Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A Guest Preacher in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

The Pelican illustrating the Lent Term 2012 Card for Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. A pelican, symbolsing Christ in his passion, is on the wooden carving of Saint Francis that stands to the right of the High Altar in the chapel

Patrick Comerford

I have been invited to preach in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College next Sunday [5 February 2012] as one of the Guest Preachers in Lent Term. Over the past four years, I have stayed regularly at Sidney Sussex as a student at the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. So it is good to return to Sidney Sussex at the height of the academic year, in the middle of Lent Term.

This is my second time to preach in a Cambridge college – three years ago, in 2009, the Revd Christopher Woods invited me to preach at the celebration of Candlemas in Christ’s College, where he was then the chaplain

The invitation to preach next Sunday comes from the Pastoral Dean of Sidney Sussex, the Revd Dr Peter Waddell, who is originally from Co Down. Peter has been the chaplain of Sidney Sussex since 2005, the Pastoral Dean since 2010, and also the Director of Studies in Theology. His theological interests include ecclesiology and sacramental theology, with a particular focus on the theology and practice of baptism.

The Chapel in Sidney Sussex stands at the heart of the college as a centre of worship, prayer and inquiry

The Chapel in Sidney Sussex stands at the heart of the college as a centre of worship, prayer and inquiry for the whole Sidney community. The chapel is open all day and is available for private prayer, meditation and quiet reflection. Chapel services are open to everyone, and all are encouraged to use the chapel freely in their search for God. The Lady Chapel, to the right of the high altar, is especially conducive to private prayer. There the Sacrament is reserved and candles may be lit in private prayer.

The Choir of Sidney Sussex is about to a release a new CD with Obsidian Records

The first Evensong of Lent Term was on Friday, 20 January, at 6.45 p.m., with music by Byrd, Gibbons and Weelkes, followed by Formal Hall. The Choir of Sidney Sussex is about to a release a new CD with Obsidian Records, with anthems and instrumental music by Thomas Weelkes, featuring, among others, Eleanor Cramer, Catherine Shaw and Rosie Dilnot.

On Sunday last [29 January], the Feast of Candlemas was marked in the chapel with a Festal Eucharist. But Choral Evensong is the normal service at 6.15 on Sunday evenings during term, with the College Eucharist at 10.30 on Sunday mornings. This is an informal celebration of the Eucharist, with hymns and a brief homily, and followed a brunch afterwards in Peter’s rooms.

Choral Evensong in Sidney Sussex on Sunday evenings is a traditional service from The Book of Common Prayer, with wonderful singing from the college choir. The music for Choral Evensong next Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, is: Introit: Faire is the heaven (Harris); Preces and Responses: Clucas; Psalm 28; Canticles: Evening Service in A flat (Rubbra); Anthem: Behold the tabernacle of God (Harris); Brahms, Herzlich tut mich verlangen, Op. 122/9.

Choral Evensong in Sidney Sussex is normally followed by drinks in the Audit Room. Later, there is usually an opportunity after dinner for extended informal conversation with the preacher over drinks in the Pastoral Dean’s rooms, starting around 9 p.m.

The four other guest preachers at Evensong this term are:

22 January: Dr Rachel Muers, who is Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies in the University of Leeds and a leading Quaker theologian.

19 February: the Revd Canon Brian Mountford, who is Vicar of the University Church, Oxford. He was Chaplain of Sidney Sussex from 1973 to 1978.

26 February: Gloria Naylor, who is training for the ordained ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge, and is on placement in Sidney Chapel.

4 March: Professor Christopher Page, who is Professor of Mediaeval Music and Literature in the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Monday, 30 January 2012

Introducing Jewish spirituality

Rabbi Zalman Lent speaking to delegates from the Church of Ireland Interfaith Conference in Terenure Synagogue in September 2010 (Photograph: Orla Ryan)

Patrick Comerford

Opening hymn:

The God of Abraham Praise (Irish Church Hymnal, 323)


During your time here, you spend much of your time examining Jewish spirituality as it is presented to us in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, time looking at the spirituality of Jesus as a Jew, and some time – particularly in my tutorial group this year and last year – debating the clash of spiritualities in the Johannine writings and what is meant there by the Jews.

At the end of last semester, some of the Year II students also visited the Irish Jewish Museum in Portobello, Dublin’s “Little Jerusalem,” and the synagogue upstairs, as part of the Liturgy module.

Over the weekend, many of you may have been aware of the Holocaust memorials in Dublin and throughout the world.

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial on Platia Eleftherias near the port in Thessaloniki .... in July 1942, all the men in the Jewish community aged from 18 to 45 were rounded up in this square for deportation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Recent and contemporary Jewish spirituality need to be understood both within the Irish context and on their own terms as a modern current in spirituality and one that can both challenge and enrich us.

In our studies of the Scriptures, we sometimes forget that Judaism continued to grow and develop, and that there have been continuing, growing and evolving Jewish spiritualities over the past 20 centuries. An awareness of that will enrich our understanding of the traditions from which Christianity has grown, and contribute towards our own spiritualities.

The Jewish contribution to Western culture cannot all be compartmentalised into the wanderings of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, the movies of Woody Allen, amateur dramatic stagings of Fiddler on the Roof, the novels of Chaim Potok or James Heller, the songs of Bob Dylan, the poems of Leonard Cohen, Erich Segal’s Love Story, the politics and conflicts around Israel, or Madonna’s dabbling in the Kaballah.

But over the centuries, European civilisation and our spirituality have been challenged by, have been enriched by and have engaged with innumerable Jewish thinkers and philosophers, including:

● Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who declared that religious faith “consists in honesty and sincerity of heart rather than in outward actions.”
● Karl Marx (1818-1883), who irreversibly changed political and social thinking.
● Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the father figure of post-modernism, who argued: “We should stop thinking about God as someone, over there, way up there, transcendent and, what is more … capable, more than any satellite orbiting in space, of seeing into the most secret of places.” Instead, he said, we should see God as “the structure of conscience.”

Stars of David in the darkness of the night at the synagogue in Rathfarnham Road, Dublin ... the spirituality that sustained a people and a faith through the dark night of the Holocaust is rich, deep and profound (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Last night [Sunday 29 January 2012], there were special commemorations for Holocaust Day in Dublin. The spirituality that sustained a people and a faith through the dark night of the Holocaust must be very rich, deep and profound, and has to have something deep and beautiful to contribute to us today, and to say to us as we experience and live our lives spiritually.

There is a perception that Jewish religious activity is confined to concerns about the modern state of Israel or debates about the observation of kosher regulations. But there are other sources and strengths for the practice of Jewish spirituality today.

Any introduction to Jewish spirituality also needs to imagine the profound impact of the Holocaust on Jews collectively and on our society. And an introduction to Jewish spirituality also needs to take account of the Hasidic movement, which has influenced many writers outside its own circles.

