Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Flashing Lights Across the Sky

We have received today the communiqué released at the end of the meeting of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO). They have completed today a meeting that began on December 1. The release is certainly timely. Yet somehow I wonder if it isn’t already too late.

The communiqué recalls the origins of the Commission:

The Commission has been established by the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council. It builds on previous work done by the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations, and the Windsor Continuation Group. It reports to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
Now, like many, this origin story is a bit expanded. The Commission was approved at Canterbury’s request by the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting. While one could argue that that suggests representation by all the Instruments of Communion, it really bypasses full representation (and when did we start calling the Joint Standing Committee “the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion?”).

Over all, the communiqué is largely a report saying, “We met.” This was a first meeting, and the most important activities were matters of getting to know one another and to learn about one another’s contexts. They met, of course, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and shared with one another in Eucharist. Beyond that (and as meaningful as those activities were), they didn’t do a lot of work in this meeting.
The Commission had a daunting enough task at its inception:

Mandate of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order
The Standing Commission shall have responsibility:
• to promote the deepening of Communion between the Churches of the Anglican Communion, and between those Churches and the other Churches and traditions of the Christian oikumene

• to advise the Provinces and the Instruments of Communion on all questions of ecumenical engagement, proposals for national, regional or international ecumenical agreement or schemes of co-operation and unity, as well as on questions touching Anglican Faith and Order

• to review developments in the areas of faith, order or unity in the Anglican Communion and among ecumenical partners, and to give advice to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of Communion upon them, with the intention to promote common understanding, consistency, and convergence both in Anglican Communion affairs, and in ecumenical engagement

• to assist any Province with the assessment of new proposals in the areas of Unity, Faith and Order as requested.

However, in this meeting it found some additional issues requiring “immediate” attention:

1. to undertake a reflection on the Instruments of Communion and relationships among them;

2. to make a study of the definition and recognition of 'Anglican Churches' and develop guidelines for bishops in the Communion;

3. to provide supporting material to assist in promoting the Anglican Covenant;

4. to draft proposals for guided processes of ‘reception’ (how developments and agreements are evaluated, and how appropriate insights are brought into the life of the churches);

5. to consider the question of ‘transitivity’ (how ecumenical agreements in one region or Province may apply in others).

These tasks, which will be taken forward by working groups consulting electronically between meetings, aim to strengthen the unity, faith and order of the Communion.
Unfortunately, even an immediate response may not be fast enough. Things are changing that will, I fear, overtake the work of the Commission. The Commission itself made note of the election in Los Angeles of two bishops suffragan, one of whom is a partnered lesbian woman. The communiqué echoed Canterbury’s response to the election with a request for “gracious restraint” (and I would be very interested in comments on that statement from the Commission members from the Episcopal Church, as well as from Southern Africa and Aotearoa/New Zealand/Polynesia). Should the election of Bishop-elect Glasspool be confirmed (and I think it will; and for full disclosure I think it should), how will Canterbury respond?

Remember, too, that his response will have consequences. If he condemns the Episcopal Church outright (not something he’s been inclined to do so far), there will be reverberations in Canada, Aotearoa/New Zealand/Polynesia, Scotland, Wales, and elsewhere. Should he fail to condemn the Episcopal Church sufficiently, there will be reverberations in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Southern Cone, and elsewhere. If, as he has in the past, he tries to follow a fine line, parsing a statement that is precise but measured, there will be reverberations in all directions. Even in the face of an outright condemnation, I don’t think the Episcopal Church will declare communion with Canterbury broken; but for lack of sufficient condemnation some provinces might.

As a consequence, the Anglican Covenant will be largely pointless. There may still be an effort, but there will likely be too few national and provincial churches willing to sign on for the Covenant to be meaningful. This will become more true the longer “constitutional processes” take for national churches and provinces to even decide whether to sign on or not.

They may still have time for a study of definition and recognition of “Anglican Churches,” if they hurry. However, discussion of anything with as long a horizon as “reception” may well be moot (if that weren’t going to be moot anyway due to the Covenant process).

The communiqué of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order has a hopeful tone about it, even with its paragraph on the election in Los Angeles. Still, for important parts of the Commission’s mandate it may well be too late already. With circumstances changing so rapidly, this “UFO” may well be as elusive as any seen in the night sky.


Donna McNiel said...

Hi, Marshall-
Thanks for your post. I've been thinking about the likelihood of the confirmation of Glasspool's election. I hope you are right that it is likely. A few days ago I wasn't so sure. I wonder, though if the ABC and IASCUFO's comments have made it more likely that she'll be confirmed, given so many strong feelings (mine included) about being threatened by outside entities.

There have been concerns that if the ABC engaged the Uganda issue too publicly that the backlash would strengthen support. It would be ironic if a similar situation occurred here, and he was unable or unwilling to consider that possibility.

(I was ordained in KC in 2003 and am a member of the Rivendell Community.)

Marshall Scott said...

Donna, good to hear from you. I do recall your ordination. I appreciate your work, too. I spent several years in campus ministry.

I think the General Convention was more reflective of the state of the Church, and especially of leadership in the Episcopal Church, than critics want to believe. While I don't know that the percentages will be the same as the votes on the critical resolutions at Anaheim (roughly 70 for/30 against, in both Houses), I think there will be majorities.

I think the Archbishop's comments won't much contribute to "restraint," gracious or otherwise. I think most folks who will have to make a decision already had an inclination when the election was announced.