Communion Matters XXVII

Feast of Jeremy Taylor   

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ. The conference, and its jetlag, are over, and so it is a good time to reflect on its significance.  I am most grateful for those praying for the endeavor as a whole, and our small part in it.  It may seem to have been distant from our more pressing concerns locally, but it did say something about who we as a Church are, and so it percolates through our common life over time. And so, this letter means to answer this question: what did the Conference tell us about the Communion?

The Communion is inherited.

We are Americans, and so much in this English event had a nostalgic feel, the Downton Abbey effect. We are, at the very least, impressed by how old some things are, often more than a millennium.  But if we look deeper, what that says to us is that our branch of the catholic faith is something inherited.  The retreat and the opening service took place in the great cathedral built by the Normans, the see of Augustine, missionary from the mother Church in Rome, Becket, martyr for the faith, and Cranmer, author of the Prayer Book.  A long history calls us to gratitude, and to taking the long view.  It is a kind of sacrament of the apostolic, of the fact that, as I recently heard the Canon to the Ordinary say, we didn’t make what we believe up.

The Communion is diverse, vibrant, suffering

Part of the power of the meeting is the stunning array of cultures represented.  Lambeth is also a sacramental of the Church catholic. Two Americans, a Zimbabwean, a Filipino, an Irish woman, an Englishwoman, and a Tanzanian sat around a picnic table in my bible study- multiple that seventy fold.  We were bound together by the common calling of shepherding. We were bound together, in 2022, the trauma of the pandemic. On the last morning, a fire alarm gathered fifty bishops and spouses in the dawn light and the courtyard in their pajamas, bleary, from every corner of the earth!

But there is more to say here- the dire challenge of the lives of many of those bishops impressed and silenced us. The Congolese, the Sudanese, the Burmese, the Pakistanis, and on: they needed seeds to ward off hunger, bicycles for their catechists, a roof for the one the shelling blew off, a sense that they are remembered. Many sought out fellow bishops who could help.  This is, to my mind, one of the most valid purposes of a Lambeth Conference. ‘Mutual responsibility and interdependence’, the watchword of the Communion for the past 60 years, in dire need must go from slogan to tangible response.

The Communion is confused

Let me begin here by laying to rest one misunderstanding. Lambeth 2022 did not change the teaching on marriage- first because there were no resolutions, and second because the Archbishop of Canterbury denied this quite explicitly. However he did at various moments say that Churches could nonetheless go in other directions, and that consequences for this were past.  (Many suspect that these remarks were especially directed at this own C. of E.) At one level this was simply realistic, at another disheartening.  He was, understandably, trying to move us all beyond acrimony to conversation and common mission. But at the same time, we Anglicans of North America make up 4% of the Communion. We have an outsized influence in representation and in money. We need a renewed effort in the Communion to listen to one another, not only emotionally, but theologically as well.  Enthusiasm in rarely the challenge for us Americans, but humility often is.

The Communion is expectant

What if the struggles of the Communion are not signs of its demise, but rather of its youth? A century and a half ago, the first Lambeth Conference consisted solely of English and American men. What if the surrender of Northern control is longer, and harder, than some supposed, as the leadership of our tradition comes gradually to move to the global South?  What if the Communion comes in stages to be the catholic form for its largely evangelical majority? The seismic shift that professors Philip Jenkins (of Baylor) and David Goodhew (a member of the Covenant blog group) have predicted and described was visibly on the way at Lambeth 2022, even though the bishops representing 60% of the Communion had absented themselves.  What if the next Lambeth is in Cape Town or Singapore or Nairobi? What if we are undergoing, slowly and painfully, a different kind of de-colonialization?  And what if part of our calling in a diocese like Dallas is to welcome this, and come alongside it in whatever modest ways we can, in the hopes that it may, in time, and in God’s providence, have a renewing effect on us as well?





Communion Matters XXVI: Lambeth Conference - 20th Century Precursors

Anglicanism has no central magisterium, as the Roman Church does, and its individual provinces keep their own canonical authority, true. But this does not mean what our tradition has not been struggling, maybe inching, its way toward mutual counsel, by consent to be sure.  Let us rehearse some of the harbingers of a true common global life, though to be sure, ‘the vision awaits the time.’ (Habakkuk 2:3). We as a tradition are deeply divided, perhaps still experiencing growing pains, but these moments in our recent history do mark out a possible path.

Lambeth 1920 and ‘The Appeal to All Christian People’ and the Quadrilateral- After the trauma of World War I, the gathering at Lambeth sought to issue a newly urgent call for Christian unity. The substance of the appeal was the Quadrilateral (Scripture, creed, Lord’s sacraments, the episcopal locally adapted) which was actually a contribution of our own Church. This event reminded Anglicanism that at its best it calls Christians more widely to recover our unity, rather than making a unique claim for ourselves.

Anglican Congress, Toronto, , 1963, ‘Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ’ This was the last international gathering that included laity, and one of the first with more representation for the Global South. Its call for MRI’, to think of ourselves as accountable to one another internationally, remains a challenge for all Anglicans.

The Virginia Report (1997)- the Instruments of Unity. This was report of an international theological commission, meeting finally in Virginia. The debate at the time was women’s ordination, but the underlying issue, still with us today, is how unity and subsidiarity (control at more local levels) co-exist fatihfullly. The Report laid out the vision of what was later called ‘a symphony of instruments,’ Anglican Consultative Council, Archbishop, Conference, and Primates. It is hard to say that what has followed over the last two decades has sounded like a symphony! But the struggle to find form for the goal of common counsel remains.

Windsor Report/ Covenant Design- walking together, apart, and at a distance. As the debate over gay ordinations and eventually marriage heated up in the early part of this century, Archbishop Rowan Williams commissioned a group to think about how to maintain unity. The Windsor Report emphasized that Churches had to decide that they wanted to ‘walk together’ rather than apart. More recently the possibility of walking, ‘together but a a distance’, has been raised.  The Covenant Design group proposed a voluntary structure for such decisions for mutual accountability. The proposal did not make progress, though a Global South Covenant, from the ‘ground up’ as it were, has been more recently proposed. The question of accountability amidst a wider fellowship remains, though neither the Covenant nor anything like it is on the docket for Lambeth 2022. Still the longer-term question remains, if in the background, for the decade to follow this summer’s meeting.  Indeed, the question of a full global koinonia, no longer controlled by the provinces of the north, is what our tradition continues to struggle toward.

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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.