18 February 2009

The Anglican Communion 5: Anglicanism today and the Future of Anglicanism

The Anglican Primates in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh during their meeting in Dromatine in 2005.

Patrick Comerford


Paul Avis, in his recent book, The Identity of Anglicanism, concludes his chapter on ‘Anglican Ecclesiology in the Twenty-first Century’ with this assessment of the state of Anglicanism today:

“Anglicanism does indeed attempt to hold together elements that are opposed in other traditions – though not without strains. It defines itself as catholic and reformed; orthodox in doctrine yet open to change in its application. Its polity is both episcopal (and its bishops have real authority) and synodical – an unusual combination in a church that has maintained the historic episcopate. It acknowledges an ecumenical council as the highest authority in the Church, but is not opposed in principle to a universal primacy and virtually never has been. It confesses the paramount authority of Scripture, but reveres tradition and harkens to the voice of culture and science. It tries to be neither centralized nor fragmented, neither authoritarian nor anarchic. It is comprehensive without being relativistic. This interesting experiment has endured and evolved for nearly five centuries; in spite of the present difficulties, I believe it is worth persevering with.” [Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism, pp. 168-169.]

But given the present difficulties, can Anglicanism persevere? Indeed, we might ask, can it survive? And what is holding Anglicanism together at this present moment?


During this module, we have been looking at the following topics:

1, The development of the concept of “Anglicanism” and the crisis that led to calling the first Lambeth Conference;

2, The first Lambeth Conference, its failings and its divisions, and how it gave visible expression to the unity of Anglican churches;

3, The development of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886-1888), and how it has since shaped both Anglican ecclesiology and the direction of Anglican engagement in ecumenical dialogue.

4, The later Lambeth Conferences, and the development of other instruments of Anglican unity, such as the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meetings, the Pan-Anglican Congresses, and the Anglican Secretariat.

We saw how the bishops at Lambeth attended to many of the real social and pressing issues of the day, often issuing radical statements, for example on Socialism in the Victoria age, or war at the height of the Vietnam war, and how the bishops were able to change their views, for example on contraception, moving from outright disapproval of contraception to open encouragement of planned parenthood.

But we saw too that there were weaknesses in the idea of Lambeth Conferences: they were gatherings of bishops only, they did not involve the clergy and laity, they were deliberative and while they had teaching authority and they were without canonical authority.

We have also seen that, from the beginning, the Lambeth Conferences were riven by tensions and division. Indeed, the first Lambeth Conference was called over the looming crisis and division within the new Anglican Church in Southern Africa. But there were visible divisions too: the refusal of the Province of York to take part in the first conference, the refusal of Dean Stanley to make Westminster Abbey available, and later divisions over, for example, the ordination of women to the priesthood, the consecration of women bishops, and, in 1998 and again in 2008, sexuality and more particularly homosexuality.

And yet, one of the main driving forces behind the Lambeth Conferences has been the search for the unity of the church: unity among Anglicans, and unity with other churches.

Part 1: Unity agreements and the future of Anglicanism

The future of Anglicanism was never seen in isolation from the future of the rest of the church. And from the beginning, the Lambeth Conferences looked at both the future of Anglicanism, and the ecumenical future. But today there are question marks over the future of the Anglican Communion, and these revolve around the following issues, some of which were identified in the Windsor Report:

● The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.

● Whether the Anglican Communion needs a central, structured institution.

● The future of the Lambeth Conference as a purely Episcopal gathering.

● The status, role or authority of the resolutions passed at the Lambeth Conferences.

● The tension between maintaining theological diversity and unity in communion.

● The possibility of a future Anglican Congress that is representative of the laity.

● Whether the future of the Anglican Communion is as some looser form of alliance or federation, what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, described once as a World Alliance of Anglican Churches?

The tensions within the Anglican Communion, and the questions over its future shape or survival, are also created, to a large degree, by new demographic realities.

Although the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) continue, in many ways, to dominate the agenda, the budgets and the ethos of the Anglican Communion, as Professor Alister McGrath pointed out at a conference in Oxford on the “Future of Anglicanism”: “On any given Sunday there are more Anglicans attending church in the west African state of Nigeria than in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia, taken together.”

While Anglican Churches are thriving and growing in many parts of Africa and Asia, they appear to be in decline, numerically, in the traditional Anglican heartlands such as England, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In America, the decline of Anglicanism or Episcopalianism is in sharp contrast to the rise in membership of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches.

