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ANGLICAN COMMUNION

Lecture given in St. Mary’s Church, Eugene, Oregon, October 11, 2003 by the Rev. Tony Clavier

THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION IN THE 21st CENTURY

I was asked to come to Eugene nearly a year ago to join with you as you celebrate 150 years of an Anglican presence in Eugene. My theme was to be the Anglican ethos. As we gradually worked on a program it was decided that I would try and cover briefly, this evening, the subject of the Anglican Communion in the 21st Century. What seemed to be, and may seem still to be a pretty boring subject for a Saturday evening has become a hot topic since August.

In normal times, if there are any nowadays, the Anglican Communion is a rather “out there” entity, brought to mind when our bishops fly across the ditch for the decadal Lambeth Conferences of bishops. No doubt if you go to diocesan headquarters you will discover a photograph on the wall showing a multitude of purple glad men and women smiling – or frowning – into a camera. The faces on these pictures have become smaller and smaller and the photographs longer and longer over the last century and a half in an attempt to crowd in more and more people. From a small beginning, when bishops sat together in the library of Lambeth Palace, the ancient London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the conference has bloomed into a meeting of hundreds of bishops meeting on the campus of a university just outside Canterbury.

It is estimated that there are about 77,000,000 Anglicans scattered around the globe, which puts us in the big league of Christian churches. The Episcopal Church is one of the smaller member churches. Our perhaps 2,000,000 members set us well behind, for instance, the Nigerian Church which numbers over 17,000,000 folk and is growing rapidly. Well over half of all Anglicans now live in Africa. This fact has become lately obvious to us over here! Anglicanism is fast becoming a 3rd world phenomenon. To Americans, used to exporting our culture and dominating the world as THE super-power it comes as quite a shock to find us out-numbered and marginalized. In the 3rd world new converts are added daily. In our world the very thought of evangelism sends some of us into culture shock. The Episcopal Church has become smaller and perhaps less diverse than at any time in our recent history. In the 3rd world the church, often amidst persecution, civil war, disease and famine, finds itself to be counter-cultural. In the US we are deeply affected by our national culture, or cultures, and often view the church as an appendage to our life in the world.

In the 3rd world the average Anglican is poor and disadvantaged. In our world, Episcopalians are, by and large, a pretty well heeled bunch. While the average parish is quite small, diverse, with a fair share of “blue collar” members, General Convention’s make-up doesn’t reflect this at all. 75% of deputies to General Convention belong to parishes with a membership of 500 or more. The cost of one General Convention would probably keep most 3rd world Anglican dioceses in clover for years. Come to think of it that is true of my own diocese of South Dakota where we face a crippling financial crisis and can’t even afford a clergy conference this year. 51% of our people, the Lakota/Dakota live in extreme poverty. The 3rd world is among us all.

In short the Anglican Communion is developing into a 3rd world Communion to which is appended the smaller Westernized churches from which the Communion grew originally. This would seem to be a cause for celebration. What we exported has taken root in the most extraordinary fashion.

Historians argue about whether our exporting Christianity to the rest of the world was a good or bad thing. To some, it was the natural outcome of the Great Commission:
Go into the entire world and preach, baptize, make disciples.
So ordered Jesus. We are sitting here tonight as Christians because that happened.

To others, missionary work is allied to imperialism and colonialism, by which the West was enriched. Western missionaries, like the Romans legions, placed a statue of the King- Emperor in each new colony and attempted to keep universal peace by promoting its Christian-God. Mercifully I’m not here to discuss that subject tonight. But perhaps we should remember that Christianity also came to Britain on the heels of the Roman legions.

The Anglican Communion is a fact. It is also an accidental fact. Right from the time of the Reformation, Anglicans have tended to do things first and find some kind of a rationale to justify what has been done later. We are an untidy, muddle-through lot! Anglicans from the British Isles started to move out within about 80 years of our separation from Rome. They took their Prayer Books with them. No thought was given to how these folks might continue to be CofE once abroad. They had to make shift for themselves. For about two hundred years American Anglicans managed without bishops and without Conventions. There are those who look back to those days with certain nostalgia!

Given the controversies of the moment, it is ironic that the notion of a worldwide Anglican Communion, well except for the Irish and Scottish churches -a big exception, began in North America. The American Revolution, about which I shall say as little as I can, created a revolution in Anglicanism –although that term was largely unknown at the time. No religious group in the Colonies was more affected by the Revolution. Many, perhaps most Anglicans sided with the Crown. Many left or were run out when Independence was unilaterally declared. Most of the clergy were loyalists rather than “patriots.” When representatives from Anglicans in each State met to consider what to do, they decided swiftly to become an independent church. This was the first instance of American Anglicans going it alone! The bemused bishops of the English Church reluctantly agreed to consecrate bishops – no I haven’t forgotten Seabury – but it was made clear in the text of the Act of Parliament that American bishops and clergy weren’t welcome to minister in England. Impaired Communion had arrived.

