That this Synod, aware of the distress cause by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,The resolution, of course, was amended from a more objectionable one that would have put the General Synod on record as desiring the Church of England to be in communion with ACNA. The amended resolution borders on the innocuous, though it doesn’t quite get there. Here are some thoughts on the resolution as passed:
- recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;
- acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and
- invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011
- The distress referred to in the opening paragraph is attributed to no one in particular. Whereas some might assume the distress refers to that of members of ACNA, members of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada could just as easily be distressed. Clearly, the distress extends to members of the Church of England, otherwise why would the CoE need such a resolution? Actually, I think the paragraph is disingenuousness; we are almost assuredly supposed to attribute the distress to ACNA members.
- What does it mean that ACNA members want to remain within the “Anglican family”? Arguably, they are already in the Anglican family if, by that, we mean being in a church tracing its lineage back to the Church of England. Of course, members of ACNA desire to be in the Anglican Communion. Because they are not in it now, it is untrue to say they want to remain in the Anglican Communion. (Some members of ACNA, such as Archbishop Bob Duncan, claim dual membership—itself a stretch—in both ACNA and the Southern Cone, a province of the Anglican Communion.) Many members of ACNA have never been in the Anglican Communion (members of the Reformed Episcopal Church, for example). I suspect that we are intended to read “Anglican Communion” for “Anglican family,” but that isn’t what the resolution says.
- Even I recognize that members of ACNA want to remain in the Anglican whatever. I am troubled by the General Synod’s use of “affirm,” however, which suggests approval of ACNA’s aspirations.
- Item (b), in its use of “Anglican Communion” seems to confirm the legerdemain represented by the use of “Anglican family.” The ACNA aspiration most certainly does raise issues needing to be explored. One might have hoped that the relationship of ACNA to The Episcopal Church and to the Anglican Church of Canada would have been mentioned here, since admission of ACNA into the Anglican Communion would create parallel jurisdictions hitherto anathema to the Communion.
- Who are the relevant authorities referred to in item (b). Leaders of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are certainly relevant, but I doubt they will be consulted. How is the needed exploration to take place?
- I assume that “the Archbishops” of item (c) are the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, but the resolution does not make this clear. Tobias Haller reports that CoE polity assigns to the two English archbishops the matter of communion with other churches. If I have understood (c) correctly, the General Synod is simply referring the matter (with not much guidance, actually, to those in charge of the matter of churches in communion with the CoE. Other groups for whom issues are raised (e.g., the Anglican Consultative Council) are not mentioned. In any case, whether “proper” or not, we have here another instance within the Anglican Communion where important decisions are being left to bishops. (Significantly, the revised wording of the resolution came from a CoE bishop.)
- I was surprised that the archbishops are being give a year to report, rather than being asked to report at the next meeting of the General Synod. Perhaps CoE bishops are not in too much of a hurry to climb out on what could be a very slim limb.
So what is the immediate effect of the resolution on The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, or, for that matter, ACNA? Really, not much. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada should, however, see the resolution, even in its diminished final form, as a warning shot across the bow. It is significant, I think, that the desirability of continued communion with them is not mentioned in the resolution. It may not be correct to say that the CoE (or its General Synod) is overtly hostile to The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, but it is clear that there is much hostility there. This is very disappointing.