It is now generally known that the positive proposals of The Windsor Report include (a) the strengthening of the Instruments of Unity, and (b) the creation and acceptance of a Covenant by all the 38 Provinces.
I wish here to reflect upon the reason for these proposals.
I want to suggest that the reason for them is in fact nothing to do with the presenting problem faced by the Commission, that is the sexual innovations in North America. Rather, it is because the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, and Anglican leaders generally, let go of (in some cases forsook) that which was the very basis of the “Bonds of Affection” which tied each Anglican Province both with the Church of England (via the See of Canterbury) and with other Provinces.
The doctrinal basis of the Bonds of Affection was, from the seventeenth century through to the arrival of “liturgical renewal” in the 1970s, the Anglican Formularies – i.e., the Sacred Scriptures, the ecumenical Creeds, the Book of Common Prayer [the edition of 1662 or of one based upon this], the Ordinal [again that of 1662 or one based on it] and the Articles of Religion. In terms of worship, doctrine and discipline there was a common foundation and tradition, with a comprehensive churchmanship, and this made possible the full exercise of the Bonds of Affection in all kinds of practical ways.
In the 1960s in the western world there was a social and cultural revolution and this deeply affected the Church of God in all her expressions. In terms of the Anglican Way it affected her worship, doctrine and discipline and thus the way in which individual provinces produced new shapes and forms of worship, with new content and in a new language (“the You-God”) and also a variety of translations of and paraphrases of the Bible. Patterns of family life were also deeply affected with the increase in the divorce rate and the allowing of divorced persons, particularly in America, to remarry in a church service. And of course there was women’s liberation which led to the call for the ordination of women, which also occurred in the 1970s.
Therefore, by 1980, the Bonds of Affection within Provinces and between Provinces were strained because there was no longer the general acceptance of the received common foundation and tradition to the Anglican Way. The Common Formularies of the BCP, Ordinal & Articles were either being sidelined or wholly rewritten (e.g., by the Episcopal Church of the USA in the 1970s).
So it was after the religious disturbances of the 1960s & 1970s that the need was felt of something to hold together the Communion of Provinces and so there began the talk, which intensified as the years went by, of “Instruments of Unity,” that is official means to keep the Provinces together in fellowship. Yet they were as weak glue seeking to hold together independent, self-governing, autonomous Provinces, which were now more conscious of their freedom than of their inter-dependency! In this context the first Eames Commission of the 1980s was given the task of finding a way to hold all together when there were severe differences over the ordination of women. From Eames I came the creation of the Anglican form of the modern ecumenical doctrine of “reception” [that is, testing the innovation of women clergy within the churches over time to see whether it be of God --- see my Reforming Forwards? The Process of Reception…. The Latimer Trust, London, ISBN: 0 946307 50 4. www.latimertrust.org ] This seemed to work in the short term to hold all together, howbeit uncertainly.
In the 1990s and into the new century, the influence of the LesBiGay movement grew in influence and no more so than in the ECUSA and in western Canada. Blessings of “gay” persons in partnerships increased and so did the ordaining of sexually active homosexual persons, including the famous Gene Robinson as a bishop. The world looked on and a crisis arrived
So to the Eames Commission of 2003-4, which had the task of proposing ways to hold together the 38 Provinces in the context of the crisis over the sexual innovations that had occurred in North America. This time there is no proposal of “reception” testing “gay blessings and partnerships” to see whether they be of God! However, there appears to be the belief that the period of testing of women as clergy is over and the verdict is in the affirmative!
Eames II proposes the strengthening of the Instruments of Unity (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council & Primates Meeting) and greater acceptance of them by the individual Provinces. It may be observed that if the North Americans had valued the Instruments more than their agenda then they would not have gone ahead with their recent “gay” innovations since the Instruments had clearly rejected them by majority vote.
[What Eames II does not seem to recognize is that it was Two of these Instruments (A of C and Lambeth C.) which were responsible for the introduction of the “legitimizing” of the intense activity in the 1960s and 1970s that led to the sidelining or the marginalizing or the rejection of the Common Formularies of the Anglican Way, when they enthusiastically commended liturgical revision and did not warn of the real dangers of excess!]
Further, Eames II proposes the writing of, and then the acceptance of, a Covenant by all Provinces. Such a Covenant would be voluntary, but obviously not to accept it and sign it would effectively place a Province outside of the Communion of Churches.
The point I wish to make here as strongly as I can is that there was a Covenant – the Anglican Formularies of the classic BCP, Ordinal & Articles – very much in place until the 1970s. And that it has been since the virtual rejection of this Covenant that a series of innovations has been implemented in western Provinces that has caused crisis and further crisis. The proposed Covenant, to be based on the model of the ecumenical covenants now much used between different denominations, will seemingly be used to attempt to do for the future what the Common Formularies did for the centuries before the 1970s.
I regret to have to admit that it would seem that there is no way now for the whole of the 38 Provinces to return to the status quo of the 1960s when “Bonds of Affection” upon the sure foundation of Common Formularies is/was the basic order of the day. This “digging again the wells of Abraham” is not possible because Provinces have moved too far away from this base – and some like the Provinces of the ECUSA, the West Indies, Wales and Ireland have even called their latest “Books of Alternative Services” by the hallowed title of “The Book of Common Prayer”, thereby rejecting in a less than honest way – even a deceptive way – the classic BCP & Ordinal (and shame upon Dr Eames that he, of all people, led his Church to do this in 2004!).
So it looks as though the days of the Anglican Communion as it was are over. In the future there will be not one but several groupings of Anglican Churches, on a regional and also on a doctrinal and liturgical basis. There is no longer one Communion for there is no longer the common acceptance of One Faith and One Order. Instead there is a diversity of “faiths” and of “orders”. And this has been realized for some years in places like the USA with the creation of “extra-mural Anglican jurisdictions”. In England this situation will probably lead to the formation of a new Province with male-only clergy within the established Church of England.
The Anglican Way of the future is going to be more difficult to define that it has been since the 1970s. It is going to have multiple expressions and multiple associations and groupings. Those who want to find an expression in the West that is authentic in the sense of being a continuation of the Tradition up to the 1960s/1970s will; have to look hard and maybe travel far!
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon October 28, 2004