In an addition, an introduction to eight key personalities helps to illustrate this: Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Elie Wisel, Lionel Blue, Jonathan Sacks, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Michele Guinness and Leonard Cohen.

Judaism in Ireland today:

Terenure Synagogue, Rathfarnham Road ... I was born a few doors away in 1952 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

There is a popular story that 56 years ago in New York, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, led the Saint Patrick’s Day parade on New York's Fifth Avenue. In 1956 Two Jews were watching the parade.

One Jew said to the other: “Did you know that Robert Briscoe is Jewish?”

“Amazing! Only in America,” replied said his friend.

Since the arrival of the first Jews here in 1079, a number of Jews have been elected to high office William Annyas was Mayor of Youghal, Co Cork in 1555; Sir Otto Yaffe was Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899; in 1956 and 1961, Robert Briscoe of Fianna Fail was Lord Mayor of Dublin; in 1977, Gerald Goldberg was Lord Mayor of Cork; Ben Briscoe, a Fianna Fail TD, followed in father’s footsteps when he was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1988. In my own lifetime there have been Jewish TDs for all three main political parties: Ben Briscoe (Fianna Fail), Alan Shatter (Fine Gael) and Mervyn Taylor (Labour).

James Joyce made Leopold Bloom the archetypal “Dub” of the early 20th century when he wrote Ulysses. But real-life prominent Irish-born Jews include Chaim Herzog, President of Israel from 1983 to 1993, who was born in Belfast in 1918, and his father Isaac was the first Chief Rabbi of the Irish Free State.

The present Jewish community in Ireland dates mainly from the 1880s, when immigrants from Lithuania fleeing pogroms in the Tsarist empire found refuge in Dublin and Cork. At its highest point, the Jewish population of Ireland stood between 3,500 and 4,000 from 1911 until 1948. By 1991, this number had dropped to 1,581.

The traditional kitchen, with a typical Sabbath meal setting, in the Irish Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

According to last census (2006), the number of Jews in the Republic of Ireland today is 1,930, with probably another 150 in Northern Ireland. There are two synagogues in Dublin: one Orthodox synagogue on Rathfarnham Road in Terenure, and one Liberal-Progressive synagogue on Leicester Avenue in Rathgar; in addition, there is one small synagogue in Cork that rarely opens, and one synagogue in Belfast. Other synagogues in Dublin – including the ones on Adelaide Road, Walworth Road, and on the South Circular Road (Greenville Hall) have closed in the 1970s and 1980s. The synagogue on Walworth Road now houses the Irish Jewish Museum, which was opened in 1985 by Chaim Herzog, then President of Israel.

There are Jewish cemeteries in Ballybough, with graves dating back to the early 18th century, in Dolphin’s Barn, which opened in 1898, and close to the Orlagh Retreat Centre, which opened in the early 1950s. Stratford College, on Zion Road, is a Jewish-run school. But Dublin’s kosher bakery, The Bretzel in Portobello, has been owned by non-Jews for two generations.

Most Irish Jews are comfortably middle-class, many are professionals or in business, and many are third- or fourth-generation Irish-born. But they are asking themselves whether Jewish life is going to continue in Ireland? And if so, for much longer?

Emigration, an aging population, intermarriage and assimilation have all taken their toll, and some estimates say that within a generation or two only a handful of Jews are likely to remain in Ireland. Raphael Siev, who founded the museum, has estimated “there are more Irish-born Jews living in Israel than in Ireland.”

But when the Church of Ireland Interfaith Conference, which was held here last September, visited the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Rabbi Zalman Lent speculated that the decline has been arrested. He pointed out there is a young Jewish population in Dublin, and some Jewish immigration.

Personal encounter

A stained glass window in the Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road

I was born on Rathfarnham Road, a few doors away from the Terenure Synagogue. In my youth, I knew the streets of Little Jerusalem, off the South Circular Road and Clanbrassil Street in Dublin. There, in Little Jerusalem, my grandfather had cousins who shared a house with Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and cousins who lived two doors away from the house where James Joyce says Leopold Bloom was born.

The Torah Scrolls in the Ark in the synagogue in the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Over the years, I have visited the synagogues in Dublin at Adelaide Road and Walworth Road (both now closed), Rathfarnham Road and Leicester Avenue, Rathgar, and I have written about and visited synagogues and Jewish communities in Britain, Austria, China, Greece, Hungary, Hong Kong, Italy, Romania, Turkey, and Israel/Palestine.

Hasidism and the Lubavitcher movement

Rabbis from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement pose for a group photograph in Brooklyn, New York

The Lubavitcher movement is one of the largest Hasidic movements in Orthodox Judaism, and is based in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn, New York. The movement runs thousands of centres around the world, including community centres, synagogues and schools. This movement has over 200,000 adherents and up to a million Jews attend or Chabad-Lubavitch services at least once a year.

Chabad is an acronym for Hebrew words meaning Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge, while the Lubavitch movement takes its name from Lyubavichi, a Russian town that was its headquarters for over a century.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement was founded in the late 18th century by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who developed an intellectual system and approach to Judaism. While other Hasidic traditions focus only on the idea that “God desires the heart,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman argued that he also desires the mind, and that the heart without the mind is useless. He argued that “understanding is the mother of … fear and love of God. These are born of knowledge and profound contemplation of the greatness of God.”

Shneur Zalman was instrumental in the preservation of Hasidism within mainstream Judaism. Avrum Erlich writes that he “allowed for some of the mystically inclined Hasidim to reacquaint themselves with traditional scholarship and the significance of strict halakhic observance and behaviour, concerning which other Hasidic schools were sometimes less exacting. Shneur Zalman also provided the opportunity for traditionalists and scholars to access the Hasidic mood and its spiritual integrity without betraying their traditional scholarly allegiances.”

Shneur Zalman emphasised that mysticism without Talmudic study was worthless – even dangerous. He taught that Torah must be studied joyously – studying without joy is frowned upon. He provided a metaphor: when a mitzvah (commandment) is fulfilled an angel is created. But if the mitzvah was joyless then the angel too will be dispirited.

More recently, his descendant, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), sought to unite the mundane aspects of the world with the aspect of godliness in the world. He emphasised the concept of creating an abode for God in this world. He felt that the world was not a contradiction to the word of God, and it was to be embraced rather than shunned.

Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965), right, was a leading Austrian-born Israeli philosopher, translator, and educator. Martin Buber was born in Vienna, where he spent much of his childhood. Reading Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche inspired him to study in philosophy, and his doctoral work was on Jakob Böhme, the German Lutheran pietist who influenced the Anglican mystic William Law and John Wesley. He resigned from the University of Frankfurt am Main after Hitler came to power in 1933. When he was banned from lecturing he moved to Jerusalem and died there in 1965.

Buber’s evocative, sometimes poetic writing style has marked the major themes in his work: the re-telling of Hasidic tales, Biblical commentary, and metaphysical dialogue.