McGrath claims: “The implications for the future direction of Anglicanism are momentous.”

The future of Anglicanism and other communions of churches

But of course, the Anglican Communion is not the only communion or grouping of churches of which the Church of Ireland and other Anglican Churches are now a part. In terms of looser alliances and federations we are part of the Irish Council of Churches (1922), the Conference of European Churches (1957), the World Council of Churches (1948) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (1990).

As I said, from the very beginning, the Lambeth Conferences were concerned not only with the unity of the churches that now form the Anglican Communion, but were anxious to pursue unity with other Churches, including the Old Catholics and the Scandinavian Lutherans.

The Anglican Churches and the Old Catholics have been in communion with each other since the Bonn Agreement (1931), recognising each other’s orders, episcopate, ministry, &c, so that the two groupings effectively form an overlapping communion, at least on continental Europe.

But the Church of Ireland is also part of a closer communion of churches, which is emerging in Northern Europe and which is being referred to increasingly as the Porvoo Communion – a grouping of ten Anglican and Lutheran churches in these islands, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

The member churches of the Porvoo Communion which have ratified the Porvoo Statement are:

● The four Anglican or Episcopal Churches of England (1995), Ireland (1995), Scotland (1994) and Wales (1995);

● The two Anglican churches in the Iberian peninsula: the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church (Portugal);

● The six Lutheran or Evangelical-Lutheran Churches of Estonia (1994), Finland (1995), Iceland (1995), Lithuania (1994), Norway (1994) and Sweden (1994).

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark declined to sign in the wake of strong criticism from Danish theologians in 1994 and 1995, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia remains on the margins. If Greenland becomes an independent state, which is possible within the next ten years, then the future of the Church of Greenland, independent from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, will be worth watching.

This new communion has the prospects of, at some stage, being more important to the Church of Ireland than membership of the Anglican Communion. It dates back beyond those early initiatives at the Lambeth Conference to embrace the Scandinavian Lutherans – particularly the Church of Sweden. The Anglican interest in the (Episcopal) Church of Sweden can be traced back to the Oxford Movement in the 1830s and 1840s. Prior to the first Lambeth Conference of 1867, Charles Kingsley and others were urging the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite the bishops of Sweden to the conference.

The Lambeth Conference of 1920, although it avoided the term “inter-communion,” agreed to a series of special relations with the Church of Sweden, including mutual participation in Episcopal consecrations.

And so when, for the first time, the Church of Sweden formally came into a closer relation with another church it was, strangely enough, not with another Lutheran Church, but with the Church of England. And, although there is now full communion between the Church of Sweden and the Church of Ireland and other Anglican churches, there are still tensions between the Church of Sweden and those Lutheran churches it sees as not having preserved the historic episcopate.

The ordination of women in Sweden threatened to rock this relationship in 1959 and 1960, but it was resumed in 1976, and it has been the bedrock on which the Porvoo Agreement is founded. (You will take a closer look with Canon Marshall at the Porvoo Communion and the other ecumenical fellowships which engage the Church of Ireland.)

The Porvoo and Meissen agreements are similar to the agreements reached between the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the Waterloo Agreement between Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans, and similar agreements between Anglicans and Lutherans in other countries. Today, Anglican and Lutheran bishops share mutually in episcopal consecrations in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and many parts of the Americas.

Lutheran bishops from the member Churches of the Porvoo Churches have taken part in the most recent Episcopal consecrations in Ireland: Trevor Williams of Limerick (2008, the Bishop of Iceland), Alan Abernathy of Connor (2007, Linkoping, Sweden), Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel (2006, Lund, Sweden); Peter Barrett, Cashel (2003, Lund, Sweden, as well as Haarlem, the Old Catholic Church).

The Porvoo Agreement may provide the basis for further developments in the Meissen Agreement between the Anglican churches in these islands and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which was signed in 1988.

The Meissen Agreement was signed only by the Church of England, but it may provide a basis for deepening the relations between the Anglican churches of these islands and the German Protestants, who are grouped in Lutheran, Reformed and United churches. It commits the churches to “share a common life and mission” and to “take all possible steps to closer fellowship in as many areas of Christian life and witness as possible,” by committing their churches to encourage partnerships and exchanges at all levels of church life, and on the part of theological colleges and specialist agencies.

Exchanges of ministers, church workers and students are also to be encouraged. It does not achieve full inter-changeability of ministers, but it does agree on mutual eucharistic hospitality and encourages attendance at each other’s ordinations.

