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.