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?