The Canadians got a better deal, for they were still within the family. During the next 80 years overseas Anglicanism spread and gradually dioceses were formed in what was then the British Empire. Some American bishops, among them the great John Henry Hobart of New York, yearned for formal ties linking the Anglican world. Other Episcopalians were less sure. Some worked for some form of centralized authority with power in matters of doctrine and discipline. Others were prepared, grudgingly, for some form of links, as long as the Episcopal Church was free, within the bounds of its own doctrine, discipline and worship, to fend for itself. It was pressure from the US and Canada which created the Anglican Communion. They wanted more than they were able to get in terms of its authority.

Finally, Archbishop Longley settled the matter by inviting, by personal invitation, all the Anglican bishops from around the world to a conference in his home. He resisted calls for his being recognized as an Anglican patriarch. He was already in enough trouble from his colleague, the Archbishop of York, for presuming to call a meeting, on his own authority.

Only the American bishops were not English by birth. They didn’t always fit in well. The rest attended the same sort of boarding schools and went to either Oxford or Cambridge. Whether they worked in London or Calcutta, Toronto or Hong Kong, they had the same roots and culture. They took for granted that the sun never set on the Empire. In short they had more in common, at a cultural level, than they had differences. It is true that the advent of the Anglo-Catholic party created enormous tension. Before the 1830s, whether High or Low Church, Anglicans knew that they were Protestants. What they meant by that term differed, but they knew that they were children of the Reformation, a Protestant Re
formation haunted by a Catholic past. Anglo-Catholicism changed all that. Indeed in the US, within five years of the first Lambeth Conference, evangelical Episcopalians met together in New York and organized a rival Reformed Episcopal Church which exists today and is growing again.

Re-reading the polemics of those days, one realizes that passions ran as high then, as they seem to at this moment. On the other hand, right from the beginning, our church had sought to include people of seemingly mutually opposed beliefs and practices. We’d had time to live together if not to love together always!

The first Lambeth Conference met in large part to try and solve a potential schism in South Africa. That would not be the last time that it became involved in the “internal” affairs of member provinces.

Every ten years after 1868, bishops met at Lambeth, except in the war years. Bishops discussed everything from ecumenism, to birth control, to liturgy, theological education, the plight of the poor and much else. No one asked whether the decisions made at Lambeth Conferences had authority. Authority was a given, even in the US. One didn’t have to define it. One didn’t even have to ask how it happened. Yes emerging Provinces were autonomous. Yes no one could force a constituent church to listen to what the Lambeth bishops said. But rarely if ever were such questions posed. If American bishops were sometimes unhappy, it was because they felt a bit lost in a club for British chaps! The pre-Second World War years were ones in which, at least for our church, settled order prevailed.

After the Second World War, great changes occurred in the Communion. More and more bishops were homegrown rather than sent out to the colonies and dominions of the Empire. As countries gained their independence, their bishops and people sensed a growing need for local expressions and a beefed up local autonomy. The United States had emerged as a dominant world power, wealthy and self-assured. England was broke and so was its National Church. The Episcopal Church, typifying the generosity of Americans, stepped in to assist the new churches of Africa and Asia. The Episcopal Church grew its own mini-Communion in the Philippines, parts of Japan and China, in Central and parts of South America. Among all the Anglican churches, the Episcopal Church gradually assumed an influence second only to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Perhaps it is not too strong a thing to state that ECUSA went through its own revolution in the 60s. What had seemed to some to be the conservative party at prayer, over many years had become involved in liberal causes in American culture and politics. For perhaps sixty years, since the beginning of the 20th Century, social concerns loomed larger in our thinking. Many saw the mission of the church in advancing cultural changes, in championing the poor, workers, and opposing big business and corporate greed. The term “justice” was more heard among us.

Yet it was in the 60s that many who would become leaders in ECUSA underwent what one may only term a conversion experience. In the turmoil of the 60s, of the Viet Nam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, a new “party” exploded in our midst pledged to a Gospel of social justice. To these new converts Christianity was all about changing society: rooting out injustice and prejudice. Converts to the “new liberalism” came from all segments of the church and included leadership. Impressed by the power of political legislation, of lobbies and pressure groups, they transformed General Convention into an engine of change. At no time since the Reformation had such radical change come to an Anglican Church in such a short time. Women were admitted to the diaconate and priesthood and to all offices in the church. Blacks and other minorities were granted full inclusion. A new Prayer Book was adopted. Divorcees were permitted to marry in church. More recently gay and lesbian folk were admitted to full membership and a few weeks ago a gay, living in a committed relationship with another man was confirmed as bishop-elect of New Hampshire. It might be said that pre Second World War concerns about the stability of society were now replaced by a concern for personal and group freedom.