The Reuilly Agreement, signed in 1997 and approved by the General Synod of the Church of England in 1999 and the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in May 2000, links the four Anglican Churches on these islands and the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches, acknowledging one another’s churches and looks forward to a fuller visible unity.

The eight participating churches are four Anglican churches of these islands (the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church in Wales); and the four French churches of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions: the Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France, the Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine and the Reformed Church of France. It dates back to visit to Strasbourg in 1989 by Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury, when the French Reformed and Lutheran Churches signalled their desire to enter into closer fellowship with Anglican churches on the model of the Meissen Agreement.

Welcoming this approach, the Anglican side felt a new relationship with the French churches ought to be built on long, historical links between the churches. Those links include the story of the arrival of the Huguenots in Ireland following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

The continuing theological and other work done by the Meissen Commission and the Porvoo churches offered a structure and resources for the Anglican/ French conversations, which began formally in 1994, and were completed by 1997.

Part 2: The future of Anglicanism:

Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury … hopes for “a church that is honest about its diversity – even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome.”

1, Archbishop Rowan Williams

You may agree with Paul Avis that “in spite of the present difficulties,” Anglicanism “is worth persevering with.” I certainly hope you do!

At the General Synod of the Church of England in Westminster last week (10 February 2009), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams – speaking in the context of the debate on women bishops but in a comment that is relevant to the present debates and divisions within the Anglican Communion – expressed the hope that as Anglicans we “want to be part of a family still. And that means some dreams of purity and clarity are not going to be realised. Both [sides] have turned their backs on the fantasy of a church that is pure in their own terms, in favour of a church that is honest about its diversity – even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome.” [The Guardian, 11 February 2008.]

Some years ago, in an interview with The Church Times [6 December 2002, pp 14-15], when Archbishop Rowan Williams was asked by Paul Handley whether the 2008 Lambeth Conference was going to happen, he admitted there was “quite a lot of questions and thinking about that.”

Dr Williams thought the bigger question was about how plans for the next Lambeth Conference related to the idea of an Anglican Congress, which he saw as a gathering of lay people as well. “My hunch is,” he said, “that there’s likely to be less time for a purely episcopal gathering, though that’s going to be what’s necessary; and we’ll have to see how that links in with the idea of a Congress.”

Archbishop Williams was asked too about the future of the Anglican Communion, and whether it needs “a stronger pull at the centre, that it has been too diffused and disorganised.” And he answered: “I don’t think it [the Anglican Communion] needs to have a more centralised executive. That would be a mistake; it would be following a model that, on the whole, in Anglican history, we have not followed. We have seen ourselves as a federation of essentially local churches.”

He conceded that raises questions about the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and whether it would be downgraded. Dr Williams went on to say: “We are now faced with an unprecedented challenge about how much of a Communion we want to be.” And he asked: “If, in ten years’ time, we were the World Alliance of Anglican Churches – an assemblage of local bodies that didn’t acknowledge these different theologies, priorities, policies – would that be a loss? And what to do about it?”

2, The Windsor Report

The Windsor Report was produced by a commission chaired by the then Archbishop Robin Eames, was published in October 2004, and was the major topic for discussion at the meeting of the Anglican Primates at Dromantine, Co Armagh, four years ago (2005). This was part of the process of reception, and every interest group in Anglicanism was asked for its response to the report prior to that meeting.

The Windsor Report:

● Censured TEC for proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

● Censured the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada for sanctioning a blessing for same-sex couples.

● Criticised bishops in the developing world for intervening in US dioceses during the crisis.

● Recommended setting up new procedures for dealing with disagreements, including an agreed covenant to restrain unilateral decision-making.

● Recommended that disputes should be subject to arbitration of disputes by the Archbishop of Canterbury and an advisory panel.

In the responses, it was said the Windsor Report:

● Represented worldwide Anglican consensus, “rooted in scripture, engaging with tradition, while facing new challenges, thought through with as much reason as our collective and prayerful wits could muster” (Bishop Tom Wright in the General Synod of the Church of England, February 2005).

● Relied “too much on law as a solution to our problems. It would mean any province of the Anglican Communion could veto anything [the Church of England General] Synod wanted to do” (Professor David McClean).

● “Is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation.” (Archbishop Eames).

At their meeting in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from 15 to 19 February 2007, the Anglican Primates continued this process. Seven of the primates there were unhappy with what they saw as the failure to censure TEC or even force its withdrawal from the Anglican Communion. On the other hand, there were those within the Anglican Communion who are unhappy with the terms of the invitation issued to the American primus. The 2007 Primates’ meeting produced a draft covenant for the Anglican Communion as a response to the disagreements between the member churches.