He saw the Zionist movement as having the potential for social and spiritual enrichment. But he also admired how Hasidic communities brought their religious beliefs into their daily life and culture, and published collected stories of two Hasidic founding figures, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism.

He valued the emphasis in the Hasidic tradition on community, inter-personal life, and meaning in common activities. For Buber, the Hasidic ideal was a life lived in the unconditional presence of God, where there was no distinct separation between daily habits and religious experience. This was a major influence on Buber’s philosophy of anthropology, which considered the basis of human existence as dialogical.

In 1923, he wrote his famous essay on existence, Ich und Du (later published in English as I and Thou). In I and Thou, he introduced his thesis on human existence. He argues there that a person is at all times engaged with the world in one of two modes of being: one of dialogue (Ich-Du) or one of monologue (Ich-Es). Ich-Du (“I-Thou”) is a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. It is an encounter in which infinity and universality are made actual, rather than being merely concepts.

Buber describes God as the eternal “Du,” and so one key Ich-Du relationship Buber identifies is that between a human being and God. He argues that this is the only way it is possible to interact with God, and that an Ich-Du relationship with anything or anyone connects in some way with the eternal relation to God.

On the other hand, in an Ich-Es relationship there is no actual meeting. Instead, the “I” confronts and treats the being in its presence as an object. The Ich-Es relationship, therefore, is a relationship with oneself; it is not a dialogue, but a monologue. In the Ich-Es relationship, an individual treats other things, including people, as objects to be used and experienced. Essentially, this form of objectivity relates to the world in terms of the self – how an object can serve the individual’s interest.

Buber argues that human life consists of an oscillation between Ich-Du and Ich-Es, and that Ich-Du experiences are few and far between. Buber argues that Ich-Es relations – even between human beings – devalue not only those who exist, but the meaning of all existence.

Simone Weil

Simone Weil (1909-1943), right, was a French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist, who was born in Paris into an agnostic Jewish family. She wrote extensively with both insight and breadth about the political movements she was a part involved in and later about spiritual mysticism. Her biographer Gabriella Fiori says she was “a moral genius in the orbit of ethics, a genius of immense revolutionary range.”

Despite her youthful pacifism, she fought in the Spanish Civil War. After clumsily burning herself over a cooking fire, she left Spain to recuperate in Assisi, and there, in the church where Saint Francis of Assisi had prayed, she had an experience of religious ecstasy in 1937, leading her to pray for the first time in her life.

She had another, more powerful revelation a year later, and from 1938 on, her writings became more mystical and spiritual. She thought of becoming a Roman Catholic, but declined to be baptised until the very end of her life – a decision she explained in her book Waiting for God. During World War II, she joined the French Resistance.

After a lifetime of illness and frailty, she died in August 1943 in Ashford, Kent, at the age of 34. The 1952 book Gravity and Grace consists of passages selected from her notebooks.

Weil does not regard the world as a debased creation, but as a direct expression of God’s love – although she also recognises it as a place of evil, affliction, and sees the brutal mixture of chance and necessity. This juxtaposition leads her to produce an unusual form of Christian theodicy.

Weil also writes on why she believes spirituality is necessary for dealing with social and political problems, and says the soul needs food just as the body needs food.

Elie Weisel

Elie Wiesel (born 1928) is a Romanian-born modern Jewish novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of over 40 books. His best-known book, Night (1958), describes his Holocaust experiences in several concentration camps: “I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man.”

Elie Wiesel was the son of an Orthodox Jewish grocer and the grandson of a Hasidic farmer. In 1944, the family was confined to the ghetto and then deported to Auschwitz. From Auschwitz, they were sent to Buchenwald, where his father was murdered.

In one searing passage in Night, he recalls “the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky,” and says: “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever … Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

After World War II, he moved first to France, where he was persuaded him to write about his Holocaust experiences, and then to New York.

In 1955, Wiesel he moved to the US, where he has written over 40 books and was instrumental in the building of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. His writing is considered among the most important in Holocaust literature, and he is credited by some with giving the term “Holocaust” its present meaning.

His statement, “... to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all ...”, stands as a succinct summary of his views on life and serves as the driving force of his work.

Jürgen Moltmann, in The Crucified God, was the first theologian to adapt Wiesel’s graphic and horrific story of a Jewish boy hung by the Nazis along with two men in a camp. It took half an hour for the youth to die and, as the men of the camp watched his torment, one asked: “Where is God now?” Wiesel heard a voice within him answer: “Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows.”

While Wiesel interpreted his inner voice as expressing what has now become disbelief in a loving and just God, Moltmann used the story to argue for a God who suffers in union with those who suffer.

Jonathan Sacks

Dr Jonathan Henry Sacks, right, is the (Orthodox) Chief Rabbi in Britain, and is a well-known spokesman for the Jewish community, as a frequent guest on television and radio shows, and for his regular newspaper columns. Dr Sacks stirred controversy in the Jewish community some years ago when he refused to attend the funeral service of the Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn and wrote a private letter in Hebrew that suggested that Reform Jews are “dividers of the faith.”

On the other hand, a group of rabbis have accused Dr Sacks of heresy in his book The Dignity of Difference, in which he seems to imply that Judaism is not the absolute truth. He amended the next edition of the book, but refused to recall earlier editions. Some rabbis have also condemned him for engaging in dialogue with Christians.

In the 1990 BBC Reith lectures (published in 1991 as The Persistence of Faith), he argued that faiths must remain open to criticism, and while keeping alive their separate communities must contribute to national debates and moral issues.

Sacks also engages positively with Hasidic spirituality, seeing the Lubavitcher spirituality as “bridging the gap between spiritual insight and daily behaviour [that] had always been a problem for Jewish mysticism.”

Lionel Blue

Rabbi Lionel Blue, right, is an English Reform rabbi from the East End of London, a journalist and broadcaster, and the first openly gay British rabbi. He is well known for his wry, gentle sense of humour on A Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4.

Through those contributions to A Thought for the Day over the past 25 years, he has given hundreds of thousands of listeners their daily ration of spirituality and religion, and has bridged the gap between not only Judaism but all religion and the demands of the secular world.

“Well good morning Sue and good morning John and good morning everybody” is a typical opening for A Thought for the Day. He has said: “I don’t believe death is the end. This world is like a corridor, like a departure lounge in an airport. You make yourself comfortable and get to know people – then your number comes up and you’re called.”

Dan Cohn-Sherbok

Dan Cohn-Sherbok is a Reform rabbi and Professor of Jewish Theology at the University of Wales in Lampeter. Contrary to the official position of Reform Judaism, he is sympathetic to Messianic Judaism and Secular Humanistic Judaism, and is interested in Jewish-Buddhist and Jewish-Christian dialogue.

He argues that today Judaism is pluriform in nature, that it no longer has an over-arching authority that can determine correct belief and practice, so that the Jewish community has splintered into a variety of groups, ranging from the strictly Orthodox to the most liberal, with some groups borrowing in a syncretistic way from other religious traditions.