These changes excited and renewed many Episcopalians. Others were bemused. Still others were alienated. In former days Anglicans changed things in a muddled sort of way. New ideas arose at grass roots. Some were in fact very old ideas, as with Anglo-Catholicism and the Evangelical Revivals. Others’ like Christian Socialism and its heir, The Social Gospel Movement, were new to the scene. Whether such views took on, were amended, or rejected, happened in an ad hoc manner. Synods and Conventions were thought of meetings to adopt budgets, make statements and hold things together. People quarreled, wrote books and pamphlets, let off steam, but no authoritarian body tried to make them adopt things which they opposed. That was the Anglican way.

From the 60s onwards, all that changed. For better or worse, General Convention became the engine of change, enforcing changes by legislative acts. Those opposed to change became more and more marginalized and more and more unhappy. The old compact, which held together people of radically opposing views, seemed to collapse.

Perhaps a shift also occurred in our views on where authority lies within an Anglican Church. Anglicans have looked to Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism and above all the Liturgy as centers of authority. The episcopate has also been thought of as something essential, a part of “authority.” General Convention was thought to be a center of authority but not THE center of authority. However, in every case except that of bishops and General Convention, these differing forms of authority are “powerless.” I am not suggesting that Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism and the Liturgy have no power, of course they do, but that power is not of the same order as the power of a person, or the power of a legislature.

It is true that, in the 1970s, the decisions of the American and Canadian Churches to ordain women caused a good deal of unhappiness in parts of the Anglican Communion. Lambeth 1978 came on the heels of these actions and managed to keep the lid on things. The Eames Commission, named after the then primate of the Church of Ireland, proposed a solution involving two ideas. The first was the idea of reception. By reception was meant a period of time during which the ordination of women could be tried out, as an experiment if you will, while continued theological discussion and practical experimentation went on. The second concept was that of “impaired communion.” Although Anglican Provinces that did not ordain women were not forced so to do, ties between the constituent churches were to remain intact. Each church was advised to work this out in its own way.

Then came sex! I think it not too strong a statement to make when I suggest that a majority of American bishops came back from Lambeth 1998 in a state of shock. It seemed to many that the 3rd world bishops had bitten the hands that fed them. By a very large majority the Lambeth bishops determined that gay and lesbian sexual activity was sinful. They also determined that a learning process of dialog with gays and lesbians,with scholarly research and scriptural teaching be encouraged. What now changed, for good or ill, was that gay and lesbians were to be addressed as a “class” rather than as baptized people within the oneness of the church.

Of course there isn’t such a thing as an American culture. This truism is demonstrated in our politics, lifestyles and much else. During the last half a century American society has become polarized and more ideological. It is perhaps true to say that this development has affected the Episcopal Church enormously. As we have noted, the New Liberal Movement has provided leadership in General Convention, the dioceses and many p
rominent parishes for about 40 years. In short the political divide in American society is replicated in ECUSA. For many reasons, those attuned to political and religious liberalism predominate, at least in terms of power. ECUSA has become a church for liberals. It has chosen a class of people as its “market” and abandoned its identity as a comprehensive church.

The Lambeth decision on human sexuality, at least the part everyone stressed, shocked the Episcopal Church leadership. For the first time, at least in any significant manner, Episcopalians began to discuss the actual authority of the Lambeth Conference. It is certainly true that the old order, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English Church were held in great esteem, passed away after World War 2. If you will, “divine” right began to be challenged by “legal right” and even legal right by charismatic authenticity.

Let me unpack this shorthand. There was a time, not too long ago, when episcopacy was honored greatly and the collective episcopacy more so. After all, Anglicanism is “episcopal.” Many Anglicans believed that bishops were “new apostles” among us. Those who didn’t still believed episcopacy to be an historic and ancient form of church order. Thus when all the bishops met and made decisions, their findings were treated with reverence. The collective episcopacy exercised a moral but not coercive authority.

Now all that has changed. The nature of spiritual authority is challenged by legal right. Thus it is pointed out that legal authority rests in each church of the Communion and not in any instrument of unity such as the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference or the Anglican Consultative Council. There are those who advance the idea that each church in the Communion is an entity in and unto itself and that its governing council, by whatever name, is supreme. Even further it is now often suggested that group action, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even if illegal, is to be recognized and honored.

