I’ve been reading over the past couple of days posts from Jim Naughton at Daily Episcopalian and from Lionel Deimel on his blog. The more I have seen of events discussed in these comments, and the more I've thought, the more I'm convinced of the ultimate sectioning of the Anglican Communion. "They" won't want to stay with "us;" and if we manage to avoid that in Dar es Salaam, it will only to be delaying the inevitable. In one sense, it doesn't matter who "walks apart." Someone will walk, and if even one province does so (and it hardly seems likely that the divisions will involve only one province on either side) the Anglican Communion will not be the same.
How and when will this happen? It may happen at any of a number of junctures. There will be participation in Tanzania or there will not. There will be invitations to Lambeth to all Episcopal bishops or there will not. All of those invited to Lambeth will come or some will not. A Covenant will be acceptable to all, or, more likely, will not. At one of those points - probably at several of those points – statements of “we cannot sit at table with” or “we cannot receive communion with” will be affirmed and/or reaffirmed, and folks will simply stop coming to the meetings. If, as Archbishop Tutu has said, what holds the Communion together is that “we meet,” when folks stop coming to meetings the Communion will change.
We have, I believe, already had a foretaste of that in the meetings that have happened to which folks have been disinvited. The meeting of Global South Primates is of this sort. I was even more convinced when the Province of Brazil was disinvited to the Cairo meeting. That was a point where a gathering of provinces to address like needs was changed to a gathering of provinces to reflect like minds. Of itself this was not a critical break. After all, there is good reason for folks with like needs to meet and share, and we who do not have the same needs have good reason to support such meetings. But the change of a meeting for like needs to a meeting of like minds seems to me a foretaste of what will happen to the Anglican Communion.
Brothers Naughton and Deimel have been reflecting on whether we need the Anglican Communion. I think that’s a reasonable question; but since the Communion seems pointed toward inevitable change, I think there’s a prior question. Deimel looks toward that question by thinking through how we benefit from the Anglican Communion. My question is not whether the need the Anglican Communion, but whether we need international communion among Anglicans. I think Deimel’s arguments speak to the value of international communion among Anglicans, whether this Anglican Communion stands or not.
We do have other ecumenical relations to attend to and nourish. Our communion with Lutherans, both at home and abroad, is important. Our continuing and growing relationships with Methodists and Moravians, both at home and abroad, are important. Our participation in the National Council of Churches and in the World Council of Churches are important. They are all ways that we as Christians can meet with other Christians to pursue together God’s Kingdom.
At the same time, our Lutheran siblings meet internationally with their Lutheran siblings. The Methodists do the same. We share an Anglican tradition with other provinces in the current Anglican Communion, and specifically a shared understanding of what that tradition really looks like. While some provinces have said and will say, “We do not recognize the Anglican tradition in you,” others will certainly say, “We do.” We should maintain or build those structures that will allow us to continue to meet with those who will meet with us. Whether is will be called the Anglican Communion remains to be seen, and is to come extent out of our hands. In no small part, that depends on what Canterbury decides (and sooner or later Canterbury will have to make a decision). Whatever it is called, I still think it is worth supporting.
It seems to me that communion among Anglicans is not unlike the episcopate. Among the breadth of Christians we have debated whether bishops are necessary for the Church (esse), or are a benefit to the Church (bene esse), or reflect the fullness of the Church (pleni esse). I fall into the latter category. To say the first is to suggest that my Presbyterian and Congregational siblings are not Christians, and I can’t see that. To say the second is to ignore our tradition of bishops as visible centers of the continuing apostolic ministry. Bishops help us look toward our eschatological hope of a church unified laterally in this moment and historically with all moments.
The same is true of international communion with others in the Anglican Tradition. It is, I think, of the pleni esse of this Church – meaning both The Episcopal Church and also those provinces of the existing Anglican Communion that share our understanding of the Anglican tradition. It looks toward our eschatological hope of the Body of Christ truly one, and gives us the opportunity to work toward that in our own time. It doesn’t deny the Christianity of those who disagree with us, but it calls us beyond simply appreciating the good feelings we have when we do talk to one another. It reminds us that the Body is Christ’s, in which we participate; and not ours, as if Christ’s Body were simply the sum of its parts.
What do we do in the meantime? Naughton has even questioned whether we should provide financial support to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Office, when the ACO seems powerless to, or disinterested in, our place in the Anglican Communion. Personally, I think we continue in the Anglican Communion as it is until abandoned or cast out by others. We have said again and again that we’re committed to continue in “the highest level of communion possible” with those who will continue in communion. Toward that end, we need also to show our support for and participation in existing structures. To this point, while perhaps they have not satisfied us, neither have they failed us. Many if not most of these events are as much beyond their control as they are beyond ours. I pray we will not become so angry and so venal that we will take our financial ball and go home while there’s still someone on the field willing to play. Certainly, we need not fund those who leave; and we cannot be expected to fund those who might cast us out. But we haven’t gotten there yet; and so I can’t agree to that action.
Years ago, when my first wife left me, the bishop for whom I then worked demonstrated clearly his pastoral ineptitude and his institutional conservatism. But, the Church did not fail me. Brothers and sisters in Christ, both lay and ordained, cared for me and supported me, even in the face of some difficult and perhaps ill-advised choices. And many prayed for me, whether they expressed a personal interest or not. That bishop failed me, but God and the Church did not.
Some provinces of the Anglican Communion have failed us, and others may – almost certainly will. But not all have, and not all will; and whatever happens to this Anglican Communion, some international communion among Anglicans is worth pursuing, maintaining, and paying for. It will bring us together with those of (sufficiently) like mind and of different need. It will call us to reach beyond ourselves, even our admittedly international selves, to meet and work with others beyond our bounds. Most important, it will call us again toward seeking for the future, and modeling as best we can now, our commitment to the fullness of the Body of Christ and our participation in it.