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Whither the Communion?

Whither the Communion?

Last week Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, issued an invitation to all of the Primates of the Anglican Communion (plus Foley Beach, head of the ACNA) to meet next year in Canterbury to discuss new ways of being the in relationship with another and with Canterbury.  That he proposed a significant re-ordering of how member churches relate to one another as well as inviting the head of the schismatic Anglican Church in North America was largely met with a collective “meh.”


Tom Ferguson, in the guise of his blogging alter-ego Crusty Old Dean, responded with a post titled “It’s The End of the Anglican Communion As we Know It – And I feel Fine” where he writes;

Yet also in the title, and in the manic exuberance of the song, there’s also a sense of resignation, or outright relief, or even rejoicing, that world as we know it is ending — because we feel fine.

This is what Crusty thought when he read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Janury of 2016, which can be found here:  It’s the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it, and I feel fine. In his call the Archbishop noted the need to “consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion.”  He also wrote of the “way in which proclamation [of the gospel] happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between Provinces. We each live in a different context.”


Giles Fraser posits that it was the world-wide-web that did in the Communion. Once we had the ability to really get to know what other member churches believed and did, we discovered our vast differences but without appreciation of our various contexts.

But it was the world wide web that finally did for global ecclesiastical solidarity. Through the web, different churches could finally experience each other’s theology first hand. We could read their sermons and church pronouncements. And they could read ours. And we didn’t like what we saw. Western liberals saw anti-gay bigotry. African conservatives saw an abandonment of the traditional gospel. We had become strangers to each other. No, worse than that: we realised we were fighting on very different sides. And, however hard they tried (and Rowan Williams really did) the men in mitres could not put Humpty together again.


Laura Sykes writing at Lay Anglicana sees the potential for good news, or at least not bad news, says;

In brief, Archbishop Justin is suggesting that we cease to fall over backwards to hold on to the Anglican Communion as a force seeking to hold everything revolving around the centre (which, had the Anglican Covenant been passed, would have acted as the reference point). Instead, we could aim to be a force seeking to spread out into the world, according to broadly agreed principles (based on the understanding of the Bible by each Church in the Communion). {The Archbishop does not describe it thus, this is my interpretation}.

Further noting;

The loose federation envisaged by Archbishop Justin is not a new idea – so far as I can see it represents a return to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886/8 which includes”The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”


Perhaps not surprisingly, those who have worked hardest to undo the fabric of Communion, are not expressing much enthusiasm for the Communion or Welby’s plan either.


The GAFCON Primates said in their response;

They (the Primates) recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which continues without repentance or discipline.

Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which the Anglican Church in North America was excluded.


And David Virtue, long standing critic of the Episcopal Church, has urged the the GAFCON Primates not attend and rejects any notion of an Anglicanism that includes TEC;

(Virtue) believes they should not waste the airfare. There is nothing to be gained by their attendance. Nothing.

First of all, if there is no “common doctrine,” Anglicanism itself is meaningless. What does it mean to be Anglican if two different versions of the same faith are tolerated! To be an Anglican means a specific identity, a specific theological outlook. The Scriptures and the Gospels, the Apostolic Church, and the early Church Fathers are the foundation of Anglican faith and worship that make up the Anglican Communion.

…So the question must be asked again, can the two groups, orthodox and heterodox, live under the same roof and still call themselves Anglican? I think not. It is impossible.

Secondly, it presupposes that the Global South Primates are willing to agree to such an arrangement and admit that heterodoxy and orthodoxy can live as “two integrities” side by side when, in fact, they cannot.

For nearly two decades, the Global South primates and the GAFCON bishops have argued, pleaded, and fought with TEC to repent of its heresies. They have steadfastly refused to do so. TEC’s response has been to promote endless “reconciliation” talks and Indaba.


Nick Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island and an Episcopal Café pioneer kept his response below 144 characters.



So, whither the communion now? What does it mean to be “Anglican” and does it affect our understanding of ourselves as Episcopalians or not?


You can read more thoughts on the Archbishop’s statement from the links here at Thinking Anglicans.


