In Swanwick at the annual conference of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission (from left): the Revd Alan Moses, chair of the Trustees of USPG, Arhcbishop Alan Harper of Armagh, who delivered the closing address on Friday, Bishop Michael Doe, general secretary of USPG, and Linda Chambers of USPG Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2008)
Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh was the keynote speaker on the final day of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission conference in Swanwick.
In his address on Friday, Archbishop Harper called for a proper application of traditional Anglican method as set out by the Elizabethan divine, Richard Hooker, to our approaches to the issues facing the Anglican Communion today.
Archbishop Harper was one of three Anglican primates at the conference, and is also a Patron of USPG Ireland, along with Archbishop John Neill of Dublin.
Richard Hooker is a pivotal figure in Anglicanism. He set out the three-fold cord of Scripture, Tradition and Reason in the 16th century, providing the underpinning components and the wellspring of Anglicanism’s distinctive theological method.
Archbishop Harper argued that Hooker’s distinction between the “Word of the Lord” and the “Law of God” and Hooker’s analysis of the role of reason in approaching Holy Scripture have not been given the consideration they deserve in the present controversies. The Archbishop said that, “in particular, the crucial distinctions that Hooker makes between the whole body of scripture and what may be identified as the Law of God needs swiftly to be recovered.”
He went on to state that it is inappropriate to exclude the application of reason to the writings of Saint Paul. To demonstrate his point, he applied Hooker’s methods to the key text of Romans 1: 18-27, describing it as a “by-speech in the context of an historical narrative and, as such, not a declaration of God’s Law. Furthermore, Paul, in his treatment of the issues, employs reason based upon the knowledge and presuppositions accessible to him in his day.”
Archbishop Harper also alluded to the importance that Anglicans attach to science and human knowledge and how these are additional tools in understanding and appreciating the work of the Creator. He stressed the significance of this particularly when encountering terms such as “natural” and “unnatural” in Scripture.
He argued that “scant heed” has been paid to the key Anglican principles established by Hooker. The recovery of these principles would do much to inform a mature discussion and analysis of the current situation, which is clearly needed among Anglicans at this time, he told the conference.
In the discussion that followed his address, Archbishop Harper agreed that there were other “urgent and more pressing issues” facing the Anglican Communion at the present. He said the present debate is overshadowing “so many more important issues” and he described the present debate on sexuality as “a very large tree which is making it difficult to see the forest.”
He said that following the recent GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem, the Anglican Communion is facing “what is to all intents and purposes … a schism.” And he repeated his view that “division is at least as serious if not more serious than heresy.”
Later, Canon Philip Groves, a Trustee of the Church Mission Society (CMS) and a member of the council of Saint John’s College, Nottingham, introduced his new book, The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality, which has just been published by SPCK.
Philip is the Facilitator of the Listening Process at the Anglican Communion Office, a lecturer at Saint Philip’s Theological College in Konwa, Tanzania, and a canon of All Saints’ Cathedral in Mpwapwa, Tanzania.
The book, which has been sent to all Anglican bishops ahead of the Lambeth Conference later this month, seeks to her the variety of responses throughout the Anglican Communion to resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998 and to inform and encourage study and discussion in parishes, dioceses and Anglican provinces.
The Revd Catherine Dyer, a USPG Associate Mission Adviser in the Diocese of Salisbury, presided at the closing Eucharist of the conference, at which the preacher was Bishop Jo Seoka of Pretoria.
Afterwards, board members of USPG Ireland met to discuss the mission needs of the Church of Ireland and the wider church in the 21st century – in one of the charming rooms of the old house at Swanwick, built over one hundred years ago by the Fitzherbert Wright family.
The full text of Archbishop Harper’s address is available here:
Patrick Comerford adds on 7 June 2008:
A follow-up debate on Archbishop Harper’s speech, in which I debated with Clive West on the BBC’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ on 6 June is available as a podcast at:
Canon Patrick Comerford is a member of the board of USPG Ireland and Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College