, if you count the popular vote as opposed to diocese by diocese, were also marginally in favour. On this occasion it was the clergy who rebelled against their bishops. I would not have invented the term ‘peasants’ revolt’ to describe what occurred, but Wat Tyler’s original in 1384 was an important moment in British history. And I think that the rebellion by clergy was also highly significant. Off the top of my head, I know of no similar revolt.
The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was a clever document. It was the Americans (I think Bishop Seabury) who suggested the idea of an Anglican Communion to Lambeth. The Quadrilateral was the Anglican covenant of its day. The reason that everyone was able to sign up to it is that it was short and simple – the hyperlink in the post takes you to the text. It gives a precis of Anglican doctrine which no one had difficulty in signing. It then said that the way in which people administered this doctrine (this would have covered the introduction of women priests/bishops and whether or not people objected to LGBT ministers) was a matter for each individual province to decide. By inference, it was not for one province to interfere in the way any other province interpreted the basic doctrine.

Amir Emrra said...

OK, ‘peasant’ referred to clergy, not laity as I had assumed! Even so, anti-covenant clergy only outnumbered pro-covenant clergy circa 49:46 so was it really that big a revolution? I don’t know, I haven’t been around long enough to say.

WRT the CLQ, I still wonder if you might be misrepresenting it. It says nothing about administration of doctrine (whatever that might be) but administration of the Episcopate according to geographic need. It is the other three clauses that cover doctrine. I certainly cannot imagine that they had in mind female/LGBT ministry in mind in the 1880s!

Amir Emrra said...

Ooops sorry about the ‘double-mindedness’! 🙂

13 July 2012 16:59
Lay Anglicana said...

I can see I am not going to convince you and there’s probably no point in dying in the attempt!

You seem to think more literally than I do. I am not describing the clergy as peasants – I am simply trying to make the point that it is highly unusual in any organisation for the hewers of wood and drawers of water (not literally) to revolt against their masters.

Similarly, with the Quadrilateral, it really does not matter what they had in mind in the 1880s. The intention was – and it worked from 1888 until what, the events leading up to the Windsor report? – that provinces should not interfere in other provinces. Each province would use Hooker’s scripture, reason and tradition to come up with an interpretation of the practice of Anglicanism which worked for them. The Quadrilateral laid down a general principle – the mistake was ever to launch the Windsor report. Those provinces complaining about the practice in the US should have been told to go away and mind their own business.

Amir Emrra said...

Sorry for the delay, I just got back from hols!

My poor attempt at dry humour wrt laity/peasants seems to have fallen flat – it was just humour, believe me! Let’s put that aside shall we?

I don’t know why you seem to think I need convincing or that I am so entrenched so as not to be worth arguing with having asked just one question. I am an honest, open enquirer, trying to understand the church I have only relatively recently joined. Please don’t jump to unfair conclusions about my questions. I had hoped for better on this blog.

So, back to the CLQ if you would be so generous as to re-engage – you say “it really does not matter what they had in mind in the 1880s”, which I find quite remarkable. How can the context of an historic document be irrelevant to it’s interpretation? Surely, that’s an error in elementary hermeneutics? Even if I were to concede the point, the text very clearly speaks of episcopal administration in the relevant para; not the tolerance of all-and-sundry doctrine or morality. In what way then does the CLQ give any province the right to tell others to “mind their own business”? This is a simple question, not rhetoric; if the document has always been accepted in the way you say then fine, I’d like to know, but please back it up with evidence instead of dismissive remarks and generalisations.

30 July 2012 16:41
13 July 2012 17:32
13 July 2012 16:57
13 July 2012 06:37
12 July 2012 22:53

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