From Communion to…..Federation ?

The important announcement this last week by Archbishop Justin that he is inviting Anglican Communion Primates to attend a meeting in Canterbury next January (and, controversially, also the ACNA Primate for at least part of the meeting) has led to an enormous amount of speculation and agitation (see, for example, comments on Thinking Anglicans or the Episcopal New Service). One widespread belief, pushed particularly by Andrew Brown at the Guardian, is that the plan is for the “breakup” (later softened to “loosening of ties”) of the Communion. Many seem to want a move to a more “federation” approach and even to think this is the likely outcome, perhaps even favoured by the Archbishop. So Ruth Gledhill writes, “The move towards a more federal model, an Anglican Federation along the lines of Europe's Lutheran Federation, is a much better model for the Church in today's world” and from New Zealand Peter Carrell, writes on ABC Changes Communion to Federation.

While at the moment much is unclear - and that is in part because in order to get as many as possible to the meeting, there cannot be a pre-determined agenda, let alone outcome – the statement itself and the background to it give little evidence to support such claims of a radical paradigm shift.

Most important here is that the Archbishop states

Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ meetings since then.

This has been seen as a reference to the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 on sexuality and it clearly does include that (and presumably the consequent moratoria) but the scope of it is much wider and more significant. Throughout that period the Instruments have also clearly developed and supported a vision of life in communion where autonomous provinces recognise their interdependence and the importance of their common counsel. In the period referred to in the statement this would include the Virginia Report, the Windsor Report, the work of the various post-Windsor groups, most notably that working on an Anglican Communion Covenant, and the work of the IATDC and IASCUFO, all of which have been welcomed in decisions by the Instruments. It is very hard to see how a paradigm shift to a “looser” or “federation” model in any way shows “respect” for decades of theological and ecclesiological thought about what it means to be “a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” identified in part by being “bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference” (a definition going back to Resolution 49 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference).

It is also far from clear that such a shift would either get much support (outside some of the liberal Northern primates) or offer a practical solution. Not just GAFCON but many primates from the wider Global South remain of the view that the solution to the continuing crisis (based around a Primates’ Council and Pastoral Scheme for traditionalists in North America) was put forward at the Dar Primates Meeting in 2007 but never implemented, in large part leading to GAFCON forming. The Archbishop has refused to accept their view that this must be the starting point of any new gathering – that meeting will be nearly a decade old once the Primates meet, much has happened, and very few current Primates attended that meeting despite it being one which had a very high number of newly installed Primates. Justin Welby has rightly insisted, following extensive visits and conversations, that the meeting must find its own way forward face-to-face. But in talking of respecting the decisions of previous Primates’ meetings he has shown he is aware how many Primates still think that the proposal put forward there continues to provide a model for how best to proceed.

The sad reality is that support for something like the Dar approach has increased following the decisions earlier this year by General Convention (and to a lesser degree the Scottish Episcopal Church). These demonstrated that some provinces are now seeking to repeat the pattern of taking provincial action which disregards the mind of the Communion but in relation to the even more important question of Christian teaching on marriage. Some Global South provinces who were becoming more amenable to moving on from the painful history since 2003 and starting afresh (particularly with a new Presiding Bishop) are now clear that the fundamental problem of TEC unilateralism remains a serious one. That is one reason they have sought and secured a place for Archbishop Foley of ACNA during the meeting.

The way forward after January is unlikely to be simply a reversion to an earlier attempted solution, whether the Dar Primates’ model or the Anglican Communion Covenant in its present form. It is, however, even less likely to be an agreement from the Primates that they need to embrace a “federation” model of global Anglicanism. This effectively abandons any claim to respect provincial interdependence (not to mention any doctrinal or ethical basis for unity which is clearly so important for many of the provinces whether in terms of the Jerusalem Declaration or the broader wording in Section One of the Covenant). Instead it gives unfettered freedom to provincial autonomy on the basis that we must all simply “agree to disagree”, thereby put the past divisions behind us, and then, it is argued, still continue to meet together when gathered by Canterbury and maintain the bonds which have held us together and are so vital for many provinces in their difficult contexts. That may be what some hope for or even expect from this initiative but it would be to reconstitute global Anglicanism as a body which not just tolerated but was shaped by a vision of what it means to be the church of Christ (not just to be Anglican) that the Communion has consistently rejected.

11 thoughts on “From Communion to…..Federation ?”

  1. Thank you Andrew.

    I commend Justin for attempting to bring factions together to pray and talk things through.
    As long as there are two human beings on this planet, they will never agree on everything.

    The real problem with this kind of forum is that some scholars and so forth, pontificate on doctrinal matters before a global audience, and reveal that they haven’t understood the spiritual issues involved.

    Martyn Lloyd-Jones was so right when he warned readers not to attempt to proceed unless they were born of the Spirit. I suggest that discussions like this are protective to unbelievers and carefully prayed through first. Spiritual matters can never be discussed on a public forum. That is a fundamental and obvious guideline through our Lords teaching in parables!

