Showing items filed under “The Rt. Rev. George Sumner”

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.

Communion Matters XXV: The Lambeth Conference - Origins

At the end of this month, bishops from (most of the) Anglican world will gather at Canterbury Cathedral, by the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the Lambeth Conference. It is the occasion for conflictual new stories, pageantry, and pandemic anxiety. In this blog post I want to set the event in a deeper context, both historically and theologically.

Since the beginning, Christians have gathered to take council, and especially when there has been conflict over some teaching or practice, the precedent being the Council in Jerusalem over the inclusion of the Gentiles on an equal footing (Acts 15).  The Creed we say at the Eucharist is the product of a council in Nicaea in the 4th Century, the unification of the English Church, Celtic and Roman, a product of a council in Whitby (at the urging of abbess Hilda) in the late 7th Century, the crisis of multiple popes in the late middle ages leading to a series of councils. Even the Reformers, often seen as the cause of the end of the conciliar impulse, hopes for a worldwide council to settle their disagreements with Rome.  In modern times, the Second Vatican Council in many of our memories led to a Roman Mass in English.  Gathering in council, while sporadic, has taken place throughout Christian history.

The second key background concept is that of primacy, of ancient sees of particular prominence and leadership. In England that was first of all the see of Canterbury, of Augustine himself, sent by Pope Gregory to evangelize the Saxons. Continued to be a focus on unity, through the Reformation period with Thomas Cranmer, the author of our prayer book, himself.  Primacy is meant to be a reminder of the apostolic source of the faith, its continuity, and its gathered unity.  (There are the same purposes for any episcopate, only intensified in these venerable instances).  One can easily see how societies with a strong sense of honoring their forebears, of a tradition of wisdom, and of continuity, would immediately see the value of primacy.  It is no accident that the Archbishop of Canterbury summons the bishops into conclave.

But what of our own Anglican history?  The emergence of a worldwide fellowship of Churches is simultaneous with the beginnings of a gathering of all bishops in communion with Canterbury. The presenting issues were directly related to younger churches and their ties to the Church of England itself. What if a bishop in south Africa taught something deemed to be beyond the pale, in this case having to do with polygamy (the Colenso case), and what if as a result there were contesting claims to be the Anglican Church there? A struggle ensued about whether there could be an actual synod with decision-making power (the Anglo Catholics were for it, the evangelicals against). A compromise was reached, in which counsel and consensus would be sought, though each national church would retain its autonomy. The Conference would depend on bishops listening to, and be persuaded by, one another. Over the years, the prevailing views of issues like polygamy or divorce was influenced. But the theological intent without compelling power has been knit into the Anglican way ever since. It is easy to see the importance and the difficulty coming out of this history for our own day.



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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.