Saturday, July 19, 2008

Changing evaluation of the See of Canterbury and its Occupant

A comment from Peter Toon, July 19, 2008

What has been whispered at conference tables, or discussed in darkened rooms, or stated in safe e-mail traffic, or mentioned over the phone to a trusted hearer, is now being disclosed in formal ecclesial statements. And it is momentous. It is this: The respect and status being given by half the leadership of the Anglican global Family to The Archbishop of Canterbury is changing significantly.

This is to be seen in the Response of the GAFCON leaders on July 18 to the evaluation made by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the closing Statement and Declaration from the Jerusalem Pilgrimage and Conference in June.

They end their Response in this way:

“We assure the Archbishop of Canterbury of our respect as the occupier of an historic see which has been used by God to the benefit of his church and continue to pray for him to be given wisdom and discernment.


The Most Rev Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria
The Most Rev Justice Akrofi, Primate of West Africa
The Most Rev Emmanuel Kolini, Primate of Rwanda
The Most Rev Valentine Mokiwa, Primate of Tanzania
The Most Rev Benjamin Nzmibi, Primate of Kenya
The Most Rev Henry Orombi, Primate of Uganda
The Most Rev Gregory Venables, Primate of The Southern Cone.”

This is significant because they speak of Canterbury and its Occupant in a way both to honor it and also to take away from it a unique position in present Anglican life globally. It has been used in the past and it may be in the future; but it becomes like York or other ancient sees, a historic see with no future assured role.

Perhaps this text is not as revolutionary as I suggest. What follows is, and gets to the heart of the matter.

The same Primates also responded to the latest Draft of the Anglican Covenant, which is intended to be a means of binding the Anglican Family of Provinces closer together. In their looking at the legal framework they noticed two problems:

“First, the document describes four instruments of Communion, which it proposes will provide solutions to disputes. It fails to recognise the disproportionate influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who invites to the Lambeth Conference, chairs the ACC and calls the Primates' Meeting. The problem of this undue influence is compounded by the lack of formal accountability on the part of the Archbishop and the prominence the document envisages for this Primate is frankly colonialist. Secondly, the prominence given to the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates raises problems in increasing further the ability of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC to exercise disproportionate influence over the Primates, thereby tending in effect to silence dissentient primatial voices.”

To summarize the first objection: in Anglican global affairs the Archbishop of Canterbury has excessive authority and power, just as did colonial governors in the days of British Empire.

And to summarize the second: Primates who have legitimate matters of global concern to raise will be prevented by these legal arrangements, which are designed to give the Archbishop of Canterbury too much influence over the functioning of the Primates in the Communion.

In short, they are no longer interested in being part of a colonial structure, which they believe cannot serve the present needs and opportunities of the Church outside Great Britain.


There is NO turning back. What has been a necessary part of perceived Anglican Polity—the role of the Metropolitan of all England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the leadership of the fellowship of Anglican Churches outside the Church of England-- is not only being challenged, but it actually being rejected by half of the membership of the Communion of Churches, if not yet half of the provinces as such.

It will take time for the implications of this momentous change to settle, if they ever really settle!

The July-August 2008 Lambeth Conference will be the last and it may also qualify as the least useful of all the Conferences since 1867! This is because it has been organized to have no prophetic function but to seek internal unity only.

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