February 10, 2010

A Shot Across the Bow

This afternoon, the General Synod of the Church of England passed the following resolution:

That this Synod, aware of the distress cause by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,
  1. recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;
  2. 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
  3. invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.


  1. Frankly, I do not see this as a threat. I see this as a reminder to follow protocol to those who formed ACNA who wish to remain within the Anglican family. ACNA is in too much of a rush. Those who were confirmed Episcopalians here in the US (or Canadian Anglicans up north)have been and continue to be Anglicans. The ex-Pittsburgh bishop and priests that removed themselves to another Province, the Southern Cone, with ++Venables as their actual archbishop, continue to be valid Anglican clergy, serving hundreds of Episcopalians in their flocks. Hopefully in the interim, while the "relevant authorities" explore the issues raised by the aspirations of those wishing to remain within the Anglican family, any confirmations will be in that already recognized province of the Southern Cone.

  2. Hi! I am a Portuguese Roman Catholic bachelor of philosophy with a minor on Religion History and Ideas, and yes, I am a liberal!...
    I knew your blog from Thinking Anglicans. Congratulations for your work!
    Here in Portugal we are now taking the same experience than the one in the Anglican Communion: The government put a law in the parleament to accept gay marriage... The right side of the parleament doesn't like, and population is divided in disputes about gays, homophobic behaviours, civil rigts and lots of religion!... Unfortunatly, all days we have a Catholic priest or Bishop speaking against gays in the news!!!... Portugal is a small, Roman Catholic conservative country, governed at this time to a party like your Democratic Party, and the Prime Minister has near the same ideas of your President Obama... Continue!...

  3. I think there is less here than meets the eye.

    The English Bishops have proposed and the Synod has passed an amended resolution that accomplishes nothing of what the original mover wanted except to recognize that the people who followed ACNA wishes they could be in communion again with the CofE and Canterbury.

    In fact, the passage of the resolution puts an end once and for all to the argument that ACNA is in the Anglican Communion by way of the Southern Cone. If they were, there would have been no need for this resolution in the first place.

    The resolution requires ACNA to do something it has heretofore shown itself unable to do: play by the rules and lives with members of the Communion who don't agree with them.

    The Bishops and the Synod have said to ACNA that if you can't play by the rules that apply to everyone else in the communion "don't call us, we'll call you."

  4. Obviously, the alternative wording of the resolution was intended to blunt the thrust of the original version. That the General Synod was debating the matter at all, however, indicates that there was support for the original, and simply voting it down was seen as disrespectful of a significant block of CoE members.

    All that said, there may be less than meets the eye here. I am open to the notion that the final resolution is simply badly written. A lot of that is going around.

  5. Well, I won't probably be so popular, but I have to be straight to the point: Nowadays, things in the Anglican Communion and in Christianity as well are changing in very fast time. The old classic disputes of the past tend to be solved, and new disputes are becoming clear...
    Christianity as a whole body is declining, by secularization of the young urban people and with the help of demography in the Muslim countries. Roman Catholic Church is declining in Europe, Canada, and probably the US, and growing only in some poor contries in Africa. And what is the answer to this subject done by the other Christians? Well, it is complex!...
    Traditional Reformed Churches, like TEC, The Cuch of Sweden and others in the developed conntries are becoming more liturgic (with vestments, Eucharist Reservation and sometimes adoration, incense, etc...) and liberals (women Priests and Bishops, gay marriage, etc...).
    Confessional or Evangelical ones mainly in less developed countries or in poor regions or with poor people in the developed countries are becoming more confessionals, more strict to the Scripture, more radical and conservatives, using modern "psychadelic" music and claiming to be the onwners of the truths of the Bible!... Continue!...

  6. And the Anglican Communion?... Well, it is on the center stage... It has generally confessional or evangelical provinces in the south and generally liturgical and liberal provinces in the north!... It worked well in the first century of the communion as we know nowadays... AC is not a very old thing with high importance... It is in first a Communion of Faith, not a whole organization, like Roman Catholic Church!... Of course, one day, differences have to be noticed, and so, a break is unavoidable!... Gay subject in only a good excuse!...
    And what will happen? Let's see: TEC will approve Mary Glasspool to the Episcopate, and this story about CofE General synod is just a clear invitation, by irritating TEC Bishops, in disputes cause of property!... After it, 3 things will happen, in my humble opinion: TEC, Canada and some liberal provinces will create the Episcopal Communion (whose Archbishop will be +++Katherine Jefferts Schori...). Rwanda, Kenya, ACNA and other conservatives will create the GAFCON Communion and CofE will remain his own way, probably with some small groups in a few countries!...
    And finally, excuse me an last comment: ABC +++Rowan Williams has no conditions to be a true religious leader!... Accepting thieves on a Church?... Well... I am not secure near thieves!!!...

    Good Evening!...

  7. In reading Mark Harris’s post on the ACNA resolution, I realized that I had misread the first paragraph. Indeed, the phrase “the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada” is ambiguous, but it does localize the distress somewhat. Does “churches” mean parishes, or does it mean The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and ACNA? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure that it matters. Certainly, recognizing ACNA as an Anglican church—not an Anglican Communion church, is not a big deal.

    By the way, I got the wording of the final resolution from the Church Times Blog. I suspect that “cause,” in the first paragraph, should really be “caused,” however.

  8. It sounds to me as if ACNA has just been sentenced to the death-by-a-thousand-cuts known as a "listening process" - endless studies and conversations and recommendations and non-binding resolutions that are really just tabling the issue with a bit of laser-pointer waving to keep the jumpier set occupied.

    At worst, what it says is "Give us time to see what the clear winning side is, then we'll support them." If that's the case, it means the CofE is so weak we don't need to worry about who they align with.

  9. This is a follow-up on my comment of yesterday. The Church of England Web site has the definitive version of what the General Synod passed yesterday. It differs from what was posted on the Church Times Blog primarily in its formatting. The CoE version is the following:

    That this Synod

    (a) aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada;

    (b) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

    (c) 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

    (d) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

  10. Excuse me an off topic, but I read un interesting thing in BBC...
    Well... And, if science says one day that gays are natural cause of genetic modification?... Kenia, Rwanda, Uganda, Southern Cone, ACNA, and company wouldn't feel too confortable with this motion, I suspect...
    On the other hand: http://episcopalnews.ladiocese.net/dfc/newsdetail_2/150
    Well... I suppose things is quite clear for now... Now Glaspool only needs 20 out of 61 possible votes, and, well, I suspect that she won't get 41 votes against...


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