Before Windsor,
there was Virginia

by

By Kit Carlson

Almost a decade ago, when the enormous threat to the fabric of the Anglican Communion was the consecration of a female bishop, the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for a way “to describe how the Anglican Communion makes authoritative decisions while maintaining unity and interdependence in the light of the many theological issues that arise from its diversity.”

A group of theologians and church leaders that eventually became the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission met several times at Virginia Theological Seminary during the early ’90s, issuing in 1997 The Virginia Report, which explored what it meant to be in communion, how that communion reflects the essential nature of God as Trinity, and what particularly Anglican approaches and instruments of unity might be helpful in maintaining that koinonia amongst the members of an increasingly diverse and divided communion.

The core of the report is that the Anglican Communion, like God in God’s very Triune nature, is an interdependent community, guided and bound together by instruments of unity (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) that are in themselves relational and interdependent. That the very authority of these instruments of unity lies in their interdependent, relational nature.

“Lambeth focuses the relation of bishops to bishops and therefore dioceses to dioceses. The Primates’ Meeting focuses the relation of Primates to Primates, and therefore Provinces to Provinces. The ACC, which is the most comprehensive gathering, represents the voice of the inner life of the Provinces, with representatives of laity, clergy and bishops. These three instruments of interdependence are presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus focusing the unity and diversity of the Communion,” the report states near its close.

And in its conclusion, the report sums it up, “A deeper understanding of the instruments of communion at a world-level, their relationship one to another and to the other levels of the Church’s life should lead to a more coherent and inclusive functioning of oversight in the service of the koinonia of the Church. When the ministry of oversight is exercised in a personal, collegial and communal way, imbued with the principles of subsidiarity, accountability and interdependence then the community is protected from authoritarianism, structures serve the personal and relational life of the Church and the diverse gift of all is encouraged in the service of all. The Church is thus opened up to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit for mission and ministry and enabled to serve more effectively the unity and community of humanity.”

I wonder why we have roared on past the thoughtful, balanced, relational and wise reflections of the Virginia Report, to make the Windsor Report a club with which to beat up on some members of the Communion. I wonder why we have abandoned discussion of koinonia and the doctrine of the Trinity to craft a Covenant that is neither interdependent nor relational. I wonder why bishops of every political bent are refusing to come to Lambeth and work in a “personal, collegial and communal way.”

How can we work through Windsor without understanding and living out the vision of Virginia? How can we craft a Covenant when we have yet to strive for koinonia?

The Rev. Kit Carlson is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world’s first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

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4 Responses to "Before Windsor,
there was Virginia"
  1. Kit-

    Thanks for reminding us all about the Virginia Report - a beautiful, thoughtfully and prayerfully crafted document.

    I wonder if our determined insistence to plow through Windor, leaving Virginia in the dust, is emblematic of our world's political landscape as a whole - polarized, divisive, and power grabbing.

    When will the church intentionally work to radically set the standards of discourse and decision-making instead of blindly cowtowing to the wider social norms?

    Ironic, isn't it, that this is in fact the claim by ultra-conservatives regarding our theology of sexuality and yet when it comes to governance, it's power plays with a bent toward secular "business as usual" tactics?

    Jennifer McKenzie

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  2. While I agree that the generosity of Spirit implied in the language Kit has selected from the Virginia Report is sorely lacking in the current situation, I believe we desperately need to look back at the Virginia report for a different reason. The Virginia Report is in many ways the "forgotten parent" of the Windsor Report. Many of the terms proposed by Virginia(such as the definition of four “Instruments of Unity” or "Instruments of Communion") are used as functional descriptions of Anglican doctrine in The Windsor Report. Using any material from The Virginia Report in such a manner is inappropriate because no body in the Communion has approved of its findings. In fact, as I write these words, the Communion is in a ten year study period of the Virginia report which will last until Lambeth 2008.

    Ian Douglas characterizes both the Virginia Report and the Windsor Report as part of a potential process of "curialization" for the Communion, setting up a central authoritative structure where The Archbishop of Canterbury (or worse, Nigeria) might be seen as some sort of pope and the Primates' meeting as a college of cardinals. Douglas coined the term "curialization" as he initially reflected on the Virginia Report.

    Over the past few years we have seen curialization lived out as the Primates attempted to mandate and manipulate from Dromantine and Tanzania. Finally TEC's house of Bishops stood up for Anglicanism. They listed reasons for not participating in Dar-Es-Salaam's proposed Pastoral scheme: "it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England" and "it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates." The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops understands that our Anglican heritage is definitively expressed in decentralized leadership. The Virginia Report, the Windsor "process," the new Covenant, and the actual action of the primates has been disconsonant with Anglican tradition. We must continue to seek the Anglican Communion, but we cannot try to enforce Communion from above at the expense of the beautiful diversity that has always defined Anglicanism. As we continue to live out this historic moment in Anglicanism, we must keep in mind what our tradition has been and reject the centralization of authority as first imagined in Virginia.

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  3. Just a note about the comments. There have been a couple of people who have responded to the article here, but who have not used their name in leaving their comment.

    We're happy to approve most if not all comments, but our policy requires that you give your real name to have your comment published.

    The rest of the "rules" can be found here:

    https://www.episcopalcafe.com/feedback/

    Thanks!

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  4. If there are to be some over-arching "Anglican standards" established, they will either (a) represent some specific culture and its social norms, or (b) they must be only very little more than the Creeds and the Quadrilateral.

    The various cultures in which Anglicanism exists are as far apart culturally and sociologically as they are geographically, and to think of a common one-size-fits-all standard in so multi-cultured a Communion is even faintly possible is just a no-brainer -- unless it is (b) above. All other proposals I have seen or heard (including Virginia et al), are mere fantasies, with no footprint at all in the real world.

    If the nations and cultures in which Anglicanism exists cannot even agree on secular laws concerning basic human rights (or even that there ARE basic human rights), how in that world can Anglicanism find a lowest common denominator other than the Creeds and the Quadrilateral (and possibly the baptismal commitments)?

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