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Lionel Deimel

Thank you, Dan and Philip. It’s hard to know what to hope for in Welby’s January meeting, since consensus is highly unlikely. (Lambeth’s estimate of the probability of catastrophic failure is wildly optimistic.) I think a formal split would be very beneficial. There may be reason to walk away from the Communion, either for a while or permanently. In such a case, we should withdraw our financial support. I used to think that doing so would be churlish, but, upon reflection, it would be pastoral. Participants in the Communion would have to ask what functions are really worth preserving. I suggest that most of the Communion infrastructure is dysfunctional at best and destructive at worst.

Dan Ennis

I’ve never quite understood the theological transitive property the AMiA/ACNA/PEAR/CANA alphabet soup conservatives use when they talk about being “in communion.” Ok, so ACNA is “recognized” by the Church of Nigeria, and the Church of Nigeria is “in communion” with Canterbury, ergo something something ACNA is “in the Anglican Communion.” To this layperson the contortions used to prove X is “in communion” with Y smack of angels and pinheads.

If the Anglican Communion could exist as a convenient and congenial place to collaborate on mission and align global efforts to help those in need, heck, I’d think it worth keeping around. But for more thatn a decade now the great assemblies of the Anglican Communion have oscillated between quasi-synods debating dogma the Communion cannot enforce and silly-hat pageants where half the participants refuse to speak to the other half.

As TEC, I think we can thank the ABC for the 39 Articles, the Prayer Book (adapted for local use), an armload of terrific hymns, and a shared history from which we can continue to learn. Then we ought to politely withdraw from the “Anglican Communion” even as we continue to embrace and celebrate our Anglican heritage as a essential and inspiring element of our identity as Episcopalians.

Everybody wins. Welby can mend fences with the GAFCON crew (if they’ll have him) and TEC can do plenty of righteous work within its own denominational “borders”– Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras…plenty of crying need in nations with TEC churches already in place for local coordination. And we can still engage the “global south” beyond our hemisphere by forging bilateral relationships with entities that want to collaborate with TEC–warts and all. ERD won’t cease to exist if the Anglican Communion ends with a whimper.

The question of clergy licensing can be handled by Diocesan bishops (until some future General Convention takes it up), and we’re spared the drama of who is invited and who is refusing to attend expensive and divisive shindigs such as primates meetings and the Lambeth conference.

The TEC church I attend is focused on local mission and trying to live out the creed (yeah, we keep failing, but we’re fighting the good fight). If our Bishop announced this Sunday that TEC was no longer part of the Anglican Communion it would not change one bit our parish-level focus and commitment. Some of our parishioners might even ask “What is this Anglican Communion you speak of?”

I can see how those conservative splinter churches want to be “in the club”–they’re new organizations, and they’re jostling to see who gets to be the dominant manifestation of “Orthodox Anglicanism” in North America. If Welby pats Foley Beach on the shoulder the ACNA blogosphere will tremble with delight and the CANA folks will take up the digital cudgels, but why should we in TEC care?

Calling all these acrimonious assemblies “instruments of unity” has strayed beyond irony and into parody. Let’s get on with it, and if some future Archbishop of Canterbury wants to cross the Atlantic and preach at the National Cathedral, let him (or HER!?!) come as an honored guest, theological cousin, and welcome visitor. But not as primus inter pares or arbiter of who gets to claim Anglican legitimacy. Legitimacy is our acts, and Anglicanism our ethos.

Philip B. Spivey

Dan: Your argument is beautifully articulated and makes so much common sense—something most tautologies lack. The concept of a “Communion”, however we define it, has simultaneously become a cudgel, a battering ram and a Golden Calf. There is an unwillingness to acknowledge that, The Anglican Communion as originally constituted, is no more. It is an artifact of an earlier time in our history. It exists today as an echo of earlier times when it rested comfortably under a wide colonial umbrella. Efforts to bring it into COMMUNION with the social, political and economic realities the 21st century have been met with utmost resistance in some quarters. The Anglican Wars have made some of our lives miserable and have sapped us of energy and spirit. There can be no reconciliation without authentic commitment and effort on both sides; in the regard, TEC has done the lion’s share of heavy lifting.

