Live, breaking: a Holy Office to call our own?

updated most recently at 9:20 a .m., EDT, to include quotes from Archbishop Williams and some additional commentary at bottom.

By Jim Naughton

The Windsor Continuation Group has endorsed a strong centralizing agenda that elevates the role of the Primates Meeting, diminishes the influence of the Anglican Consultative Council, and endorses the establishment of an "Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission." The proposal, which is sure to face stiff resistance, is the strongest signal yet that this important body intends to recommend wide ranging changes in Communion governance.

The recommendations, contained in part two of the group's "preliminary observations" says the survival of the Communion may depend on "communion with autonomy and accountability."

The Communion suffers from an emphasis on "independence at the expense of interdependence in the Body of Christ," the report says. "This has led to internal fragmentation as well as to confusion among our ecumenical partners."

Resolving the current controversy over the morality of homosexual relationships will require "a common understanding of the place and role of the episcopal office within the sensus fidelium of the whole Church.

The members of the committee, all but one of whom are bishops, and none of whom supports the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, said that the Lambeth Quadrilateral, which once provided the framework of Anglican unity now required "strengthened" instruments of communion to stand "alongside" it to hep the Communion "regain a sense of Anglican identify."

"It is a flag raised to see who salutes at this stage," said the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury."I think there is a kind of head of steam behind [it], said Williams, adding that he was "quite enthusiastic" about the proposal.

He said without additional governing structures "we shall be flying further apart."

"There have to be protocols and conventions by which we recognize one another as churches," Williams added.

In discussing the instruments of unity, the Windsor group found fault with the role of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is currently the only instrument of communion to include clergy and lay people.

"There are questions about whether a body meeting every three years, with a rapidly changing membership not necessarily located within the central structures of their own Provinces, can fulfill adequately the tasks presently given to it.

"Not all believe that a representative body is the best way to express the contribution of the whole of the people of god at a worldwide level. There are many ways in which the voice of the whole body can be heard: diocesan and Provincial synods, networks, dialogues and commissions."

The Primates Meeting, meanwhile, is described as a body whose "great virtue" is that its members "are in conversation with their own House of bishops and located within their own synodcial structures. They are, therefore, able to reflect the breadth and depth of the conversations and opinion in the Provinces."

The group supports the continuation of the listening process, and the Scriptural hermeneutics province currently underway within the Communion, as well as a deadline for completion of work on the next draft of the proposed Anglican covenant.

"The Common Principles of Canon Law a sense of integrity of Anglicanism to and we commend the suggestion for the setting up of an Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission that could give guidance on the ecclesiological issues raised by our current 'crisis.'

Bishop Clive Handford, former primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, walked into the media centre by mistake not long after the report was made public. In an impromptu he said the bishops had received the report before hearings held on Wednesday: "On the whole it has been received well," he said. "Certainly the process has been received well."

He said part of the group's charge was to "stimulate conversation."

"We are trying to encourage people to talk, not just to us."

Asked how the bishops had received the proposal for a Faith and Order Commission, he said: "It was noted. As far as I know, one person said that it would be a good thing and that he would welcome it."

Ruth Gledhill is also on the story.

Okay, news is over, now some commentary. I gave Ruth (who is pounding away at her keyboard a few seats away) the following quote, which I think she has used: "It's troubling, but perhaps unsurprising to see a group composed almost exclusively of bishops, and advised by Anglican Communion Office bureaucrats recommending new structures for the Communion that strengthen the role of bishops and bureaucrats at the expense of clergy and lay people."

This is a politically skillful move on the part of moderate conservatives in the Communion who have been working hard to marginalize the Episcopal and Canadian churches. There are enough dioceses led by moderate conservative bishops to form a substantial American province in communion with Canterbury if the Episcopal Church decides it cannot sacrifice its convictions on homosexuality to maintain its membership in the new, rapidly centralizing, bishops' club previously referred to as the Anglican Communion.

The much-admired Bishop Gary Lillibridge of West Texas, a key moderate conservatives, is a member of the Windsor Continuation Group.

Three bishops I ran into on the campus said they had not heard about the proposal. One was categorically opposed to it; one wanted more details than I could provide, and one said that if the new commission were charged with truly working through the theological issues confronting the communion in an unhurried way than he could support it.

Comments (26)

Troubling it is. My initial (and middle of the night) response is that for me the Communion is not worth it. But, then, I came to TEC from the Roman Catholic tradition. And, I do not want a church that devalues the clergy and laity. (Been there) It was precisely the structure with freedom of the Episcopal Church that attracted me. I don't want a daddy (or group of daddies) to serve the role of patriarch. I want my church to reflect the tradition of the enlightenment along with the tradition of Christianity.

