Monday, December 19, 2005

A Vocation to Religious Creativity

The Fall issue of the Anglican Theological Review contains an essay by Paul V. Marshall, Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem, entitled "A Note on the Role of North America in the Evolution of Anglicanism". Here is a brief excerpt:

These observations are offered in service of a larger point: much of what we value about the character of the Anglican Communion grew up in the vacuum created by a lack of interest in things American on the part of the English church and its leaders. Further, for good or ill, the North American churches have had the peculiar ministry of leading change in the Communion in ways that cannot be erased when a new prompting surfaces. This is not to assert that all things emanating from North America are good or progressive; they are not. From the Mayflower expedition on, however, necessity and circumstances have created a vocation to religious creativity in America.6 The fruit of this wilderness has been received throughout much of Anglicanism as a gift to the entire church, a matter that the Windsor Report disregards to our common peril, if our communion-wide vocation is to hear the Spirit of God.
Some of the examples of this "religious creativity" mentioned by Bishop Marshall include lay representation in Anglicanism's synodical structure, the missionary emphasis of the Church and specifically the episcopate, the emergence of what is now known as the Anglican Communion, and evidence that the Church could not only survive separated from the state, but could flourish.

One of the most significant contributions that the Episcopal Church has offered to Anglicanism is the participation of laypeople in our decision making processes. The Windsor Report and the Primates' Communique both seem to give little value to this important aspect of our ecclesiology. Both assume that our bishops alone can implement changes and issue binding pronouncements. The Primates have asserted their presumed authority by insisting that they be appointed to the only body among the four Instruments of Unity that contains lay representatives, the Anglican Consultative Council. By so doing, they have attempted to muzzle the voice of the lay order . Attempts to return to a time when prelates alone rule the Church must be strongly refuted. To acquiesce to such attempts in the name of unity would be a denial of our vocation within Anglicanism.

Regardless of what happens at GC2006 or Lambeth 2008, it appears that North America will need to continue as the vehicle for the evolution of Anglican ecclesiology. Perhaps what we previously referred to as the Anglican Communion will be replaced by various bodies voluntarily entering into "full communion" covenants, similar to the relationship developed between TEC and the ELCA.


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