GENERAL CONVENTION 2003
besieged - Communion or Federation?
by Pam Darling
The cry to protect the Communion has been taken up by many, elevating unity to a priority above all others. Bishops have been campaigning, online and behind the scenes, to block the New Hampshire consents to avoid a catastrophe in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Parsley of Alabama, citing Archbishop Williams and the Primates in the latest Living Church, wants Lambeth to study the issues, and recommends the American church do nothing until there is Communion-wide consensus. "Study" has always been a cover for delay. Had we waited for such a consensus in the matter of ordaining women, we would of course still be waiting.
The Anglican Communion as we know it is a very recent invention, evolving from the appointment of [Episcopal] Bishop Stephen Bayne as first "Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion" in 1960, and the "Anglican Congress" in Toronto in 1963. To a Lambeth Conference of diocesan bishops every ten years have been added meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council every 2-3 years,
Bureaucracy mushrooms, by nature. During this same period, in the United States:
The structures of patriarchy are under attack, and its leaders are instinctively on the defensive. Nineteenth-century wagons are being circled against twenty-first century realities, and feelings frequently outstrip common sense.
In yesterday's (7/23)
letter to the Primates, Archbishop Williams stated:
"At our meeting in Brazil, the question was raised as to whether we really wanted to be a Communion, or just a federation of local churches; and the feeling of the meeting was very strongly that we wanted to be much more than a federation."
Later, urging bishops
to safeguard Anglican "coherence," he notes:
"we do not have a central executive authority in our communion; this means we are quite vulnerable in times of deep disagreement."
Who and what is vulnerable? The "we" in Brazil was the Primates - no regular bishops or clergy, no lay people, certainly no women or openly-gay participants. Those at the pinnacle of their own provinces were reassured to have their authority affirmed and supported by each other.
Like collegiality in our own House of Bishops, the group exerts intense pressure on its primatial members to conform themselves and their provinces to its present rules. (Seen in this light, the efforts of our own Presiding Bishop to balance that pressure are commendable.)
Theological developments in the US and Canada have increasingly challenged patriarchal structures. People's response to changing structures usually relates to what they stand to lose, or gain. If the Anglican Communion is only a human structure, susceptible to damage if anyone breaks ranks to follow the call of the Gospel in new circumstances, then we might as well be a "federation."
If, on the other hand, our unity is God's gift, not dependent on rigid structures and uniformity of belief, we should celebrate the fact that having no "central executive authority" is part of the gift, enabling us to take the risks that following Jesus so often involves.
Pamela W. Darling, ThD
Professor & Author
24 Jul 2003
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