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ARCHBISHOP MORGAN ON THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

An extract from a comment by the Archbishop of Wales which, although dated, speaks to our present crisis:

September 17th, 2004

“But you might ask, why does the Anglican Communion matter? It matters
because Communion is God’s gift to us, and what God has given we should not, dare
not spurn. God has given us in this Communion people who are very different
from ourselves. They are however His gift to us, as we, hopefully, may be his
gift to them. Gifts are means of grace and as such are to be cherished and
nourished, not rejected and cast aside. The Communion consists of nearly 100
million Anglicans across the various countries of our world. They are people
like us who believe in the authority of scripture, the creeds, the sacraments
and the historic episcopate but who in other ways are culturally very different
from us. As one report puts it “the Communion describes a theologically
identifiable group of particular, regional churches which embody reformed,
catholic faith and trace their original existence and inspiration to the mission or
ministry of the Church of England or churches closely associated with it”.
The Communion matters because in our world it is often non-governmental
organisations rather than governments which express the aspirations of
populations. The Anglican Communion is one of the largest non-governmental
organisations in the world and so has a major contribution to make as a trans-national
civic society in bringing hope, reconciliation and transformation to the
communities of our world. We have seen how that has happened already in countries
such as Kenya and South Africa. The Communion matters therefore for the
witness to truth and justice that it makes to our world as well as the vitally
important expression of what it means to be a member of the Christian family.
This Communion also has companionship links across the world, partnership and
mission links, inter-Anglican networks and religious orders helping to bind it
together. Do we want to throw all that away?

For it is a Communion not a Federation as is the case with the Lutheran
Church. Thus there are no formalised overlapping jurisdictions except in Europe
and as Anglicanism was exported, the model was not a hierarchally centrally run
church with unity maintained by magisterial rulings or uniformity but a
familial one held together by bonds of affections. Lutheranism consists of a
number of pre existing groups coming together by agreement. The familial model
however evokes from provinces the building up of ways of articulating the bonds
they have in common as they develop. The familial model is different from
the federal model since the latter consists of churches coming together and
surrendering certain rights and privileges in order to gain others. The familial
model recognises the history and tradition we have in common needing some
kind of institutional support. The difference between the federal and the
familial model is the difference between a group of friends renting a house
together and to a family living together under one roof.

Professor Daniel Hardy writes that “In Anglicanism, unity is found in
movement towards others, not in moving apart, no matter how well rationalised”.
Why, because it is a response to God’s movement towards his world and so as
Ephesians 4:2-3 puts it, “We must bear with one another in love, making every
effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace”. The crucial
question then is how do we do that? Let me just outline three ways in which
that can be made possible:

Firstly, by listening to one another. This can best be summed up by a
passage I came across the other day, having nothing to do with the Anglican
Communion as such but we could certainly benefit from the advice:
“Can you just listen? When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me
advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and
you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my
feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something
to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem. Listen.
All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do, just hear me”.

Secondly, we need to remember our Anglican tradition and our particular way
of doing theology. It was Isaac Williams, the Vice Principal of this College
and a Welsh Tractarian to boot, who wrote on “Reserve in Communicating
Religious Knowledge”. “We need” he says “an abstention from over-hasty doctrinal
definition and a commitment to the mystery of God’s presence with us”. In
other words, Anglicanism has been about definitive questions not definitive
answers. Richard Hooker, that sixteenth century divine in his Law of
Ecclesiastical Polity had this to say “Although to know God be life, and joy to make
mention of his name: yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know him not
as indeed he is, neither can know him: and our safest eloquence concerning
him is our silence, when we confess without confession that his glory is
inexplicable, his greatness above our capacity and reach. He is above, and we upon
earth; therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few”. “Surely” says
the psalmist “ you are a God who hides yourself”. A bit of reticence therefore
about how exactly God reveals himself would not go amiss.

Thirdly, we need to remember that the witness of the Gospel and of Jesus is
to an inclusive community, not to an exclusive community. This means
associating with and striving to understand and value, as well as accepting as
brothers and sisters not just people who are most like us or who are related to us
or those with whom we feel at ease, but those who are least like us and who do
things differently and whom we might find it difficult to get on with.
Richard Hooker again, “Pray God that none may be offended if I seek to make the
Christian religion an inn where all may be received joyously rather than a
cottage where some few friends or family might be entertained”.
One of the key passages of the famous 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 on human
sexuality was, and I quote, that “the Anglican Communion commits itself to
listen to the experience of homosexual persons and wishes to assure them that
they are loved by God and that all baptised believing faithful persons,
regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the body of Christ”. It is a
section that tends to be ignored. It is a fact, that in many countries of our world, people are being persecuted
simply because of their sexual orientation. In fact there are 80 countries in
the world, which persecute gay and lesbian people through their penal codes
with punishments ranging from death to mutilation and imprisonment. We do not,
as a church, want to do anything that adds to the suffering and
marginalisation of such people.”

There’s much food for thought in this address as we approach the deadline set forth by the Primates when they last met in Tanzania, amid calls from the left and the right to walk away from or be pushed from the Anglican Communion. I regard our unity as a family as something we cannot destroy in an act of rage or impatience. Any cause we maintain, whether it be biblical authority, gay rights, or ecclesial integrity or provincial autonomy means little or nothing if used as a justification for schism, the violent act of breaking baptismal relationships. TC

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