    For all the criticism by some, it shines a light upon those who talk about God as a topic and Christians who follow Him by example.

    Justin – You’re doing just fine.

  2. Thank you, Peter, for kind words. I’ve replied to comments on your ADU post of 23rd September. Briefly, I imagine that the most stable outcome would be–

    (a) Periphery. A very comprehensive hospitality from the ABC for absolutely all with an historical claim to Anglican heritage (including TEC, GAFCON, Anglican Ordinariate, interested Methodists), and

    (b) Core. A smaller and fuller communion of regional groupings of Anglican bishops who can speak authoritatively in and for their churches (not including TEC).

    Any weakening of intercommunion should be exploited to broaden the scope of hospitality. The committed core should be multipolar and committed to regional missions. This combination of periphery and core is more centrist than the rivalry of affiliations that culture warriors might prefer, but also more oriented to the work of the Church in the global village.

    • Some labels may change, Peter, and the path may be unpleasant at points, but all are going to get what they want in the end. Churches that love Anglican churchways and share global koinonia among themselves will keep both and maybe deepen them. Churches like TEC that love the churchways but viscerally fear that global koinonia will keep the former and will be released from the rights and responsibilities of the latter. The two sides may not like each other, but because they agree that they disagree on how strong a church or Communion should be, the long term outcome of this is not in serious doubt.

      This result might be easier for some to take if we had a common narrative explaining how it happened that, at the same time that the Lambeth Conferences were becoming the cherished Anglican Communion in some places, those in other places were instead championing an idea that Anglicanism is the fundamentally the right to be left alone. Absent that narrative, neither side recognizes the legitimacy of the other. Some of us fail to see that the tacit norms we assume for global koinonia seem strange and menacing in churches with designedly weak governance structures such as TEC. The Anglican Communion Covenant proposed closer ties throughout the world than TEC had between Mark Lawrence’s South Carolina and Michael Curry’s North Carolina. Conversely, liberals gazing at all things through the lens of sex (eg in the Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans) cannot welcome any continuation of the koinonia story (eg Anglican Communion Covenant) as the missional outcome of a century-long process. Whether that reflects a taste for autonomy that rejects mutual subjection in Christ, or a disavowed yet visceral rejection of southern Anglicans, it comes to the same aversion to global koinonia. A common narrative could not narrow this chasm or make it less deep, but it could hold up a mirror to the two sides that they need to study.

  3. Let us all perhaps talk more of Christ as the head of the church, humbly and gratefully acknowledging unity through him in preference to attempting to create or sustain unity by negotiation.
    We will all be a lot happier!

    • Negotiation does not create unity. The energy comes from a shared vision. For this to be channelled effectively, you still need structures. Unless you are a congregationalist solution.

  4. What, if anything, prevents the following scenario?

    (a) The primates have a lovely party in Canterbury for the new primates from ACNA and TEC.

    (b) The Archbishop of Canterbury affirms the Church of England’s communion with both churches.

    (c) The websites of TEC and ACNA parishes continue to describe them as Anglican as they do now.

    (d) Nearly all primates distinguish recognition of shared heritage from communion.

    (e) These primates note that standard episcopal order– national or regional churches, primates who can speak for their churches, archbishops with disciplinary authority, geographically contiguous provinces and dioceses, etc– is, practically speaking, a necessary but insufficient condition of working communion on the basis of the historic episcopate.

    (f) They agree that neither TEC nor ACNA are in standard episcopal order (as is also the case among Orthodox jurisdictions in the Western Hemisphere), and that this disqualifies both from full participation in the main body of the Anglican Communion.

    (g) Among those Anglican churches that are in standard episcopal order closer communion emerges.

    (h) Within this communion, regional groupings of adjacent churches emerge. These groupings have regional primates (eg Sydney) and relationships with simillar non-Anglican churches (eg Porvoo).

    (i) The primates recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as a universal convenor for Anglicans much as the Patriarch of Constantinople is the ‘ecumenical patriarch’ among the Orthodox.

    This course of events differs from the the ‘federation’ scenario in several respects–

    (1) It invites comparison to multipolar, consensual Orthodoxy rather than to unipolar, administrative Catholicism.

    (2) It recognizes that much of the perceived crisis in the Anglican Communion has arisen from the non-standard organization of Anglicans in the United States. What has not been tried cannot have failed.

    (3) It frankly acknowledges that more is expected of partners in communion than of heirs of a common tradition.

    (4) It offers a degree of participation in the Communion to some compatible non-Anglicans.

    (5) Without detaching the Archbishop of Canterbury from the Church of England (as indeed the Patriarch of Constantinope is not independent of the Holy Synod of Constantinople), it balances his perceived responsibility for the Anglican Communion with clear non-papal power.

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