3: An Anglican Covenant?

The idea of an Anglican covenant was first put forward in the Windsor Report (pars 113-120). The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and of the Anglican Consultative Council commissioned a study paper on the idea in March 2005, Towards an Anglican Covenant.

At its meeting in May 2006, the Joint Standing Committee asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a Covenant Design Group to further the project. This group presented its preliminary report to the Primates in Dar es Salaam two years ago (2007). The report included the Nassau Draft – a draft for the covenant on which initial consultations were held in the course of 2007.

The Covenant Design Group subsequently produced a second report – the Saint Andrew’s Draft – taking into account many of the submissions to the group. That draft was then sent to the member churches for further reflection, ahead of last year’s Lambeth Conference.

The Saint Andrew’s Draft was drawn up at a meeting of the Covenant Design Group chaired by the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Rev Drexel Gomez, and attended by Archbishop John Neill of Dublin. The draft proposes that the Archbishop of Canterbury should oversee a mediation process between provinces which disagree on contentious issues such as homosexuality.It suggests that if mediation cannot be satisfactorily reached by the mediation process the matter will be referred to the Anglican Consultative Council, which would then have the power to expel a province whose policies might threaten a schism. This proposal gives the Anglican Consultative Council more prominence in resolving disputes than the Primates, a move which has been opposed by some groups.

The first two sections of the Saint Andrew’s Draft are called “Our Inheritance of Faith” and “The Life We Share with Others: Anglican Vocation.” The third section, “Our Unity and Common Life,” contains a series of affirmations about how Anglican provinces operate within their own boundaries and commitments about taking actions that might impact the larger communion. The appendix suggests a procedure for churches that breach the covenant.

The draft was discussed at the Lambeth Conference last year and is now at various stages of discussion in the member Churches of the Anglican Communion.

The Provinces of the Anglican Communion have until the end of next month (March 2009) to respond to the Saint Andrew’s Draft. The Covenant Design Group will the month after (April 2009) in London and is expected to issue another draft that will be reviewed by the ACC during its May meeting in Jamaica. The ACC could decide to release that version to the provinces for their adoption.

The Rev Dr Chris Sugden, executive secretary of “Anglican Mainstream” and one of the organisers of the GAFCON meeting that took place in Jerusalem ahead of last year’s Lambeth Conference, has criticised the draft covenant, which he says reduces the power of the Primates.

He said: “It appears to down-grade the role of the Primates’ Meeting in the [Anglican] Communion to a therapy group, and it doesn’t deal with the current difficulties we are facing. Its proposals merely describe the current process we have for dealing with disputes which so far hasn’t provided a satisfactory result.”

He claimed his views were shared by other members of the Anglican Communion in other provinces including America and Australia.

At the other end of the spectrum, Jonathan Clatworthy of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union said the plan would make Anglicanism “more autocratic and outdated” as it would centralise decision-making and would “magnify disputes … Until now we have lived together respecting differences of opinion. This Covenant would mean every time there’s an objection someone will lay down the law.”

4, the 2008 Lambeth Conference

The 14th Lambeth Conference took place from 16 July to 4 August 2008 at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent.

Long before the conference, in March 2006, Archbishop Rowan Williams issued a pastoral letter to the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches setting out his thinking for the conference.

In his letter, he indicated that the emphasis should be on training, “for really effective, truthful and prayerful mission.” He ruled out (for the time being) re-opening the debate on Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, but emphasised the so-called “listening process” which was to encourage diverse views and experiences of human sexuality being collected and collated under the terms of that resolution, and he said it “will be important to allow time for this to be presented and reflected upon in 2008.”

The traditional plenary sessions and resolutions would be reduced, with a bigger number of more focused groups.

As I have already emphasised, attendance at the Lambeth Conference is by invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury. When he sent out his invitations to Lambeth 2008, Archbishop Williams reminded bishops: “the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion.”

More than 880 bishops around the world were invited to the 14th Conference. Notably missing from the list of those invited were Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Bishop Martyn Minns.

Bishop Robinson is the first Anglican bishop to exercise the office of diocesan while in an acknowledged same-sex relationship. Many see him as being at the heart of the current controversy in the Anglican Communion.