In The Crucified Jew (1992), he challenges Christians to face up to 2,000 years of anti-Semitism. In Glimpses of God (1994), he invites a variety of writers, Jewish and Christian, to say whether we can find a glimpse of God in the everyday life.

Michele Guinness

And we come full circle with Michele Guinness, right, who bridges Judaism and Anglicanism in her own life story. A vicar’s wife and a broadcaster for many years, she has written eight books and is a regular contributor to television, newspapers and magazines.

In her best-selling book, Child of the Covenant (1985), Michele Guinness talks about making sense of being both Jewish and Christian. She grew up in a traditional Jewish family, observing all its rituals and culture. An encounter with a Christian raised many questions for her, and she turned to the Bible for the answers. She was baptised a Christian, but argued that as a member of the Church of England she never lost her sense of being Jewish, and she continues to practice many aspects of her Jewish faith. She tells of a Jewish girl rediscovering her roots by finding Christ. As she came face-to-face with Christ as the Messiah, she tried to make sense of being both Jewish and Christian.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen on stage at Lissadell House in July 2010 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

I’m not going to spend much time discussing Leonard Cohen. Let me say, I have been a fan of his since the late 1960s, and first became a fan through reading his poetry.

There is more to Leonard Cohen’s spirituality than Hallelujah. Like most Jews, he has been irrevocably changed by entering into the shared, post-Holocaust experience. Like many Jews, he has tried to balance between a critical and an ambivalent attitude to the religious teachings of Judaism, but he has never abandoned it.

His poetry and his lyrics are deeply influenced by Hasidic ideas too, and even when he is apparently at his most bawdy he remains deeply mystical and spiritually challenging.

These days, all his concerts close with him singing his poem, “If it be your will” – itself a deeply moving prayer.

Closing music:

Our closing music this morning is a track from Leonard Cohen’s latest album, Old Ideas, which was released on Friday last. If you read the words of Leonard Cohen’s “Amen,” as a prayer, you may even find a meeting point between modern Jewish spirituality and Christian spirituality in the thoughts of a sing-songwriter like this.

The Irish Jewish Museum and Heritage Centre is housed in the former synagogue on Walworth Road, which opened in 1915 and remained in use until the 1970s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Handout 1:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

“Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

“Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.

“Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.

“Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself.

“Never.” – Elie Wiesel, Night.

Handout 2:

Leonard Cohen: If it be your will

If it be your will
that I speak no more
and my voice be still
as it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
if it be your will

If it be your will
that a voice be true
from this broken hill
I will sing to you
from this broken hill
all your praises they shall ring
if it be your will
to let me sing
from this broken hill
all your praises they shall ring
if it be your will
to let me sing

If it be your will
if there is a choice
let the rivers fill
let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
on all these burning hearts in hell
if it be your will
to make us well

And draw us near
and bind us tight
all your children here
in their rags of light
In our rags of light
all dressed to kill
and end this night
if it be your will

If it be your will.

Handout 3: Hymn 323

The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love;
to him uplift your voice,
at whose supreme command
from earth we rise, and seek the joys
at his right hand.

He by himself has sworn,
I on his oath depend;
I shall on eagle’s wings upborne,
to heaven ascend:
I shall behold his face,
I shall his power adore,
and sing the wonders of his grace
for evermore.

There dwells the Lord, our King,
the Lord, our righteousness,
triumphant o’er the world and sin,
the Prince of peace;
on Zion’s sacred height
his kingdom he maintains,
and, glorious with his saints in light,
for ever reigns.

The God who reigns on high,
the great archangels sing,
and “Holy, holy, holy,” cry,
“Almighty King!
who was and is the same,
and evermore shall be:
Jehovah, Father, great I AM,
we worship thee!”

The whole triumphant host
give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”
they ever cry.
Hail, Abraham's God and mine!
I join the heavenly lays;
all might and majesty are thine,
and endless praise.

Handout 4: Leonard Cohen, ‘Amen’

Tell me again
When I’ve been to the river
And I’ve taken the edge off my thirst
Tell me again
We’re alone and I’m listening
I’m listening so hard that it hurts
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you want me then

Tell me again
When the victims are singing
And the Laws of Remorse are restored
Tell me again
That you know what I’m thinking
But vengeance belongs to the Lord
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you love me then

Tell me again
When the day has been ransomed
And the night has no right to begin
Try me again
When the angels are panting
And scratching at the door to come in
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you need me then

Tell me again
When the filth of the butcher
Is washed in the blood of the lamb
Tell me again
When the rest of the culture
Has passed through the Eye of the Camp
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you love me then

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This essay is based on notes for a seminar with M.Th. students on 30 January 2012.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Searching for Private Daniel Commerford of Dundela

Private Daniel Commerford's letter from the trenches in France to his Rector at home in Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

My friend and colleague, Dr Susan Hood of the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin, is trying to find any descendants of a Daniel Commerford who was a parishioner of Saint Mark’s, Dundela, in east Belfast during World War I, and who served on the Western Front.

She recently unearthed a letter from Daniel Commerford from the Western Front to his rector in East Belfast. And the search for Daniel Commerford is tantalising for anyone interested in Church history, military history, family history and the history of English literature.

In 1918, this Daniel Commerford wrote from the Western Front to the Rector of Dundela, the Revd Arthur Barton, thanking him and the parish for a Christmas parcel they had sent to him in France. [1]

Saint Mark’s, Dundela … the parish church of Daniel Commerford and CS Lewis

The letter from France, dated 2 February 1918, does not give Daniel Commerford’s regiment. But it provides telling evidence of Arthur Barton’s pastoral care to the families left at home by officers serving at the front. In that letter, Private Commerford, who signs himself “one of your parishioners,” refers to Barton’s “visit to my house,” and expresses his regret that he missed seeing his rector before leaving for the front.

Commerford explains that he had to leave “a day earlier than I thought I would have too [sic],” and so did not get to say goodbye.

The letter reads:



Rev Sir,

Just a few words to thank you and the Parishioners of St Mark’s for your comforts.

Parcel which I received quite safe on 30th Jan. It is very good of you indeed to think of us all out here and we so deeply appreciate it. I was so very sorry to have missed seen you on your visit to my home as I left a day earlier than I thought I would have too, again thanking you. I remain,

Rev Sir,

One of your parishioners,

Pte D. Commerford

Private Daniel Commerford’s signature on his letter from France to the Revd Arthur Barton in Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The parish registers in Dundela record that Daniel Commerford was living in New Street and a coachman, while a search of the 1911 Census online found only one possible D. Commerford living in Belfast. That Daniel Commerford was living in House No 37, Ballymacanallen (Tullylish), Co Down.

The census indicates this Daniel Commerford was a coachman. He was born in Oxford and was aged 31 years in 1911, making him 38 by 1918. He was married to Edith (then aged 29, and born in Co Down), and in 1911 they had three children, from the ages of six down to one: Arthur (6), Habert [? recteHerbert] (4), and Margaret (1), all members of the Church of Ireland.

