Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Windsor Continuation Group and Rowan's New Anglican Ecclesiology

The Primates have met, and have issued another Communique. This is from their meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, this past weekend.

There’s a lot in the Communique, but the largest portion deals with the Report to the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Windsor Continuation Group, which was received at this meeting of the Primates. That group, formed by the Archbishop for the Lambeth Conference, has as its task “to advise the Archbishop on the implementation of the recommendations of the Windsor Report, how best to carry forward the Windsor Process in the life of the Communion, and to consult on the ‘unfinished business’ of the Report.” So, the assumption they begin with, taken from the Archbishop himself, is that the Windsor Report is the fundamental consideration of how the Communion should pursue “the highest level of communion possible,” and as such has taken on a quasi-canonical status.

There are already a number of comments out there on the Report. You can check out all the usual suspects. However, there are certainly comments in the report that caught my attention.

Paragraph 2 is interesting in and of itself. It begins by saying, “The Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous Churches.” On the other hand, it ends with, “It remains to be seen if the circumstances in which the Communion finds itself today - externally and internally - might require over the years a shift of emphasis from 'autonomy with communion' to 'communion with autonomy and accountability'.

We really see what this means in an entire section on “Addressing the Ecclesial Deficit.” What becomes clear, despite some continuing ambivalence, is that the deficit arises because the Anglican Communion as we have known it is not sufficiently ekklesia: that is, because the Communion is not a Church. It starts with this sentence, identified as a paragraph by itself: “The way in which the moratoria have been challenged or ignored in the life of the Communion raises a painful and sharp question: how can any decisions or recommendations be given authority or force in the life of the Communion?” (Emphasis mine) This is the shape of a deficit that is hypothetical at the beginning of the section, but is very real by the end. The point is to be “a communion, as opposed to a federation or association.” To that end, there needs to be more structure, more mutual accountability, and clearer limits to diversity. So, “Guidance is at times required, and also decisions have to be made for the sake of unity. Organs of authority must be present and recognised as able to speak for and to the Churches of the Communion.” And so, “It is this necessity which led the WCG to articulate the move to ‘communion with autonomy and accountability’ as being a better articulation of the ecclesiology which is necessary to sustain Communion.” Clearly, “communion with autonomy and accountability” is a tighter relationship than “autonomy with communion.” Or, as Canterbury himself said at the press briefing after the meeting, “The need for a shift of focus in the life of the communion from autonomy of provinces with communion added on, to communion as the primary reality with autonomy and accountability understood within that framework.” (Again, emphasis mine)

Now, a move from “Instruments of Communion” to “organs of authority” is a big jump. However, there are recommendations regarding each of the four Instruments of Communion that might prepare for that leap. For example, there is the suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury might make “appointments from the local episcopate to represent the interests of the Communion along the lines of the apokrisarioi….” Now, that term is not really new, if quite exotic. Blackwell’s Dictionary of Eastern Christianity defines the term as the “title of [a] Byzantine imperial ambassador, or of the representative of a hierarch to a higher authority; now used as the title of the legate of a patriarch.” And so in fact there are apokrisarioi representing the Ecumenical Patriarch to Canterbury, or representing Canterbury to the Russian Patriarch.” Still, that concept that Canterbury might have a legate or nuncio sounds more patriarchal, and indeed more papal, than has been our Anglican history, especially in a recommendation that they be legates not outside but within the Communion.

Or take the thought that “Exploration could be given to the idea of refocusing the position of Secretary General of the Anglican Communion as the executive officer of the communion….” To have need of or make use of an executive officer, the communion – the Communion – must be an institution with single and central program to execute. That is far more than could be said of “a family of autonomous churches.”