Martyn Minns is a former rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia, and is the leader of the “Convocation of Anglicans in North America,” a splinter group of American Episcopalians. On the other hand, the (Anglican) Church of Nigeria regards him as its own missionary bishop to the United States, despite protests from Canterbury and TEC.

Six (out of the total of 38) Anglican Primates decided to boycott the Lambeth Conference last year because of their opposition to TEC actions in relation to homosexual clergy and same sex unions. Those Primates represent the Anglican provinces of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Southern Cone of the Americas, Uganda and West Africa. In addition, Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney and the other bishops in Sydney in Australia stayed away. However, the bishops of Uganda insisted that they remain part of the Anglican Communion, although Archbishop Jensen started talking about the end of the Anglican Communion.

The Global Anglican Future Conference, a meeting of conservative bishops, was held in Jerusalem in June 2008, a month before the Lambeth Conference. Some observers saw this as an “alternative Lambeth” for those who opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson.

The GAFCON conference primarily attracted Anglican leaders who consider themselves to be in impaired communion with global Anglicanism, including Archbishop Jensen, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and other bishops who now consider themselves to be in a state of impaired communion with Lambeth, TEC and the Archbishop of Canterbury, such as Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, Presiding Bishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone, Bishop Don Harvey from Canada, Bishop Bob Duncan and Martyn Minns from the US, as well as Canon Dr Vinay Samuel of India; and Canon Dr Chris Sugden of England. No bishop from the Church of Ireland attended, although Ian Smith of CMS Ireland was present.

The Church leaders who identified with GAFCON claim to represent 30 million of the 55 million “active” Anglicans in the Anglican Communion. However, this figure assumes the support of all Anglicans in central sub-Saharan Africa, and it is calculated on a low estimate of the numbers of Anglicans in the rest of the world. The official figure for Anglicans worldwide is 80 million.

Archbishop Williams said GAFCON did not signal disloyalty, but also said the meeting “would not have any official status as far as the [Anglican] Communion is concerned.”

The conference received significant criticism, even from some conservatives. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said: “If the Jerusalem conference is an alternative to the Lambeth Conference, which I perceive it is, then I think it is regrettable. The irony is that all they are going to do is weaken the Lambeth Conference. They are going to give the liberals a more powerful voice because they are absent and they are going to act as if they are schismatics.”

At the same time, Archbishop Carey called once again on the House of Bishops of TEC to commit itself to the Windsor Report, which imposes a moratorium on the consecration of homosexual bishops and blessing of same-sex unions.

The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Dawani, in whose see the conference was held, issued a statement saying: “I am deeply troubled that this meeting, of which we had no prior knowledge, will import inter-Anglican conflict into our diocese, which seeks to be a place of welcome for all Anglicans. It could also have serious consequences for our on-going ministry of reconciliation in this divided land. Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here. We who minister here know only too well what happens when two sides cease talking to each other. We do not want to see any further dividing walls!”

The Provincial Primate, the Bishop of Cairo, Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, was also concerned about GAFCON taking place in a diocese in his province, and said although he advised the organisers that this was not the right time or place for such a meeting, his advice was ignored.

Ahead of the meeting, Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem met the GAFCON organisers, including Archbishop Jensen and Archbishop Akinola, and explained his objections to the conference taking place in his diocese, and the damage he feared it would do to his local ministry of welcome and reconciliation in the Holy Land. He insisted that the Lambeth Conference was the correct venue for internal discussions. As an alternative, he proposed, “for the sake of making progress in this discussion,” that GAFCON should meet in Cyprus, followed by a “pure pilgrimage” to the Holy Land.

Despite those requests, the conference went ahead. And, while the House of Bishops of TEC had apologised in 2007 for their part in the current divisions within Anglicanism, it was evident from the principal participants in GAFCON, and even from the structure of Archbishop George Carey’s remarks, that this apology was not good enough for many conservatives.

Meanwhile, the number of bodies set up to mediate within the Anglican Communion – including the Panel of Reference and the Windsor Continuation Group – continue to baffle and confound outside observers; parishes and dioceses within TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada continue to secede and to ask for Episcopal oversight from other Anglican Churches, including the Southern Cone, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. In England, the Church Society – whose Vice-President is the Irish-born Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, has written to the “Global South” Primates calling on them to break fellowship with the Archbishop of Canterbury because of what they see as his false teaching on homosexuality.

Last December (2008), theological conservatives estranged from TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada formed a rival North American province which they named as the Anglican Church with an inaugural service in the Wheaton Evangelical Free Church in Wheaton, Illinois.

