(copy of Letter from Peter Toon published in Church Times today 26th. This development in the use of Canon Law is very important...read on)
I appreciated your coverage of The Primates Meeting and the colourful photo of the Primates on page 3 of the issue of 19th April.
May I suggest that probably the most important work that the Primates did was on Canon Law.
At present, the Canon Law of virtually all the Provinces is of such a nature as to strengthen the autonomy of each province. It contains no provisions requiring and governing the relations with the See of Canterbury or with other Provinces. These relations are left to other means than Constitutions & Canon Law ( see further Norman Doe, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion, OUP).
Beginning at Kanuga, USA, last year and continuing at Canterbury this year the Primates are involved in a process that if pursued to the end will have far reaching effects upon the relations of Provinces within the Communion. It will lead to the situation where Provinces will not only be united by a common history, doctrine, worship and customs (as now) but also by canons and constitutional clauses that state their (binding) relation in fundamental matters to the See of Canterbury and to each other.
The end result will of course restrict their autonomy and their ability to innovate in worship, doctrine and morality, and will make it practical for there to be involvement by the whole body (e.g., via the Primates' Meeting) within an individual province that urgently needs help or discipline.
Thus Canon Law will fully emerge as the fifth instrument of unity of the Communion (along with the See of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting).
In the Official Report of the Primates Meeting, in paragraphs 5& 6 this development is noted and the claim to be recognizing or creating a new instrument of unity is made. I quote: " The Primates recognized that the unwritten law common to the Churches of the Communion and expressed as shared principles of canon law may be understood to constitute a fifth “instrument of unity” along with the four" (noted above). It appears that there is much in common amongst the Provinces in terms of the content of Canon Law, but there are few if any canons stating the nature of the existing ecclesial relations within the Communion.
I suggest that this process/development deserves the best efforts of all concerned so that under God's providence it serves the Anglican Communion well in her vocation as a jurisdiction of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God in the world. It is a task that if not done very well will, I fear, do much more harm than good!
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon, The Rectory, Biddulph Moor, ST8 &HP
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America