I was so proud to be an Episcopalian when Gene Robinson was consecrated. I will be ashamed if the Church turns it back on this important step.

It's half-three in the morning here. Most likely should not have checked the site before going to bed.

Pam Alger

"Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission" - sounds like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Just what we need, Anglican thought police.

Hopefully this hare brained idea dies quietly.

- Weiwen Ng

I don't think it will be accepted and the tide can always turn -- those who are wanting a "king like all the other nations" will rue the day it comes back on them.

So, will the "Indaba" groups be the mechanism that the bishops would use to "vet" the "preliminary observations?"

It seems that once again, that Anglican Communion officials along with leaders in other provinces do not understand (or understand all too well) the Episcopal Church's polity. It's my sense that our denomination values the Anglican Consultative Council's role as one of the Four Instruments of Communion more so than we value The Primates Meeting. We may be alone in that value system but I doubt it. Ultimately, do the Archbishop of Canterbury and his bureaucrats value catholicity so much that they ultimately might force the Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church of Canada, and perhaps other Anglican Churches as the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia to accept "Second-Citizen" status?

It may indeed be that the Windsor Continuation Group wanted to float a "trial balloon" around the conference to see if their initial observations would gain any traction. We shall see... there are enough bishops blogging to get a sense of what is taking place "on the floor."

- Jim Strader

For what it's worth, "Faith and Order" is often used as a name for a denomination's efforts in ecumenism.

See here for example:

Off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why this proposal is bad news and could be a non-starter.

First, it will need to be approved by participating provinces. Right now, there is not enough support for the current version of the Anglican Covenant, it is hard to imagine any more enthusiasm of this kind of central structure.

Second, the Gafconites are already going their own way with their leaders, who are largely not present at Lambeth (or about to abandon it) ready to unilaterally vote a non-existant province (paired with a church out of communion with Canterbury for about 125 years) into existence in North America w/o regard to any of the instruments of unity.

In short, if the goal was to keep the most conservative churches in the fold then this idea is too late and too late. The Gafconites have clearly left the building. They have concluded that there is nothing the Anglican Communion can do that would be good enough.

Finally, the proposed process appears to me to be at odds with the very heart of the concept and process that is supposed to be at work in the Lambeth Conference.

Which is it? Is Communion strengthened when people who don't agree choose to stay in fellowship and listen deeply to one another? Or is Communion preserved by a centralized body designed to enforce rules chosen by a body not selected by the churches that are meant to follow them?

No matter the ultimate fate of this proposal, it causes me to wonder how this proposal, coming out as it is in the middle of what is supposed to be a new kind of Lambeth, is indicative of the two minds of Rowan Williams and the Anglican leadership.

On the one had, Rowan had the capacity and vision a different way of having bishops meet and deliberate. It has taken creativity and risk to step away from the legislative wrestling match that was the 1998 Lambeth by designing a very different conference. It took imagination to invite Brian McLaren speak to Bishops about the unique gifts of Anglicanism in speaking to an emerging generation and warn us that excessive internal focus will kill our proclamation.

On the other hand, he has consistently aided and abetted the formation of increasingly restrictive communion structures that freezes out synodical and representative processes and the laity and ordinary clergy in the process.

I don't know which is more worrisome. This dreadful "fifth instrument" idea or the bi-polar nature of Anglican leadership.

Very good comments. (And yes, Jim, as you know, Ruth used your quote!)

I'm very sympathetic with Pam. I think it may be that the Anglican Communion will have to die. But it seems to me that we've heard that story before (the Gospels? St. Paul?). But, as the saying goes, "Save your Prayer Books -- the Anglican Communion will rise again!" Whether it will still be called "Anglican" depends, I suppose, on what +Rowan decides to do (despite the claims of various splinter and would-be-splinter groups, +Rowan does hold the franchise on the name). But in any case, the Episcopal Church will not be going it alone, and I suspect that many in the Global South will come to the realization that, however much they may still disapprove of some of what TEC/ACC are doing, a "Faith and Order Commission" is the wrong horse.


Like Pam, I've come in to TEC from one of the 'Ecumenical Partners', myself from the 'Orthodox'. What a horrid mess that was, with fighting Patriarchs, maneuvering Metropolitans and the clergy and laity reduced to fearful and obsequious ring kissing. Aside from GLBT issues, what else would TEC be giving up? Clericalism has been the curse of these ecumenical partners (including Rome) - who don't even recognize Anglican Apostolic Succession - for centuries. It was a control-freak and power hungry clericalism that enabled the R.C. sexual abuse scandal for decades, if not centuries. Much the same, though "below the radar", in the Orthodox jurisdictions. God help us if we cave in to this transparent power grab. I also attend a firmly TEC parish in a diocese with a bishop outspoken in his hostility to TEC.

