Federation Isn't Enough: Only Communion Properly Reflects the Spirit of the Church, Fulcrum Newsletter 30, August 2009

Federation Isn't Enough:

Only Communion Properly Reflects the Spirit of the Church

Fulcrum Newsletter, August 2009

by Graham Kings

Bishop of Sherborne and theological secretary of Fulcrum

copublished, with permission, with Comment is free belief, The Guardian online, 5 August 2009

Desmond Tutu has often talked of the crucial support of the Anglican Communion when he was under pressure from the Apartheid regime. Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, commented that it signaled to the regime, ‘Touch Tutu, and you touch the whole Anglican Communion.’ Tutu was not isolated.

David Gitari experienced similar world-wide solidarity following an assassination attempt on his life. During the night of 22 April 1989, thugs attacked his house in the foothills of Mount Kenya. He managed to climb to the roof and raise the alarm. Neighbours came running. The thugs ran away. Gitari had taken a courageous stand on issues of local, national and international justice.

At the nearby college in Kabare, where I was teaching theology, the phone rang with the news and I drove to the bishop’s house. Soon the Anglican Communion Office in London had alerted people across the world for the need for prayer and the government in Nairobi knew that Gitari was not isolated.

The year before, at the opening sermon of the 1988 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, where Gitari was the chair of the Resolutions Committee, Robert Runcie said:

As you enter this cathedral, your eye is caught by its massive pillars. In their strength, they seem to stand on their own feet, symbols of strong foundations and sturdy independence. Yet their strength is an illusion. Look up and see the pillars converting into arches, which are upheld not by independence but through interdependence...

So, the Anglican Communion is interwoven and intermeshed in its personal relationships. The concept of ‘communion’ emanates from the eternal intensity of love within God - shared between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This participation and interlacing with each other, in the one God, is the model for our being together as a world-wide Communion. The Son ‘doing his own thing’, in contradiction to the Father and the Spirit, is an abominable thought. Breaking the bridges of love in the Holy Trinity is unthinkable.

Some prefer to relegate ‘Communion’ to ‘Federation’. The latter seems to me to be more related to ‘function’ than to ‘being’ – more like a bag of marbles than a bunch of grapes - and stresses isolated autonomy over personal interdependence. Rather than close, intimate, interconnected relationships, provinces of an Anglican Federation would be able to ‘do their own thing’ – whether that be authorizing lay people to preside at Holy Communion or proceeding with official public blessings of same-sex unions.

At its General Convention last month, The Episcopal Church faced a defining moment in its full membership of the Anglican Communion. Tragically, perceptibly and decisively - in spite of a personal visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury - it moved in the direction of isolation and relegated itself, within the Communion. It gave the green light to the consecration of more bishops who are in sexual relationships outside the marriage bond and started the official process towards the liturgical blessings of same-sex unions.

The Presiding Bishop said that this was more ‘descriptive’ than ‘prescriptive’ but it seems to me, and to most of the secular and church media, as being in fact ‘permissive’. A change has been sensed and people are incensed.

In spite of expressions of commitment to the Communion from General Convention, when the choice came over interdependence or autonomy, the latter came out trumps. The pillar preferred to stand alone and ignore the linking arches. Is it now on track to being transformed into a flying buttress? Well, not quite.

In response to the decisions taken at General Convention, The Archbishop of Canterbury, has outlined a 'two track' future for provinces in the Anglican Communion, with a choice of covenantal or associate status. One track is for those who are willing to intensify their relationships of interdependence in the Communion, through signing the proposed Anglican Covenant, and the other is for those who prefer federal autonomy, not signing the Covenant.

The Anglican Communion is involved in 'intensifying' its current relationships and those who do not wish to continue on that 'intensifying' trajectory may remain where they are, which will become track two, while the centre of the Communion moves on with glacial gravity into track one. Not exclusion, but intensification: not force, but choice.

Who cares? God does: for Communion mirrors the love of the Trinity better than a loose Federation - the Federation of the Holy Trinity? Hardly. Who cares? Those in the precarious positions of Tutu and Gitari, in Pakistan and Sudan today, and all those who support them in solidarity, such as the 36-year interweavings of the Episcopal Church of Sudan with the Diocese of Salisbury, in which I now serve.


Dr Graham Kings is Bishop of Sherborne and theological secretary of Fulcrum

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