The Revd Arthur Barton of Saint Mark’s, Dundela … later became Bishop of Kilmore and Archbishop of Dublin

Daniel Commerford’s letter is one among a collection of letters sent by ten soldiers who were parishioners in Dundela that came to light and has been catalogued in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin, the principal repository for the Church of Ireland’s written heritage. “While other letters that were written from the Front are found in other repositories and in private custody, the survival of a collection in a parish context is rare,” says Dr Hood.

The parish of Dundela was formed in 1876, the first “modern” parish to be created in the growing suburbs of rapidly expanding east Belfast in the second half of the 19th century. Saint Mark’s Church was built in a prominent position on the crest of Bunker’s Hill, on the main Holywood Road going towards the Bangor Road.

The church was designed by the English Tractarian architect, William Butterfield, and was consecrated on 22 August 1878. The church’s distinctive sandstone bell-tower could once seen all over Belfast and whilst continues to be a conspicuous landmark.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Dundela parish had a varied and interesting social profile, representative of Belfast’s diverse and growing population. Carved originally from the wealthy parish of Holywood, where many prominent Belfast families had their houses and villas, Dundela had its share of leading merchant and manufacturing families, a growing number of professional lawyers and doctors who tended to run the business side of parochial life through the select vestry and parish committee.

The social diversity of Dundela was enriched by numerous working class families linked with Belfast’s factories, mills and shipyards, and many of them lived in the village of Strandtown, nearer to Knockbreda parish from which the parish of Dundela had been carved. In the history of the parish, St Mark’s, Dundela, 1878–1978 (Newtownards, 1978), Professor JC Beckett says the parish origins lie in meeting the spiritual needs and religious teaching of these families.

By 1914, on the eve of the World War I, Dundela parish about 450 families, many of them living in Strandtown. The Revd Arthur Barton was appointed to Dundela just four months before the outbreak of World War I. During the war, he cut a dashing figure In Dundela as he cycled around the parish, visiting and supporting families missing their loved ones and trying to encourage a wider spirit of community among those left behind.

In March 1918, the parish magazine recorded that “several letters have been received from parishioners in France, thanking the congregation for the New Year presents and saying how useful they were in the winter weather.”

The letters provide poignant descriptions of the realities of World War I and its impact on the lives of families in one Belfast parish. All ten letters were written between the end of January and late February 1918, and probably relate to parcels sent before Christmas.

The Rector of Dundela, the Revd Arthur Barton (1881-1962) had been a curate in Saint George’s, Hardwick Place, and Howth, Co Dublin, before moving to Belfast in 1912 as head of the TCD Mission (1912-1914), working in the working class areas of Crumlin and the Shankill. He was Rector of Dundela from 1914 to 1925, and later served as Rector of Bangor (1925-1930), when he was also Archdeacon of Down, and then became Bishop of Kilmore (1930-1939) and Archbishop of Dublin (1939-1956).

The file of his personal papers from his time as rector reveals many of his activities, including a parcel scheme of comforts sent to soldiers from the parish fighting at the Front in late 1917. The details of this scheme are revealed in the letters of thanks sent back to the rector and parishioners from ten of those soldiers. Each letter reveals that the men deeply appreciated their comfort parcels and the thoughts of people at home. Barton felt the letters important enough to keep together in an envelope marked simply “Soldiers’ Presents.”

Dr Hood says it is remarkable that the letters have survived. They were found in the basement of Kilmore See House, outside Cavan town, as part of a much larger volume of diocesan papers. Barton had lived in the house when he was Bishop of Kilmore (1930-1939). He had taken the papers with him from Belfast, but it is not clear why he did not take them with him again when he moved to Dublin as archbishop in 1939. The letters remained buried in a cupboard in Kilmore See House until the archives in the house were transferred to the RCB Library in Dublin in 2007.

Commerford was older than the other nine letter writers. Taken together, these letters provide poignant descriptions of the realities of World War I and its impact on the lives of families in one Belfast parish. All ten letters were written between the end of January and late February 1918, and probably relate to parcels sent before Christmas.

CS Lewis … also a parishioner of Saint Mark’s Church

Dundela is also of interest as the home parish of CS Lewis (1898-1963), who is best remembered today for the Screwtape Letters. CS Lewis had been baptised in Saint Mark’s Church in 1899 by his maternal grandfather, the Revd Thomas Hamilton, then rector of the parish; his father, Albert Lewis, a solicitor, was originally from Cork.

By 1911, when Daniel Commerford was living in Dundela, Lewis had been sent to school in England, and was a pupil at Barton’s old school in Watford, Wynyard School, from 1908. He returned to Dundela after Barton became Rector of Saint Mark’s in 1914, and refers affectionately to Barton in his autobiography.

In 1917, Lewis left University College Oxford to volunteer in the British army and was commissioned in the Somerset Light Infantry. He arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on 19th birthday, and experienced trench warfare.

On 15 April 1918, two months after Daniel Commerford wrote to Barton, Lewis was wounded and two of his colleagues were killed by a British shell falling short of its target. On his recovery in October, he was sent to Andover. He was discharged in December 1918, and soon returned to Oxford, receiving a first in Greats in 1922 and a first in English in 1923.

Oxford, described by Matthew Arnold as the “city of dreaming spires” … Daniel Commerford and CS Lewis had very different experiences of Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Did Daniel Commerford and CS Lewis ever know one another?

Did they ever share their reminiscences of Arthur Barton?

Did they ever talk about their very divergent experiences of Oxford?

Did they ever meet in France?

Do Daniel Commerford’s children have any living descendants?

Dr Hood’s research shows that Commerford and the nine other letter writers appear to have survived World War I, although the year in which they wrote, 1918, was the most costly in terms of British and Irish casualties. The names of 31 men from the parish who died during World War I are recorded on the 1914-1918 memorial in St Mark’s, but none of the letter writers is among them. Further research by Dr Hood at the Somme Heritage Centre in Newtownards, Co Down, shows that none of the ten Dundela soldiers was killed in the war.

“We must conclude that all the letter writers made it safely back from the Front to reconstruct their lives. It may yet be possible to trace their story thereafter using other archival sources – a story to be continued.”

Dr Hood first told the full story of the letters in Irish Archives, the Journal of the Irish Society for Archives vol 17 (2009). But all these questions remain unanswered. She would like to find any living relatives of Daniel Commerford, adding: “I would be very grateful, as we would like to share with them the content of the letter.”

[1] Letter No 4, from Daniel Commerford, RCB Library, D3/11/9.3.3.

Change at St Patrick’s

Today’s edition of The Irish Times [28 January 2012] carries the following editorial comment:

Change at St Patrick’s

THE DEAN of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the Very Rev Robert MacCarthy, retired on Wednesday, following a blistering farewell sermon on Sunday in which he was less than delicate in his criticism of all he had crossed swords with since his election 13 years ago. While he raised some legitimate questions about relations between the Christian churches, ecumenical progress may require a more nuanced approach.