As you suggest, Dan, maybe it’s time for TEC to get on with our lives and ministry; a ‘communion’ that insists on conformity will not survive long as an instrument of Jesus. A more promising forecast can be made for a ‘communion’—however small— that can achieve the unity that comes from, agreeing-to-disagree on the issues and matters that do not violate our Baptismal Covenant, i.e., finding Common ground where and when we can.

It’s easy to cherry-pick the social theology in the 2,000 year old Bible; the anthropology of that time is radically different from our own. It’s more difficult to cherry-pick the theology of our Baptismal Covenant; that is timeless.

If the present Communion can only be saved by compliance-and-conformity, TEC is well-advised to go its own way. I joined the Episcopal Church 25 years ago just because it wasn’t weighted with fire and brimstone.

Philip B. Spivey

I think this article, and the related article preceding this one, have begun to take the veritable Golden Calf by its horns. I believe that the Anglican Communion has lost its identity as a Communion because, as some have cited, it’s foundations were, first, loyalty to the English Crown. If we were to draw lines-of -report, all roads would have led to Queen Victoria–via the ABC— not the Gospel. During that time, royal decree trumped theology; capitalism trumped the Gospel; and mission for conversion trumped respect for indigenous peoples and cultures. And then—there was the Episcopal Church (although guilty of our own sins) but nevertheless, we owed only nominal fealty to the Crown via the ABC. Then, the 20th century arrived.

With it the eventual evaporation of the colonies and the landed aristocracy. By extolling the virtues of Reason ( by virtue of lived experience)—some provinces, like TEC , who were not weighted down with centuries of Tradition, chose to rethink 19th century mores and theology; our church was behind the curve of many social changes, but eventually caught up. If there were to be a revolution in the Anglican Communion it was bound to begin in the Northern Hemisphere and in the churches called “Episcopal”. The trappings of European history and devotion to the Crown over five centuries, was not part of our DNA.

I don’t claim that we are the most “progressive” province; I only claim that we have become the most disruptive province. And so, I do believe we are a source of anxiety and consternation in the world wide Communion because we have chosen to interpret the Gospel differently from others. But here’s the thing: Where is the heresy? The heresy is solely ideological/doctrinal. The heresy is the unwillingness to conform to traditional ways of thinking. The heresy is to rent the curtain of pseudo-mutuality among us and be audacious enough to say: “Your priorities in the Gospel are not ours, but can’t we get along?”

Suffice it to say, the Communion’s willingness to scapegoat TEC is (much) less about doctrinal issues and (much) more about protecting the last vestiges of patriarchal privilege around the globe. In the United States, that wish is acutely clear.

Even Pope Francis is on to this in his own church.

Philip Snyder

The communion ceased with TEC decided that it really didn’t care what the rest of Christianity, let alone the Anglican Communion said or when TEC decided that it didn’t need to listen to its own, earlier, statements of faith and practice, but that the Spirit needed to put its thumb in the eye of everyone who disagreed with its “new thing.”

Cynthia Katsarelis

The “rest of Christianity???” The Quakers, Presbyterians, UCC, and other denominations were way ahead of TEC. If you only mean the hierarchical and patriarchal RC church, they are not the only Christians on the planet, and the RC’s have plenty of members who are as liberal as the Protestants, who are more free to act on conscience.

We did not “put a thumb” in anyone’s eye when we discerned that LGBTQ people and women (women’s ordination is still a problem for some of the GAFCON people) are created in the Image of God.

Christianity based on misogyny and homophobia is not very inspiring. And it is NOT the message of the Gospel, no matter how much some people want it to be.

Tom Downd

In some ways whether we were ever close is immaterial. Those in the north could help materially those in the south spread the gospel and pursue ministry projects that made lives better. From them we received a witness of faith in action that inspired some tired old churches. That’s really how we related to one another.
That stopped when they said we won’t let you help us. So now we have no real way to relate to one another. Sad and pointless.

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