The Anglican Way is no longer an unified way and looks like it will soon end up in three parts, with a lot of messiness around the parts!
Since the ordination of women entered into the practice of Anglican provinces twenty or more years ago, the Anglican Family has been suffering from increasing internal strains, crises and divisions. These problems and pains have been exacerbated by the multiplication of liturgies and rites, and the setting aside of the classic Formularies of the Anglican Way by provinces in the West (e.g., USA, West Indies, Wales & Ireland). The Formularies served as identifiers and unifiers of Anglicanism. And the internal dysfunctionality has been much increased and polarized in the last few years by major differences over sexual ethics and practice and what the Scriptures and tradition have to say in these matters.
The so-called Instruments of Unity (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) are seemingly powerless to do other than make statements and call for actions. They cannot heal the divisions but may serve to make them worse.
What are the three routes being taken?
First of all, there is the route to the Vatican City in Rome. A growing number of Anglican groups such as the Forward in Faith Movement of the UK and the Traditional Anglican Communion are pressing for a uniate status with Rome. They wish to maintain an Anglican identity that is doctrinally at one with Rome and to be under the protection of the Roman See and thus in communion with all parts of the Roman Church. It seems likely that more and more Anglo-Catholics (e.g., the diocese of Fort Worth) will be drawn into this movement. It already has a basic Liturgy approved by the Vatican and used in a dozen or so parishes in the USA and so it seems all set to move forward with many converts in the next five or so years. Will the Vatican receive it?
Secondly, there is the route into progressive liberalism, which is currently the position of the majority of the synods of the Anglican provinces of the West/North. The ecclesial center will be the See of Canterbury but the leader of this attempt to make the Anglican Way conform to the “enlightened” culture of the West will be the Episcopal Church of the USA, followed by the Church in Canada, Churches in the UK & Ireland, the Churches in Australia and New Zealand and so on. Churches in Latin America and in Southern Africa will probable also opt for this route. So this association is and will be a mixed bag but united in efforts to be relevant and contemporary and to avoid at all costs to be traditionalist and old fashioned. And since it will hold the title-deeds to much property and financial trusts, it will be able to continue in existence even where those attending its places of worship are few..
Thirdly there is the evangelical route already being taken by Churches in Africa (e.g., Nigeria and Uganda) and Asia. In terms of numbers this association, which claims to be based upon the Bible and the Formularies of the Anglican Way, is and will be the largest of the Anglican identities. From the West it will have only small numbers of adherents (those who have separated from the progressive liberal provinces) for its vast membership will be African and Asian. Financially, it will be the poorest of the three routes but it will be very evangelistic, ever looking to grow in maturity and numbers. It will develop a center somewhere in a city of Africa to hold its minimal organization.
Around and between these three basic associations and routes, there will be a lot of confusion, pain and mess, individual, family, congregational and corporate. A few provinces (e.g., West Indies) will not be sure which route to take for they are internally divided over the issues. People in the progressively liberal provinces will feel a great pull to stay where they are because of long and deep ties to sacred buildings and local cemeteries and burial plots. Then clergy in these same provinces will think a lot about their retirement plans and the like. Not a few Anglo-Catholics will feel torn between going with their fellow believers to Rome and remaining as Anglicans but in a charismatic or evangelical ethos. Evangelical Episcopalians will hesitate at the prospect of being under an African bishop on a permanent basis. And so on!
In summary. It seems that the centrifugal forces evident in what was the Anglican Communion of Churches are now so strong that no centripetal forces exist to counter them. A falling apart seems inevitable and many cracks are visible now. To predict the result of the demise of the centripetal forces and the triumph of the centrifugal ones is dangerous, but I have suggested that there will be three identifiable pieces of Anglicanism with a lot of little bits around them! My prediction will probably be proved to be wrong. After all, only God the Omniscient One, knows.
Peter Toon October 19, 2005