Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Anglican Communion; Does It Matter?

The July issue of Episcopal Life arrived today. It includes an excellent article by the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas entitled Why Should We Care About the Anglican Communion? The July issue is not online yet, but, thanks to the wonder known as google, I was able to locate an earlier, and somewhat different, version of the article here.

Dr. Douglas suggests that there are at least two good reasons for placing a high value on the Communion. The first one is ecclesiological;

...Max Warren, the great General Secretary of the English Church Missionary Society in the mid-twentieth century is credited with saying: "It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel." Warren's statement underscores the belief that the Gospel contains universal truth that is meant for, and accessible to, every person and every culture. At the same time, Warren's words emphasize that any one cultural expression or contextual embodiment of Christianity is limited in its understanding and experience of the Gospel. No individual, no local eucharistic community, no national ecclesial body, not even any one province of the Anglican Communion, can pretend that they alone, that we alone, know and reveal all that God has done in Jesus Christ.

So to know the whole Gospel we need the whole world, in all of our differences, in all of our peculiarities, in all of our gifts, and all of our mistakes. The Anglican Communion, that family of 38 national or regional churches in 164 countries with 75 million members, all of whom trace some part of our history to the see of St. Augustine of Canterbury, offers an incredible means by which the catholicity of the whole Gospel in the whole world can be lived out. To turn our backs on the Anglican Communion is to turn our backs on one possible way by which we can live into the fullness and wholeness of the Gospel.
The second reason is missiological;

...The mission of God is to restore all people, all people, to unity with God and each other in Christ. The mission of God, the missio Dei, is one of justice, compassion, and reconciliation that seeks right relation with and between all people and all creation. In order to be faithful to the mission of God, we need to be in relationship with others, near and far, those similar to us and those very different from us, who share this vision of God's reign.
Unless we are involved in a global mission, our vision of the future may turn inward, and become nothing more than an extended expression of our personal egos. The Episcopal Church is not my Church; it is God's Church. The movement of God; from glory, to glory, rolls through all things. The temptation to trust my perception of the God's movement is to fall prey to a limited vision that is more parochial or congregational in nature, and, in the end, excludes many from God's kingdom.

We need each other. We are called to move from faith to faith, trusting that God is moving among us. This movement breaks the bonds of time and space. In this present moment, in which all times are gathered together, God's mission moves forward; a mission which is nothing less than the transformation of all of creation.

No doubt there will difficult times ahead for the Anglican Communion. We hear pronouncements claiming that this group or that one has broken away. Rumors of future schisms trouble us. No doubt we will see much more of this kind of thing in the years to come. In the end, the deciding act will be who the Archbishop of Canterbury invites to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Lambeth has been the principle instrument of unity within the Anglican Communion since 1867. It is fitting that this unity is represented, not by resolution, or mandate, or ultimatum, but by an invitation. And more importantly, a personal invitation. Rowan will personally invite each bishop in the Communion to join him at Lambeth Palace.

What might happen at this coming Lambeth? If we consider worst case scenarios, there is a real possibility that Rowan will not invite the bishop of New Hampshire to the party. Such a slight would most likely result in a number of North American bishops declining their invitation, in a show of support for one of their brothers who is seen as being treated as an outcast and an untouchable. If Gene is invited, other bishops from other parts of the world may decline the invitation. I suspect that some bishops, who are very upset with us for numerous reasons, will decline the invitation if any bishop from North America is invited.

The other worst case scenario to consider is the rumor that a schism has already been planned, with the timing to be prior to the next Lambeth. If this happens, I wouldn't be surprised if Rowan ignores it, and sends an invitation to those bishops anyway.

Regardless of these scenarios, which may or may not come to pass, we can't give in to the feelings of hurt and outrage they may cause. If we look at the history of the Church, there have been numerous divisions, schisms and disagreements that lasted for many years. Some of those wounds were eventually healed, and unity was once again achieved. Some have yet to be healed, although work towards reconciling these divisions continues even today. The next few years may be difficult, but they will not write the end of the story.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. To accomplish this mission, to move with God, we need each other. We cannot accept unity at any cost. We may have to stand firm for the witness we offer the world. But let's never fall into the error of saying to our brothers and sisters "we have no need of you." If we are split asunder in the coming years, let us not despair or become bitter. Instead, let us see these painful wounds as an opportunity to reorient ourselves towards that which is our ultimate hope; the healing power of God's love.


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