The cathedral chapter and board will want to relegate much of what was said last Sunday to the annals and archives as the chapter begins the immediate task of searching among its own members for a new dean they must hope will be a worthy successor to not only Jonathan Swift but other great deans such as William King and Adam Loftus.

During the tenure of Dean Victor Griffin, the cathedral had a warm place in the hearts of inner-city Dubliners. But St Patrick’s is also a unique institution in the Church of Ireland, serving not as a diocesan cathedral but as a national cathedral, with a chapter that represents all 12 dioceses, North and South. With this unique role, it ought to embody the Church of Ireland’s engagement and interaction with the life of the nation.

The dean may only be chosen from among current, serving chapter members or canons – an all-male body of over two dozen canons. This limits their choice as they seek a new dean with the necessary vision, generosity and true qualities of spirituality.

The first task of the next dean must surely be to mend the many breaches in the cathedral close and to restore trust and confidence with the chapter, the cathedral board and members of the congregation.

This means the new dean must have innate pastoral skills, a true ability to listen to people, and an approach to cathedral life that is collegiate, hospitable and inclusive. Naturally, the new dean must be gifted in liturgy, music and administration, and be learned, scholarly and inspirational. But he must also have a passion to represent Saint Patrick’s to the whole Church of Ireland, to the wider church in general, and to the whole community so that the cathedral once again becomes a truly national cathedral for the whole island.

Electing a dean who falls short in these expectations will have serious consequences for St Patrick’s, for if it fails in its role of allowing the church to speak to the nation and the nation to speak to the church it has lost its sense of mission and vision.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Searching for an old house and listening to an old maestro

Walking along the beach in Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

As dusk fell on Wexford town this evening, I found myself in a nostalgic mood in High Street, looking across the rooves at the back of the new Theatre Royal to the old offices where I once worked for the Wexford People and in front of the theatre looking at the house I had once lived in.

It’s almost forty years since I began working with the Wexford People. But I was back in Co Wexford today not to take a trip down the Memory Lanes of the narrow streets of the old town, but to search for a former family home, and to have some walks on the beaches at Courtown, Kilmuckridge and Katts Strand on the east side of Wexford Harbour.

I left work early, late in the morning, and two of us drove south, arriving in Courtown, 6 km east of Gorey in north Co Wexford, in little more than an hour. Despite all the warnings of heavy rain and heavy cloud cover, the sky was blue, the few clouds were white, and – although the temperatures had dropped to seven or eight – there was a crisp bite in the air that added to the refreshing feeling of this bright day.

The rubble of Invermore gives no hint of a lost story (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I was in Courtown looking for a house that was first known as Invermore when it was built in 1859. Invermore was designed by the Victorian architect Sir Thomas Newenham Deane as a house for M. Scott, the land agent of the Earls of Courtown. Later in the 19th century and in the early 20th century it had been home to the Hon George Stopford, brother of the Earl of Courtown, and Lady Mary Lloyd.

However, my interest in the house was a family association. When the future journalist and republican Máire Comerford (1893-1982) returned to Ireland from London around 1915, she moved to Co Wexford with her mother, Eva Mary Comerford (nee Esmonde), niece of Sir John Esmonde.

At first, they lived with Eva’s sister, Thomas Louis Esmonde (1864-1918) of Gorey, but they soon rented Invermore in Courtown, where they then set up a school for girls and where Máire was a teacher for a time.

We drove around Courtown for a while looking for the old house. After Máire and Eva Comerford left Courtown, the house changed hands and names over the decades, and eventually became an hotel. It was known at different times as Levuka, the Oulart Hotel, the Sands Hotel and the Stopford House Hotel.

Thinking perhaps the hotel had changed names once again, we kept driving around in circles, still hoping to find the house. Eventually, we were pointed to a heap of rubble and a clump of trees in a fenced-off field near two small housing estates.

Like most of the hotels in Courtown, the hotel had fallen on hard times, had closed, and was then demolished. Nothing is left of the stepped arches over the windows, the pyramid-shaped roof, the classical porch, the Gothic entrance arch, the elaborate fretted balusters on the main and secondary staircases with their plant and animal motifs, or the courtyard at the rear with its eclectic design executed in local red brick and the outbuildings with carved bargeboards.

The once planned apartments were never built on the site, and the rubble of a grand old house that once looked down towards the harbour and out to sea – the rubble of a house that once played a minor role in Irish architectural and political history – shows no traces of a forgotten grandeur.

The harbour at Courtown Harbour was built by the Stopford family as a famine relief project in the 1840s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Back in Courtown, we parked above the north beach. The tide was in as far as the rocks, and we walked south and around the harbour, built in the 1840s at a cost of £25,000 as a famine relief programme by the Stopford family, Earls of Courtown. Apart from a few shops and a few strollers, the town looked deserted, many of its former seaside hotels closed and boarded up.

A deserted look at the old Courtown Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The former Courtown Hotel is on the market, but even there the estate agent’s “For Sale” sign has started to fall off the wall precariously, and the shutters on the windows have fallen away in many places.

From Courtown, we drove out through Riverchapel and Ardamine, passed one caravan park after another, with sale signs offering mobile homes and caravans for rock bottom prices.

On we went through Ballygarret, past Church pretty Clonevan Church near Cahore Point, and the wind generating farm before reaching Kilmuckridge.

Wind turbines on a ridge near Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Down on Morriscastle Beach, the tide was out and the fine white and golden yellow sands stretched for miles in both directions. We were undisturbed as we walked along the shore line, listening to the waves roll and then break. Despite the low temperatures, it was possible to imagine that this was an early Spring if not a an early Summer day.

Looking across Wexford Harbour towards Wexford Town in the fading lights of the early evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Eventually – and reluctantly – we left, and continued along the coast road to Wexford, stopping briefly at Ardcavan, south of Castlebridge, to enjoy the view across the harbour to Wexford Town.

We parked beside the railway line on the Quays, and summer days came to mind when we placed pennies on the tracks and waited for trains to roll over them and flatten them into misshapes.

We had lunch in La Dolce Vita in Trimmer’s Lane, a broad square close to North Main Street and below the ruins of Selskar Abbey. It was a wonderful lunch, and it called for a stroll through the town’s narrow streets afterwards.

The shops in North Main Street reflected in the windows of Saint Iberius’s Church, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

At one stage, I found myself catching reflections of the shops in North Main Street in the windows of Saint Iberius’s Church, and I was giving thanks for life and ministry of the late Canon Norman Ruddock.

A few moments later, I found myself in High Street, remembering balmy and youthful days filled with poetic idealism forty years ago.

Back on South Main Street, I was bought as a birthday present Leonard Cohen’s new album, Old Ideas, which was released today.

As we drove back under a star-filled night sky, we listened to new songs from the old maestro all the way to Dublin.