In the old Humpty Dumpty world of Anglicanism, most would have shrugged and murmured, “All shall win and all shall take the prize.” In those days an Anglican ethos lived. What does that mean? It can mean many things. At worst it was a stuffy conformity to cultural norms perhaps nicely expressed in that children’s hymn, “All things bright and beautiful.”

In a verse not to be found in American editions, Mrs. Alexander wrote:
“The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate; God made them high and lowly, each in their own estate.”

The Anglican ethos may also mean a style of liberality. Within the confines of certain mutually accepted principles, widely interpreted, rests a freedom to think, explore, and propose.

Anglicanism may also be thought of in terms of an extraordinary and accidental experiment in which people of radically different views nevertheless find common and harmonious space. Ambiguity becomes a cardinal virtue

The Anglican ethos may be engaged in terms of deep scholarship and spirituality, a symbiosis of things ancient and things modern, things Catholic and things Reformed, woven together into a comprehensive and comprehensible whole.

Let me be more precise. There was a time when it was possible to heed the advice and counsel of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the collective episcopate, function as autonomous churches and give space for the resurrection of things old and the birth of things new.

Indeed, to take the last point first, every movement of significance in our history has started at grass roots, and has, more often than not, involved doing things contrary to Canon Law. The Evangelicals gleefully crossed diocesan and parochial lines to preach. They left out bits of the liturgy and incorporated rumperty tumperty “clap happy” songs! Anglo-Catholics performed rites and ceremonies which were not in the Prayer Book, and which were illegal. Their little manuals containing lists of shocking sins to be repented infuriated good Protestant folk who believed that these Romanists were corrupting morals. There’s nothing new about people and groups blithely ignoring authority and claiming to do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s an Anglican thing to do!

There’s nothing new about the concept of Provincial autonomy. Each member church in our communion takes it for granted that it is self-governing. We have seen that Archbishop Longley refused to encourage a move towards some pan-Anglican jurisdiction.

Nor is there anything new about honor for the collective wisdom of the gathered worldwide episcopate. It is only now that an archbishop of Canterbury finds it necessary to ask whether we remain a Communion, or have devolved into a federation? In short from 1868 until perhaps 1998 it was possible for all to win and all to gain the prize. Experts often stated that we had diffused authority, located in many “instruments.” Like most elements of the Anglican Communion, if any single aspect of our instruments of unity were pressed above the rest, the whole structure weakens.

Let me return to the subject of “culture” again. In most parts of the Western world where Anglicanism exists, the church has taken for granted that it ministers within a Christian culture. In short it has been easy to live as a Christian in what at least seemed to be a Christian world. In fact, for more than a century now, it has been assumed that to be a Christian is a personal and private choice, an elective appendage if you will. For well over a thousand years it could be assumed that being a Christian and being a citizen involved no dichotomy. During the last century there has been a steady drift towards the concept that the individual right of a citizen to hold whatever belief he or she desires and to live whatever lifestyle chosen trumps all else. Many Christians now doubt whether it is appropriate to attempt to share the Faith with others. Separation of church and state, whether formal as in the US, or informal in the UK means that Christians have withdrawn into themselves and into their buildings. Faith has become “spiritual” while daily living has become “real.”

It is difficult, therefore, for Western Anglicans to walk a mile with their sisters and brothers to whom local culture is alien and perhaps threatening. To be a Christian in the Sudan, in Uganda, in Rwanda, means to live apart from culture and to view culture as something to be changed and transformed by the Gospel at whatever cost. In short most 3rd world Anglicans believe it their duty to convert culture and people and to transform society. Such people are at home in the world of St. Paul. Many of us in the West find the world of St. Paul remote, dead and gone, and rather shocking.

The world of St. Paul, as we meet it in those troubling Epistles pitted a tiny group of new converts against a hostile world. Christians thought of themselves as being “the first harvest of a new creation.” The church was the preview of God’s purpose for the whole world and for all people. Like all previews, or trailers, the picture was muddled by human weakness, and yet it faithfully pointed the way forward. Christians were different and compromise with the world, with “culture”, impossible.

To my mind we won’t be able to understand the crisis in Anglicanism unless we take seriously these two differing views. In our own church, the usual view is that we are to engage our culture and promote its evolution into a just community. We still think ourselves to be very much part of the history, social life and ideals of our own country. The task of the church, for many, is to tinker with society and make it better.