John Iliff

I have news for Pam and Bill and many others. The disaffection the AC feels with TEC is far stronger than, sadly, you all realize. Many people feel we should cut the TEC away and leave you to the path you have chosen. The body of the AC really is not worried about you. It is far more likely that the AC will continue just minus the TEC. The Faith and Order Commission will be the first step in that process and right that it should be. The TEC made its bed it now has to lie in it!

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I've been convinced for some time that ++Williams has for some time wanted more of a "church" in the sense that Rome would recognize than we currently have. That said, if this is pursued with with energy the result will be not two but three large groups within the Anglican tradition. The three parties (broadly, apical High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church perspectives) will be separated, for at least a generation. GAFCON/FOCA will not want to join with the ++WIlliams-ite centralists, even though structures will be similar, because they will be too Roman and still too liberal on a number of issues, and still too open to and reflective of progressive Western culture. Neither centralizing group will be happy with the Broad Church openness (yes, sometimes even to the point of confusion) that the Episcopal Church has represented. This will, I fear, simply make the division more complicated.

It looks like Rowan is designing his version of the triple tiara. How long before he is sending up smoke signals from Lambeth Palace?

Perhaps it's time for TEC to just leave instead of waiting to be thrown out. The resources that are being devoted to these battles can be put to better use.

I'm sure that various lawyers are trying to calculate the impact of claims to hold the Anglican Communion franchise on property disputes. However, that's uncertain and is not the prime consideration for a future course.

As a person about to head off to seminary to begin my studies for the priesthood, I find this development very troubling. I am strongly opposed to any measure that would strengthen the Primates at the expense of a representative body like the Anglican Consultative Council.

While I reserve substantive commentary until I've read and reflected on what the continuation group has actually suggested (and who knows how that may evolve), I find this a positive development. Without such development within the structures of the Communion, there is, frankly, no reason we shouldn't all just worship in independent non-denominational community churches that happen to use some version of the BCP liturgy.

Jody Howard

Simon and Richard, you might succeed in getting rid of TEC. But the basic issue will not change.

This is particularly the case given the reality of the Anglo-Catholic faction. There is no such thing without the presence of gay men. A lot of us. Always has been that way. Closety? Who cares. They'll be next on the new Puritan's hit list.

Larry Rudiger

Matt Kennedy has offered his transcription of the Group's verbal presentation here. It is all that we've already heard, and more....

The main problem in the Anglican Communion right now is mutual accountability.

Nobody is accountable to anyone, so everyone just does what they please, to the injury and diminishing of the Anglican Communion.

If the Anglican Communion is to have any coherent meaning at all, its members need to be mutually accountable.

When I made my decision in my 20s to join a church, I could have chosen Roman Catholicism with its "Holy Office" or a protestant denomination with a strong fundamentalist component. I wanted neither, and came to the Episcopal Church. What is being proposed here, it seems to me, is the worst of both worlds, a "holy office" wielding Biblical literalism as a blunt weapon. I surely want no part of it. And certainly General Convention would have to approve this, would it not? I hope and pray our bishops will not sell us out.

"Autonomy and Accountability": autonomy for the majority (so structured, of the powerful Primates), "accountability" (read, submission) for the minority---most particularly, the LGBT minority---worldwide?

A lowly layperson says "No thanks" (but I hope TEC's Primate/bishops stay, to say "No thanks" also!)

Lord have mercy...

JC Fisher

Like Fr. Scott, I've warned and worried for some time that Archbishop Williams seems to be pushing a particulary Roman Catholic ecclesiology not reflective of our variety of thinking on ecclesiology both today and historically and also not reflective of us as a "Communion" rather than a "Church". As a former Roman Catholic, I didn't join the Episcopal Church to try on a different type of the same clothing. I understood we were catholic, not Roman. Those days may be numbered.

As I've said, we could end up with the worst of Rome and Geneva. A primatial curia acting as papacy all but in name coupled with a tendency to the worst of Reformed (read Calvinist) theology.

It also seems to me that Archbishop Williams, as Fr. Gerns also points out, is playing at something but it's hard to quite figure. But from here it looks like lull them with indaba and lure them into Faith and Order.

The fact is the Windsor consultation folk could have proposed restructing the far more representative ACC in ways that would have made us more conciliar and consultative without denigrating the other orders, especially the laity, but then Archbishop Williams doesn't seem to have much respect for the laity beyond us being spoon fed "faithful" as far as I can tell from his statements about us. But an Anglicanism in which laity are not a significant part of processes throughout, including "at the top" is an Anglicanism that has in some ways disowned our Reformation inheritance.

