If you’ve read much at all of my postings, you’ll be aware I have strong opinions about the difficulties and differences in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. I have been working much of the day on a further reflection on those, stimulated by a BBC 4 television interview with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. You can see the interview on streaming video here. You can read a transcript, with one reporter’s comments, here. It’s a wide-ranging interview, interesting for Archbishop Williams’ comments on a number of topics. But, on the topic of Anglican relations and the current discussions I noted this exchange:
DAVID FROST: ...if in fact this issue led to a situation where a new formula was created that, let us say, was more of a federation, more of where each country, in addition to the freedoms they have now, would have a doctrinal freedom as well and Nigeria could have a different doctrine, perhaps, definitely, than American or whatever ... Now would a federation, or an umbrella, be practical?
ROWAN WILLIAMS: I think we have to wait and see on that. There are other world churches, the Lutheran Reform Churches, which get on with a federal pattern. There’s always been, I think, a higher expectation in the Anglican Communion, that we, we have more, more at stake than that. And of course what that means is that if there is rupture, it’s going to be a more visible rupture, it’s not just going to settle down quietly into being a federation. And, I suppose my anxiety about it is that if the Communion is broken we may be left with even less than a federation.
Now, I’m pondering what it might mean to not be “a communion,” to be “less than a federation.” Notwithstanding all our conversations, all the work in the Windsor Report and elsewhere, I’m still considering what it means to be “a communion.” The Romans talk about being “a church” (they talk about being The Church, but that’s tangential to the point here): a single institution with a clear structure of authority. The Orthodox are spoken of as having a “family of churches,” with clear commonality and a lot of differences that they only discuss among themselves. Lutheran Churches and Reformed Churches have federations, in which the national autonomy is clear.
But it’s still not clear what it means to be “a communion.” We’re talking at length about being “in communion.” The Windsor Report describes what it has meant to be “in communion,” with common principles, summarized in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, and Instruments of Unity to provide opportunities for interaction and relationship. But for many of us the best description of what it means to be in communion is Bishop Tutu’s famous statement that, “We meet.”
To speak of “a communion” sounds like we’re talking about a single institution, or at least a clear structure. And I don’t think any of us wants a single institution. Americans at least value our autonomy too highly, and distrust centralized authority. I don’t think our Global South colleagues really want a single institution, either, because I don’t think they really want to be any more responsive to us than we to them. The discussion of an Anglican Covenant may speak to a clearer structure, but that will bring about its own set of controversies.
So, I don’t know that I’m clear on what it means to be a communion. I am clear, though, or clearer than I was, that I have a stake I this. You see, until yesterday I was the Second Alternate Clergy Deputy from my diocese. Then yesterday, due to the resignation of a colleague, I became the First Alternate Clergy Deputy. If you’ve ever been around the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, you might know that the likelihood of a Second Alternate Deputy actually serving in the House is small. Most dioceses don’t pay their way because they don’t expect to need them. On the other hand, the First Alternate Deputy is the relief Deputy, rotating in and out to allow Deputies to take a day off, tour the exhibit floor, etc. The First Alternate Deputy will certainly serve and take part in the legislative process.
That doesn’t mean I suddenly have to follow all this differently. I’ve got a lot of other stuff to take in, but I’ve been keeping up with this controversy all along. It does mean I have some responsibility, however small, in responding with the rest of the Episcopal Church to the Windsor Report, the meetings of the Primates, and all the rhetoric that’s been going back and forth. I’m not sure now what it means to be “a communion,” because while I have opinions I’m conscious of my limitations. I am sure that I’m going to be directly involved; and that’s a new and exciting and humbling thought.