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Separate Beds And Separate Tables For The Anglican Communion?


Copyright: sutsaiy via Shutterstock. Image ID: 309126473

If asked to describe through an image what it has hitherto meant to be a member of the Anglican Communion, most of us would pick, I think, not the compass rose used by the ACO (from the four corners of the earth) but a version of The Last Supper, at which all of its members are welcome to sit together at The Lord’s Table.

Yesterday, the still new-ish Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a revolution, as he invited the 37 primates to a ‘gathering’ in Canterbury from 11-16 January, 1916. No decennial summer outing, this, but a gathering scheduled between Epiphany and Candlemas, when daylight is at its shortest, and the ground may be under snow. The pathetic fallacy is not always fallacious (hence its ubiquitous use in literature), and the timing is surely a theatrical device designed to set a sombre mood of ‘bleak mid-winter’.

In brief, Archbishop Justin is suggesting that we cease to fall over backwards to hold on to the Anglican Communion as a force seeking to hold everything revolving around the centre (which, had the Anglican Covenant been passed, would have acted as the reference point). Instead, we could aim to be a force seeking to spread out into the world, according to broadly agreed principles (based on the understanding of the Bible by each Church in the Communion). {The Archbishop does not describe it thus, this is my interpretation}.



The immediate press and public reaction is well summarised on Thinking Anglicans. The meeting is to be an opportunity for a “review of the structures of the Anglican Communion.” In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the invitation was “not a surprise,” and nor was Welby’s stated desire to review the structures of the communion. “He’s been quite open about that from early on.”

 The Guardian ran an article under the headline, “Archbishop of Canterbury urges breakup of divided Anglican Communion,” to which Lambeth Palace responded by tweeting “Just to clarify, the Archbishop of Canterbury is NOT planning to break up the Anglican Communion.” The headline has since been changed. The Guardian reported that the archbishop would propose that the worldwide grouping be reorganized “as a group of churches that are all linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other.” It quoted an unnamed Lambeth Palace source as saying the proposal would allow Welby to maintain relations with both liberal and conservative churches in the Communion, which have been deeply divided over the issue of human sexuality.


Lay Anglicana Interpretation

Bearing in mind that I am writing only 24 hours after the news broke, and reserve the right to change my mind later…

  • This is almost entirely good news for the liberal catholic churches in the Communion.
  • All those Churches who self-identify as Anglican will be invited to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, should they so wish, but would still be able to call themselves Anglican if they did not so wish; the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury would derive solely from his occupation of the post and buildings which were the first so to call themselves, and the bilateral relations between the Church of England and each other Anglican Church would be fluid and determined solely by the two parties.
  • The Anglican Communion would no longer be recognisable as we currently know it: not only are separate bedrooms and beds being talked of by the archbishop’s spokesman, but separate tables would logically follow, and some would eat in the dining room, some in the kitchen, some off their knees in the drawing room, and some on the verandah – as in my illustration.
  • This loose federation  would allow like-minded Anglicans across the world to form loose alliances – not necessarily de jure, but de facto.
  • The Church of England would finally be enabled to consider issues like the admittance of LGBT people to the priesthood and episcopate, and same sex marriages, without feeling constrained by the views of GAFCON etc.
  • Members of The Episcopal Church have expressed disquiet over the invitation of ACNA to at least part of the 2016 conference. As the Anglican Communion is presently constituted, this is indeed odd: only TEC officially represents Anglicans from the US. For the sake of consistency, it is to be hoped that Archbishop Justin has also invited AMiE, which represents a similar threat to the hegemony of the Church of England. But, if the looser, federated, Anglican Communion is accepted, any number of groups might spring up which describe themselves as Anglican – it would not matter to the rest because we would not be obliged to agree detailed doctrine with each other. Breakaway groups would be allowed to form ad infinitum.
  • The loose federation envisaged by Archbishop Justin is not a new idea – so far as I can see it represents a return to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886/8 which includes”The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.” This consummation, devoutly to be wished, has long been called for by Lay Anglicana, most recently in November 2013.



What could possibly go wrong?

I leave it to you, dear readers, to fill in this section. The archbishop’s spokesman is said to regard a successful outcome as by no means guaranteed. Luckily, the Archbishop of Canterbury spends much of his day in prayer.




6 comments on this post:

June Butler said...

“The Church of England would finally be enabled to consider issues like the admittance of LGBT people to the priesthood and episcopate, and same sex marriages, without feeling constrained by the views of GAFCON etc.”

Dear Laura, that statement seems wildly improbable to me, because Abp. Justin seems to have his heels dug in. I would be quite surprised if he changed his stance, but I fervently hope you’re right.

17 September 2015 14:22
Lay Anglicana said...

Well, you appreciate that I’m more desperate to believe this than most people, so I accept that this very desperation warps my perspective!

I think it is undeniable that, were this loosening of the Communion to come about, Archbishops of Canterbury in general would not longer be able to give GAFCON (in other words the unity of the group) as an excuse for not discussing the issue.

It is then up to General Synod to decide future policy. We are about to vote in a new Synod and I’m hopeful (desperately hopeful?) that the next Synod will be more liberal than the last one. Archbishop Rowan was absolutely wedded to the Anglican Covenant, but nevertheless lost the vote in Synod, and that made all the difference. You know the routine, though. Two thirds of each house has to be in favour of something before it is passed. So it is not that easy. Not impossible, though. 🙂

17 September 2015 14:41
Ann Fontaine said...

Thanks Laura – I don’t see it as good news for TEC and the question of overlapping jurisdictions – which has not been part of the system until now. But it does name the reality of life — just wonder if in the long view we want to be defined by today’s reality as “rule” – sometimes it is good to allow the mess to continue and let it resolve on its own than to pre-empt the process. I do hope it means CoE can move ahead with where most want to go.

Lay Anglicana said...

I do see the wisdom of allowing the mess to continue and letting things resolve themselves on their own. But, as you can understand, we are now desperate in the Church of England to be able to reach the point that TEC has reached. And I would really love it to be in my lifetime. Of course, this idea may end up offering solutions to no one, I do see that as a danger.

17 September 2015 15:12
17 September 2015 15:00

[…] Sykes writing at Lay Anglicana sees the potential for good news, or at least not bad news, […]

20 September 2015 19:37
Brian Robinson said...

Thanks Laura – inspirational as usual!

26 September 2015 18:44

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