In Africa, for instance, the role of the church is to call people out of the prevailing culture into what they might term the Kingdom of God. While social justice, political freedom disease and famine are part and parcel of wi
tness evangelism comes first. At base, the issue of human sexuality involves a collision of religious experiences, a clash of cultures. If this is so across the Communion, it is also true of ECUSA. Some view America as being in a post-Christian period in which the church is called back into roughly the same mission as that proposed and furthered by most 3rd World Anglicans. However it should also be noted that Anglican conservatives in America are deeply invested in our second culture, in the world of political and social conservatism. In a real way the divisions in our church reflect that there are Episcopalians culled from both cultures, cultures which are more and more at war with each other.

Mercifully I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I can’t look forward and see whether, at the moment Anglicanism has reached its greatest worldwide strength, it is about to implode into at least two segments. Yet I am convinced that if we enter conversations on the basis of which side will win, of self-justification we will all lose.

I want to suggest that our older ethos still contains within itself the means for us all to remain one, and to prosper as a worldwide Communion and as a local national church. While I sympathize with some, perhaps many of the causes espoused by ECUSA during the last forty years, I have to say that the politicizing of our church has done unintended but dreadful harm. General Convention, an element in authority, has become THE element of authority. The older process by which we were open to change – and to the insights of the past made new – has been replaced by the ethos of secular government. We change now in a process whereby an ascendant party “wins” by majoritarianism. The older comprehension, whereby mutually opposed constituencies were given space to prosper or decline, under the judgment of Gamaliel, has been replaced by a comprehension with a permanent under-class.

The old social compact by which no one party was given the power to alienate the consciences of others has gone. In short unity, once the obsession of Anglicans, has been replaced by a struggle for hegemony. Nor may I say that I think matters would be any different if conservatives, traditionalists, by whatever name, were the predominant force in General Convention.

Anglicanism has always been a difficult space for crusaders. The very fact that we are so different placed limits on just how adventurous the institutional church, might be at a given moment. That is not to say that “prophets” have not always been known among us. Anglicanism has been peculiarly open to movements and developments. Yet in the past the force or otherwise of reformers among us has not been politicized.

Ironically, the distress among the leaders of our church after the last Lambeth Conference was in part occasioned because a majority of bishops from across the globe challenged them. Majoritarianism is catching!

During the centuries since the Reformation, Anglicans have been confronted by strong movements of change, some pointing to things new, some to things old and neglected. A process existed; perhaps a form of authority, by which space was given to prophets to proclaim their passions. Their insights have in some case been accepted, sometimes rejected and often amended and incorporated into our common life. This does not mean that the process was always peaceful or the result salutary. We lost the Methodists because we could not adapt. On the other hand our worship was enriched by the Anglo-Catholics and our church rescued from extinction and our slaves freed by the Evangelicals.

To be blunt, I attribute much of our present dilemma to the fact that we have lost our past. I began by saying that to many of us, the Anglican Communion is something we barely think about and about which we know little. Certainly Episcopalians know less and less about themselves. Faced with the puzzle about how we can at once, honor and value pan-Anglican institutions, assert our own authority, and give space for movements old and new, we are ill-equipped to engage in our older work of discovering authority in all three elements.

If the sea of faith is withdrawing in this country, as it has in most parts of the Western world, the time will come when the question of our own identity and mission will loom larger. We don’t face the sort of persecution which is the daily experience of many 3rd world Anglicans. And yet as our society advances into secularism, the time is coming when even American Anglicans will feel less and less free and less and less at home in the prevailing culture.

The world is getting smaller and smaller. What we do and how we live is no longer merely “local.” America is the dominant world power. Abroad it is understood through the lenses of global politics, economics and exported “culture.” Once the British were resented, often misunderstood and often understood only too well. Now it’s America’s turn.

It is unavoidable that the actions of our church, viewed globally will meet the same reaction. We may well shrug our shoulders, grumble about ingratitude, wrap ourselves in the flags of the US and ECUSA and do our own thing. That attitude gets us nowhere because it is xenophobic and fundamentally pagan.

Yes as Christians we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. How may ECUSA lead the way in re-discovering the peculiar ethos of Anglicanism as we adapt to things new, and contribute to the strength, vision and mission of Anglicanism worldwide? The future of Anglicanism as we have known it depends on how we answer that question. I used the word “lead” deliberately. At the moment we seem to be reacting rather than leading. Neither justifying what we did a few months ago in Minneapolis nor denouncing what we did gets us very far at all. What we say may ormay not be true. Whtehr it promotes the Gospelmay be quite another thing. I dare say that the process of leadership must begin at home, in our deeply divided church. The Anglican world waits to see just how we continue to be committed to comprehension and unity at home. If we opt to divide into two narrower, less comprehensive groups we may be happier. We will not be Anglican. If we can’t adjust here, we have nothing to say elsewhere.

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