There are similar recommendations for the other Instruments – similar in that they result in more centralization. Lambeth might meet more often, if perhaps with a smaller group, say, only diocesan bishops. The Anglican Consultative Council is largely displaced in authority by the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates Meeting. Of course, “The JSC needs to be [re]constituted in a way which is seen as fully representative; at which the primatial members are fully participating, and at which the Archbishop of Canterbury is fully present throughout its meetings.” Of particular interest is the clear “yes, but” in the conclusion regarding the Primates Meetings: “When [the Primates] speak collectively, or in a united or unanimous manner, then their advice - while it is no more than advice - nevertheless needs to be received with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation.” (Emphasis mine)

To accomplish the growing centralization, the Windsor Continuation Group endorses the Covenant process. They also endorse

The Bible in the Church Project, which is being commended to ACC-14 next May.
The Principles of Canon Law Project, the first fruits of which were published at the Lambeth Conference. A process of study, education and reflection is now needed on this project so that it nature may be properly understood and its applicability to the life of the Communion correctly discerned.
The recent establishment of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) by the JSC as a body in succession to IASCER and IATDC to advise on ecumenical engagement and on key issues of faith and order within the life of the Communion. The agenda for such a body is already extensive and pressing.

After all this, there are recommendations for a Pastoral Forum and for Pastoral Visitors to be appointed by Canterbury to assist with mediation and communication. Oddly enough, they are envisioned has having no meaningful authority of their own. They are, instead, intended as a way to keep everyone talking, a goal Archbishop Williams has maintained from the beginning. That is indeed a laudable goal, as long as they’re not intended to keep everyone distracted, talking while other developments behind the scenes bring us to this “communion with autonomy and accountability.”

The Report does take time to examine the issues raised by the “Anglican Church in North America” (ACNA), the new body formed of groups within the Common Cause Partnership. The Report is very much in keeping with the approach Archbishop Williams has sought to take: keep everyone at the table talking as long as possible. Thus, the ACNA is neither explicitly accepted nor explicitly rejected. Rather, the Group recommends “a professionally mediated conversation at which all the significant parties could be gathered… to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long term reconciliation in the Communion.” And what might that “holding arrangement” look like? In a very optimistic statement, the Report says “WCG believes that the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.” Perhaps; but these schemes have already been rejected out of hand by a significant number of those who have chosen to participate in ACNA. And since, as the Report notes, “the leaders of ACNA state… that the approval of the Instruments of Communion or recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury are unnecessary for them to proceed with the formation of the Province,” it is hard to imagine that they would be all that interested in such a “provisional holding arrangement” at the behest of authorities they have themselves implicitly rejected.

I have commented before that Archbishop Williams is uncomfortable with an Anglican Communion that is a “family of autonomous churches,” and would instead prefer a tighter Communion, perhaps without a new patriarchate, but with just about everything else to increase conformity. It appears that the Windsor Continuation Group is of the same mind – or has at least sought the same direction. That was the tenor of the Group's second report at Lambeth, and this is expansion on the theme. I have also wondered whether the Episcopal Church is sufficiently “episcopal” for Canterbury, as well as others in the Communion. Now I might wonder whether, in light of a covenant draft that sought such centralization, the Episcopal Church might be sufficiently “Anglican” to fit a new definition for the Anglican Communion, one of “communion with autonomy and accountability.” But then, with this direction, one might ask the same question of such a Communion itself.


Christopher said...

I find it ironic that those of a more Anglo-catholic strip would be pushing for such uniformity, given that a century previous they were the one's prosecuted for lack of conformity.

Marshall Scott said...

Perhaps, as we have seen all too often in other settings, with assimilation comes complacency.

From another perspective this may also be self defeating: if the GAFCON/FOCA types are as evangelical as they seem, they may well reject the Anglo-catholics around them, both outside and inside their fellowship (which could make life difficult for Iker and Schofield and the FIF types on both sides of the Atlantic). Having rejected Canterbury, and the moderately Anglo-catholic Episcopal Church, where would they go? Not to Rome; for if they were serious about that they could have gone already. Seriously, where?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Marshall+ --

I think your analysis of +Rowan's ecclesiology is spot on, perhaps because I agree with you. I think (or at least I hope I think) that he is entitled to put forward such an ecclesiology. But I also think three other things: one, that it is not a good idea; two, that it is utterly and completely at odds with what Anglicanism has always meant until now; and, three (following from two), if we abandon the idea of a fellowship of autonomous national churches on the grounds of an "ecclesial deficit," then the logical response is to return to Rome. As I have said so often that I suppose people are tired of hearing it, if autonomous (in the strong sense) national churches are wrong, then the CofE has nothing to stand on, and any successor to Cranmer is the usurper that Rome has always claimed they are. Either national churches are sovereign and independent, or +Rowan is not a bishop (or, at best, a schismatic one). He really can't have it both ways.