Looking across at the former ‘Wexford People’ offices from the back of High Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Lingering a little longer in Little Jerusalem

A little corner in Little Jerusalem in Rathmines this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Little Jerusalem tonight for dinner for a special celebration.

No, not Jerusalem in Palestine, but Little Jerusalem in Rathmines, where the Middle Eastern and Palestinian food is excellent.

Well, after the Chinese New Year – in Temple Bar, and Corfu – in Parliament Street, last week, it was time to reach out to somewhere else.

Two of us brought our own bottle of wine – admittedly, not our own, but a present from a student – and we made an evening of it, with a vegetarian mezze that included falafel, hummus, Baba Ghanoush, tabbouleh, olives, feta cheese and Palestinian naan or flat bread, followed by good Arabic coffee, flavoured with cardamom, and a generous helping of Qatayef, stuffed with nuts, coconut and cinnamon and soaked in rose syrup.

The place was full ... perhaps we should have booked a table earlier and lingered a little longer.

Little Jerusalem in Wynnfield Road is owned by the same people who own and run the Silk Road Cafe in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle. And they have a good takeaway menu too.

Anglican Studies 2.2: the challenges facing Anglicanism today

The Anglican Primates at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, last January (Photograph: Orla Ryan/ACNS, 2011)

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Patrick Comerford

Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The challenges facing the communion of global Anglicanism today, including the Anglican Covenant.

Part 1: The present challenges:

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: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 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?

Last week we looked at the present state of the Anglican Communion, and outlined the four “Instruments of Communion”:

Traditionally there have been four instruments of unity, now known as the “Instruments of Communion”:

● The Archbishop of Canterbury, who calls and convenes the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ meetings, and presides at the meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council – although the ACC has its own chair and vice-chair. He is often referred to as a “focus of unity.”
● The Lambeth Conference, first called in 1867 and now meeting every 10 years – the last meeting was in Canterbury in 2008.
● The Anglican Consultative Council, formed in 1968. Its last meeting, ACC-14, was held in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2009, and the next meeting is in New Zealand later this year. The Church of Ireland members are the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott (Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute) and Mr Wilfred Baker, the Cork Diocesan Secretary.
● The Primates’ Meetings, which take place every two or three years. They last met in the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords, Co Dublin, last January [2011] and the three previous meetings were in Alexandria, Egypt (February 2009), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (February 2007), and Dromantine, near Newry (2006).

Let us look at each of these instruments of communion, and see what are the challenges facing the communion of global Anglicanism today, and then discuss the Anglican Covenant.

The challenges

At their meeting in Swords last year [January 2011], the Anglican primates issued a number of statements or open letters expressing concerns about the situations in Zimbabwe, the Middle East, Egypt, Haiti and the Korean peninsula, and about global warming, the circumstances surrounding the murder of a gay activist in Uganda, gender-based violence, and other issues.

Many external matters received serious consideration at that meeting. But it is often internal matters – the question marks that hang over the future of the Anglican Communion – that draw the most attention. These include the following:

● 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.

In many ways, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church (TEC) appear to dominate the agenda, the budgets and the ethos of the Anglican Communion. But, 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.”

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

In the US, the decline of Anglicanism or Episcopalianism is in sharp contrast to the rise in membership of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. As Alister McGrath claims: “The implications for the future direction of Anglicanism are momentous.”

1, The Archbishop of Canterbury:

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”

You may agree with Paul Avis that “in spite of the present difficulties,” Anglicanism “is worth persevering with.” I certainly hope you do! In his presidential address to the General Synod of the Church of England in London two years ago [9 February 2010], the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, set out plans to introduce multiple levels within the Anglican Communion to cope with the current divisions and disputes, which are mainly expressed through the debates about women bishops, gay clergy and same-gender marriages.

He said the covenant could be approached as a way of creating divisions but avoiding schism: “It may be that the Covenant creates a situation in which there are different levels of relationship between those claiming the name of Anglican. I don’t at all want or relish this, but suspect that, without a major change of heart all round, it may be an unavoidable aspect of limiting the damage we are already doing to ourselves.” [The Church Times, 12.2.2010, pp 20-21; The Tablet, 13.2.2010, pp 6-7, 37.]

Four years ago, at the General Synod of the Church of England, Archbishop Williams 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, 11.2.2008.]

Some years ago, in an interview with Paul Handley [The Church Times, 6.12.2002, pp 14-15], Archbishop Williams was asked about future Lambeth Conferences, and spoke about the need for an Anglican Congress, which would include lay people as well.

Asked 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,” 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 this 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?”

“In ten years’ time ...” Where do you think we will be then in 2012, this year?

2, The Lambeth Conference:

Canterbury Cathedral .... the Lambeth Conferences are called by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Over the generations, bishops at the Lambeth Conferences have debated many of the real social and pressing issues of the day, often issuing radical statements, for example on Socialism in the Victorian age, or on war at the height of the Vietnam war. They were able to change their views, for example on contraception and family planning, moving from an outright disapproval of contraception to openly encouraging planned parenthood.

The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops, meeting every 10 years under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There have been 13 conferences to date, between 1867 and 2008. Until 1978, the conferences were for bishops only, but in 1988 the full membership of the Anglican Consultative Council was invited too, as well as representative bishops of the Churches in Communion (the Churches of Bangladesh, North and South India, and Pakistan) joined with the bishops in the discussions, as did bishops of the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.

But Lambeth Conferences remain essentially gatherings of bishops only, they are deliberative and, while they claim teaching authority, they were without canonical authority and their composition does not reflect the synodical structures of individual Anglican churches or provinces.

From the beginning, Lambeth Conferences have been marked by tensions and divisions. The first Lambeth Conference was called because of crisis and division among Anglicans in Southern Africa, the Province of York refused to take part in the first conference, Dean Stanley refused to make Westminster Abbey available for the first conference, and there were 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.

The 14th Lambeth Conference took place from 16 July to 4 August 2008 at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Before the conference, Archbishop Williams issued a pastoral letter to the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches, indicating 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 were reduced, with a bigger number of more focused groups.

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 were invited to the 2008 Conference. Those notably absent from the invitation list were Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Bishop Martyn Minns, now a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Bishop Gene Robinson … not invited to Lambeth 2008 (Photograph: Donald Vish)

Bishop Robinson is the first Anglican bishop to exercise the office of diocesan bishop 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, became 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 saw him as its own missionary bishop to the US, despite protests from Canterbury and TEC.

Six (out of the total of 38) Anglican Primates decided not to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference 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, who is talking about the end of the Anglican Communion, and the other bishops in Sydney in Australia, stayed away. However, the bishops of Uganda insisted that they remain part of the Anglican Communion.

The Global Anglican Future Conference, a meeting of conservative bishops in Jerusalem in June 2008, took place 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 say they are in impaired communion with much of Anglicanism, including Archbishop Jensen, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and other bishops who saw themselves as in “impaired communion” with TEC and the Archbishop of Canterbury, including 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 of Pittsburgh (now the ACNA Archbishop) and Bishop 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 the late Ian Smith of CMS Ireland was there.

