[This is written from Fairbanks, Alaska, where I am (October 4-8) guest of the Church of the Redeemer. I reflect in this (not far from the Article Circle) city on the journey of the Common Cause Partnership towards a viable Province of the Anglican Family, for, believe it or not, people are interested in it here, even as the winter snow falls and the long dark days get closer.]
Let us suppose that the aim of the Common Cause Partnership is in due time and through due process to become a Province that is accepted as authentic by at least part of the present Anglican Communion –say the Global South.
Let us also suppose that the model for unity in the process and as a Province is a federation, fellowship, and partnership of ten or more autonomous “Anglican” denominations, jurisdictions and ministries,
Now let us reflect upon this model of provincial unity.
First of all, let us be clear that the doctrinal foundation—if not regrettably the practical theology guiding the weekly activity—is that of the Church of England and the majority of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion as it is now—the classic Formularies of 1662. This undoubtedly is good, for it means that it can be built upon rock rather than the sand of the 1979 formulary of The Episcopal Church (TEC).
Secondly, we may note—and note clearly—that this scheme and model of unity accepts the reality of the American religious scene. It works from, rather than seeks to oppose, the American supermarket of a variety of religions, even a variety of one type with different brand names. That is, it accepts as semi-permanent reality the various groups formed by, or to be formed by, secession from TEC.
In the third place, we may note that such a scheme/model is clearly innovatory in the Anglican Way. It has NEVER been tried anywhere else. Further, it appears to be a total denial of the Anglican principle of one province as one jurisdiction with several constituent dioceses in one geographical area, as was The PECUSA from 1785 to modern times.
Therefore, fourthly, in order to do justice to the hitherto uniform, Anglican tradition of the territorial province, I would suggest that at least two characteristics or attributes are needed and required in the process and new Province:-
(a) that it be as nearly as possible a perfect federation, fellowship and partnership of the participating groups, and
(b) that it be a complete bringing together of All the major groups which have seceded from PECUSA, ECUSA, TEC since the 1970s. In other words, that it be a practical union of all those groups which rejecting the revisionism of TEC have sought to recover authentic Anglicanism. [Here it may be noted that the REC left PECUSA in the 1870s because it opposed Anglo-Catholicism, but it has now embraced this churchmanship and so can be in CCP alongside Anglo-Catholics.]
I make these two suggestions because CCP is pioneering a totally new way of living within Anglican Polity. It has to overcome the charge of denying what has been assumed everywhere and by all Anglicans that there is one jurisdiction in one geographical area. It has also to overcome the doctrinal hurdle that the Formularies of 1662 also assume one Anglican church in one area.
So, if say CCP becomes only a Partnership of 80 per cent of the groups created from post 1970s secessions, and thus leaves intact various denominations outside its federation, it will have failed practically to create a viable model. It will present an impaired model, worthy of the American supermarket but not of the Anglican Communion.
If also CCP is a federation in which there is little real fellowship, inter-communion, and mutual recognition of ministries, and with minimal practical charity, then again it will fail as a viable model.
What I fear—and this haunts me in the day and night—is that the unity created by common opposition to outrageous revisionism in, and infidelity by, TEC will give a false sense of security and achievement not only to the CCP partners but also to their sponsoring African bishops. And that this will lead inescapably to insufficient patience, perseverance, ecclesial comprehensiveness and wise counsel, creating a situation where the ending of the process is not an improvement on the beginning. To secede is difficult, but to secede and then to unite graciously with fellows seceders is an altogether more problematic exercise—as many cautionary tales from American religious history illustrate.
In fact, if we simply look at the political sphere of the federal government in recent years, we see that the Bush years supply us with a very cautionary tale.
For, as various commentators have pointed out, what the Bush years have demonstrated is that a movement based on shared resentments rather than on shared goals is better at winning elections than in governing once it has. As long as the dragon of “liberalism/revisionism” needed to be slain, the various types of conservatives and republicans kept the peace, but they fell to squabbling as soon as real opportunity to govern presented itself. And in the good old USA what occurs in the religious sphere is usually not far removed from what occurs in the political.
Lord, we beseech thee, have mercy upon the people who call themselves Anglican!
The Revd Dr Peter Toon
President of the Prayer Book Society 2007