Once again the ignorance of many of us in the American Church (including myself) becomes apparent. Whether we are reacting with outrage or with surrprised praise, we reveal that we have had our heads in the sand as far as developments in the Communion are concerned. The idea of a faith and order commission for the Anglican Communion is not new, and it is related to ecumenism (i.e. the faith and order movement that warmed ecclesial relations). Andrew Goddard has a comment related to this history over at the thread on Fulcrum:

The primary question I have for those of us, whether conservative or liberal, is how we can have the audacity to claim "that's not Anglican" (pick your topic in the reactions here, or the pronouncements of GAFCON) when we haven't the slightest clue about our own tradition and how developments like this are simply an evolution of our lives as Anglican Christians in Communion with one another, as well as out engagement with our Christian brothers and sisters from other traditions. It seems to me what many want when they protest "that's not Anglican" or "that's not Episcopalian" is simply a wax nose they can suit to their own liking. Regardless of the intent, it is neither faithful to our tradition, nor truthful given our engagement with our ecumenical partners and the way we have presented ourselves.

Either we show a willingness to learn about what it is we have said about ourselves to others, and stand willing to engage fruitfully without crying foul at the slightest hint of disagreement with our petty causes or we should confess that we have misrepresented ourselves in the dialogues we have engaged in over the bulk of the 20th century, call it all a lie and go our own way. Whatever we decide, individually and corporately, however, let's please make sure it's an informed decision.

Jody Howard

I like Jody's comments more than some of the others generating more heat than light.

It still strikes me that venom in any of us is not a sign of the Spirit, so the thoughts arising are questionable. Or do we need a democratic vote to determine that?

When teaching introductory adult ed. classes, one of the things that we discuss is the great number of similarities between American denominations when it comes to beliefs, and the differences in polity. Reading this makes me wonder if the real issues in the AC have more to do with polity than political views or even Biblical hermeneutics. We are still learning about the ministry of the baptized, still trying to figure out where it will lead, as the rest of the world continues to worship purple. This may be the most fundamental and hardest to overcome difference of them all.

Jody Howard is right that we all need to know more about our history and about the church in general.

I still wonder, however, how there can - still! - be nothing heard from the Anglican Communion when one of its most influential Bishops - Peter Akinola - attempts to influence the legislature in his country to imprison innocent (homosexual) people. He does this using the full prestige and influence of the Church itself - and besmirches its good name in the world, BTW, far more than he claims Gene Robinson does simply by having been elected Bishop. (Gene Robinson, at least, does not attempt to use physical force and coercion against his enemies. And this is not really a "petty cause," BTW; it's a serious problem.)

How can this situation continue? Do you think the rest of the world isn't watching? Why is the outcry all against Gene Robinson - and not at all against Peter Akinola? Do gay people simply not matter to the Anglican Communion? Or is it simply about influence and numbers, because Nigeria is the Communion's largest church? It sure seems to be the latter - and I'm afraid this doesn't do much to convince anybody that this is a Christian enterprise.

I really do have a hard time taking the Communion seriously as a Christian body on this account, to be honest. It sure doesn't look like one. Why, IOW, should anybody really care what happens to it? What is it worth, in the final analysis, when it seems to have lost its moral bearings completely? Peter Akinola represents the Anglican Communion to the rest of the world - and it sure isn't a pretty face.

How about we get down to basics - walking the walk as followers of the Crucified One - instead of worrying about "Covenants" and "Compacts" and "ecclesiology"?

Sorry, Jody. It's not Anglican. And those of us who have chosen to become Anglicans because of the rich heritage of this tradition will be left homeless if it morphs into what Christopher Evans rightly calls the worst of Rome and Geneva. I for one can recognize a nightmare unfolding.


I'd be interested to see an argument made that it is not Anglican, rather than an assertion. How, for instance, can you maintain that before knowing precisely what has been proposed and what form it may take, let along the history of reflection and dialogue leading up to it. You say "Anglican" and I'm afraid I hear "wax nose."

Having fled from fundamentalism myself in the Baptist church, I understand your concern, but also, having learned something conflict there, I'm learned to recognize when various parties claim the mantle of legitimacy for themselves, i.e. "we're the true Baptists" or "we're the true Anglicans" and I'm afraid I'm to the point of questioning the helpfulness of even talking about what is or is not "Anglican" since everyone means something different by it. Usually something along the lines of "everything I agree with and nothing I don't."

Jody Howard

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