Tuesday, June 11, 2002

The Future of "Anglicanism"

A discussion starter by Peter Toon (D.Phil. Oxon)

What is reasonably clear, I think, is that for most "Anglicans" in most of the 38 autonomous Churches ( provinces) which are loosely associated in what is called the Anglican Communion, the idea of belonging to this Communion rarely enters their conscious mind and their conversation. And exceedingly few Anglicans (and this is supremely so in the UK) are really and permanently concerned about the identity of the present or the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Interest in 2002 in the Anglican Communion of Churches, and its so-called "instruments of unity" that attempt to hold this amazing diversity together, is very much a minority and a professional interest. Most local Anglicans would (at least in the short term) not miss out on anything much or see any great changes if their Church (one of the 38) were to live wholly according to its legal, autonomous nature and secede from the Communion. (After all we have a variety of Anglican Churches around the world that are outside the Communion and that seem nevertheless to continue and maintain a basic orthodoxy and growth - e.g., the C of E in S Africa and the American Continuing Churches, including the new AMiA.)

In fact, one wonders just how much pressure there would be from the laity of most Churches (provinces) to maintain other than genial and friendly contacts with other Anglican-type Churches if the laity alone decided these things. It seems to be primarily bishops, some presbyters and a few laity who push the agenda of being an active part of the Communion and thus attending all meetings to foster close fellowship. It seems to be a few church leaders who want to minimize the autonomy of each province and to make each province responsible to the whole in basic areas of doctrine, discipline and worship. And it is certainly only a few who push the idea that the identity of the next Archbishop is critical to the future of Anglicanism! Apparently most Anglicans in each and all of the 38 provinces are content to be within an autonomous province that maintains some kind of minimal ties with other Churches of like mind and history and heritage. For most of the time, local parochial issues and their own salvation are their primary concern. Yet perhaps at the very back of the mind belonging to a world-wide "family" is comforting in a general sense.

For the minority who wish to bring the provinces closer together and to maximise the effects of the instruments of unity (including the newest one - canon law) there seem to be tremendous problems to overcome. For example --- Despite the doctrine of reception (Eames Reports) divisions over the ordaining of women both to the presbyterate and the episcopate remain and harden; and despite many attempts to create dialogue and understanding, the issue of sexuality deeply divides dioceses and provinces - indeed for some the presence of same-sex partnerships and actively homosexual clergy is absolutely a non-starter. Further, divisions (economic, cultural, racial
etc.) between "North" and "South" are there just beneath the surface ready to erupt and become real divisions on the ground.

If there is truly a "good" for all Anglicans within the 38 Churches (and in the other Anglican bodies) in actually belonging to a Communion that is being steered towards a closer fellowship, thereby minimizing the autonomy of each and every part and maximizing that authority which belongs to central agencies ("the instruments of unity"), then that "good" surely needs to be spelled out and proclaimed soon and effeiciently to the whole of the 75 millions of this 38 member alliance.

The "good" (benefits for the kingdom of heaven, for the churches involved, for the world and for each member therein) needs to be stated in clear terms, explained and propagated far and wide. If this is done - and it would be a miracle for there to be wide agreement as to what is this good -- there may be a great strength available to find ways to overcome those apparently insuperable problems of women's ordination, sexuality and North/South tensions (together with others that are there and will be there) and to go forward as an active and faithful jurisdiction of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to proclaim the Gospel and edify God's people.

The Roman Church is far better organized on the ground than is the Anglican Communion. In fact the Anglican worldwide family as an international body is (from management strategy) hopelessly and inefficiently organized and managed and yet it stumbles along. Put simply, for "Anglicanism" to have a future as a united movement in the next decade in the modern world and to be a plausible, united jurisdiction of the Church of God will require a tremendous effort by a large number of Anglicans from every province. The possibility that we shall see the development of a fragmented Anglicanism as the internal doctrinal and moral arguments become too intense to handle is very real. Centrifugal forces usually overcome centripetal ones in a world tainted by original sin. The Anglican experience in the USA already provides a powerful model of the way in which centrifugal forces in modern culture are dominant within Anglicanism.

To close. I am an Anglican; I belong to the Anglican Way of Christianity and seek to propagate it. Yet I cannot be optimistic about the workings of the Anglican Communion, even though I would like to be!

June 2002

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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