Those involved in setting up this new church included Martyn Minns who was consecrated a Bishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and who describes himself as the Missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, and Bishop Robert Duncan , who has tried to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of TEC. Since the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, four dioceses and several parishes have tried to leave left the Episcopalian Church, including the Dioceses of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Quincy (Illinois), Fort Worth (Texas), and San Joaquin (California).

When the Anglican primates met earlier this month (February 2009) in Alexandria, Cairo, they discussed the Saint Andrew’s Draft, the Lambeth Commentary, and abandoned proposals for the primates to be ex-officio members of the ACC. Interestingly, the five African primates who had boycotted last year’s Lambeth Conference were present, and both the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Primate of Uganda shared a platform with three other primates as they contributed reflections.

The primates also asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate early mediation and talks with all the disaffected Anglican represented in the Common Cause Partnership aimed at seeking reconciliation.

When they discussed the Saint Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant, the primates reportedly came to “a realisation of what a covenant can and can’t do about sanctions and ‘teeth’.” They agreed that punitive action was less appropriate than a framework with a clear emphasis on koinonia, and a Church’s agreement to accept limitations on its self-autonomy.

But many questions still remain:

Will any intervention by the Panel of Reference help heal the divisions or simply delay them?

Is the Panel of Reference likely to become a new instrument of unity within the Anglican Communion?

Will we end up with a more-closely bound Anglican Communion or a looser Anglican Federation?

Or will we end up with a two-tier Anglican Communion with two categories of membership?

5, Current theological developments

If there is too much emphasis on law and legalism, perhaps we could take a more optimistic approach to the future by suggesting the future of Anglicanism rests not only on these debates, but on the vitality of its worship, spirituality and theology.

There have been exciting developments in Anglican theology recently.

Some important, relevant, recent publications contributing to exciting new developments in Anglican theology include:

Duncan Dormor, Jack McDonald and Jeremy Caddick (eds), Anglicanism the Answer to Modernity (London: Continuum 2003). This collection of essays is an attempt by eight Cambridge college deans and chaplains to tackle the questions of religious identity that they believe are central to the way that the 21st century unfolds, and they regard their book as a bold attempt to address the future of Anglicanism in a confident way.

Robert Hannaford (editor), The Future of Anglicanism (Canterbury Press/Gracewing, 1996). This is another collection of essays looking at the future of Anglicanism and the serious challenges facing our communion.

Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007). This is the most comprehensive contemporary study of Anglicanism today that is both rigorous and provocative, exploring and explaining the identity of Anglicanism.

Mark D. Chapman (editor), The Anglican Covenant: Unity and Diversity in the Anglican Communion (London: Mowbray/Continuum, 2008). This is a collection of essays from a wide range of perspectives on the proposed Anglican Covenant, with a clear examination of the structures of authority within Anglicanism.

Philip Groves (editor), The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality (London: SPCK, 2008). Canon Groves is the Facilitator for the Listening Process at the Anglican Communion Office. He has been a CMS mission partner in Tanzania and is on the council of Saint John’s College, Nottingham. In this book, bishops, clergy and lay people with a diversity of views discuss the topic that has become the focus of divisions within Anglicanism. The book was sent to all bishops ahead of last year’s Lambeth Conference.

Jonathan Clark, The Republic of Heaven (London: SPCK, 2008) ... the chair of Affirmning Catholicism makes an honest assessment of his own tradition and challenges that Catholic tradition within the Church of England and within Anglicanism to face the future

Some questions for discussion:

Alex Wright, in his Why Bother with Theology? (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2002) – while making strong criticisms of current theology – offers positive criticism and hope for Anglicanism. He singles out, for example, what is known as Radical Orthodoxy.

Are you familiar with any of these writers or schools of thinking?

Is the Church of Ireland vital at the moment?

Has the revision of the Book of Common Prayer helped to instil new vitality in parishes and congregations?

Is the current debate in Anglicanism about sexuality or about authority?

What is the appropriate balance between the competing claims for the authority of scripture, tradition and reason?

Do you have a vision for the future of Anglicanism and the Anglican Communion, and the place of the Church of Ireland within that?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture on 18 February 2009 was part of the Year III B.Th. course on Anglicanism.


The Saint Andrew’s Draft is at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/st_andrews/draft_text.cfm.

The Covenant Design Group (CDG) Commentary is at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/st_andrews/commentary.cfm.

The statement from the Anglican Primates’ meeting in Alexandria in February 2009 is at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/news.cfm/2009/2/5/ACNS4574.

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