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

The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Dawani, in whose diocese the conference took place, said: “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 concerned about GAFCON taking place in a diocese in his province. He advised the organisers that it was not the right time or place for such a meeting, but 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 his fear for the damage 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.

To continue the work of GAFCON, many of those involved in it or who supported in set up the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

Meanwhile, the number of bodies set up to mediate within the Anglican Communion continues to 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.

At the end of 2008, theological conservatives estranged from TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada formed a separate province, the Anglican Church in North America. The bishops involved in setting up this new church included Martyn Minns and Robert Duncan, although those new groupings are currently facing disarray and internal divisions.

3, The Anglican Consultative Council:

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is an international assembly of the Anglican Communion, bringing together bishops, priests, deacons and lay members to work on common concerns.

The ACC was formed following a resolution of the 1968 Lambeth Conference which discerned the need for more frequent and more representative contact among the member churches than was possible through a once-a-decade conference of bishops. The constitution of the council was accepted by the general synods or conventions of all the member churches of the Anglican Communion.

The council came into being in 1969, and it is the only one of three collective instruments of communion to have a legal identity and constitution. But is remains consultative, it has no canonical authority, and at times there have been tensions with the other instruments, as when the primates suggested the TEC and Canadian members should absent themselves from the ACC.

4, The Primates’ Meeting:

The Archbishop of Armagh is part of the primates’ meeting, but not the Archbishop of Dublin

The Primates (the senior archbishop or presiding bishop) of the autonomous Churches of the Anglican Communion have been meeting every two or three years since 1979 in consultation on theological, social, and international issues, for fellowship and for prayer.

They do not include all archbishops, and they have no constitution. Their meeting is called by the Archbishop of Canterbury for consultation, and there is no consensus yet among the primates about the nature and exercise of primacy.

The fact that the primates at their meetings have no canonical authority to act collectively on decisions may explain the frustrations that contributed to seven primates not attending the latest meeting (2011).

Patrick Comerford with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Primates’ meeting in Dublin

Part 3: The Anglican Covenant

Ridley Hall, Cambridge, founded in 1881 … the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant was finalised there in April 2009 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The idea of an Anglican covenant was first put forward in the Windsor Report (pars 113-120), which prosed a Covenant that would become “foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion.” Signatories would agree that “recognition of, and fidelity to, the text of this Covenant, enables mutual recognition and communion.”

Does this means that Provinces that do not sign the Covenant no longer count as part of the Communion? Until now, “mutual recognition and communion” have applied across all Anglican provinces. Would the Covenant mean withdrawing recognition and communion from non-signatories? And, if so, would the Anglican Communion would cease to consist of the 38 provinces and instead consist of the new international structure, composed only of the Provinces that sign the Covenant.

Archbishop Robin Eames of Armagh presenting the Windsor Report in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 2004

The Anglican Covenant was first proposed by the Windsor Report after the Diocese of New Hampshire in the US elected an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada approved a same-sex blessing.

Opponents had no legal way to expel TEC or the Canadians. The subsequent debates led to the Windsor Report and eventually to the Anglican Covenant, which is now being debated by Anglican Provinces. The debate raises questions about whether the Covenant can achieve Anglican unity or is redefining the Anglican Communion.

The Windsor Report was produced by a commission chaired by the then Archbishop Robin Eames, was published in October 2004, and was a major topic at the meeting of the Anglican Primates in Dromantine, Co Armagh, seven years ago (2005).

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 for sanctioning same-sex blessing.
● Criticised bishops in provinces such as Uganda and the Southern Cone for intervening in US dioceses during the crisis.
● Recommended new procedures for dealing with disagreements, including an agreed covenant to restrain unilateral decision-making.
● Recommended the 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).

The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and of the Anglican Consultative Council commissioned a study paper on the idea in 2005, Towards an Anglican Covenant.

At its meeting in 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 in 2007.

In Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 2007, the primates continued this process. Seven 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 TEC primus. In 2007, the Primates produced a draft covenant for the Anglican Communion – the Nassau Draft – and initial consultations took place in 2007.

A second report – the Saint Andrew’s Draft – took 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, drawn up by the Covenant Design Group, proposed that the Archbishop of Canterbury would oversee a mediation process between provinces that disagree on issues such as homosexuality. It suggested that if mediation failed, contentious matters would be referred to the ACC, which would then have the power to expel a province whose policies might threaten a schism. This proposal gave the ACC more prominence in resolving disputes than the Primates, a move which has been opposed by some groups.

The draft was discussed at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and then sent to the member Churches of the Anglican Communion.

When the Anglican primates met three years ago (2009) in Alexandria, they discussed the draft covenant, and abandoned proposals for the primates to be ex-officio members of the ACC. Interestingly, five African primates who had boycotted Lambeth 2008 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 draft 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.

Ridley Hall, Cambridge … the Covenant Design Group met there in 2009 and finalised the Anglican Covenant now being debated throughout the Anglican Communion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Covenant Design Group, which included Archbishop John Neill of Dublin, met again in April 2009 in Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and sent another draft, An Anglican Covenant - Ridley Cambridge Draft Text, for review to the ACC at its meeting in Jamaica that year. The ACC then sent that version of the Covenant to the provinces for their adoption. I expect it will be discussed at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Dublin this year (2011), but it may be some years before the General Convention of TEC debates it.

The covenant gives the “Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and of the Primates’ Meeting, or any body that succeeds it,” the responsibility of overseeing the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion (4.2.1).

The Joint Standing Committee may make ask any covenanting Church to defer a planned course of action (4.2.2). If a member church refuses to defer a controversial action, the Joint Standing Committee may recommend consequences such as a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, one of the Instruments of Communion (4.2.3).

The committee may suggest that the decision of a covenanting Church continues with an action that is “incompatible with the Covenant” that this impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion, with consequences for participation in the life of the Anglican Communion and the Instruments of Communion (4.2.5).

Each Church should put into place mechanisms, agencies or institutions to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant (4.2.6).

Any covenanting Church may withdraw from the Covenant. Although withdrawing would not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it raises questions about the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with its principles (4.3.1).

Recently, Archbishop Williams admitted the covenant is seen in some quarters as trying to create an Anglican executive and “for seeking to create means of exclusion. This is wholly mistaken. There is no supreme court envisaged, and the constitutional liberties of each province are explicitly safeguarded,” he said.

The current status of the Covenant

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh ... the General Synod of the Church of Ireland agreed in Armagh in 2011 to “subscribe” to the Covenant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland agreed in Armagh on 13 May 2011 to “subscribe” to the Covenant, but made it clear that the Covenant does not supplant existing governing documents of the Church of Ireland.

What about the reception of the Anglican Covenant in other member Churches of the Anglican Communion?

The Church of England: In November 2010, the General Synod of the Church of England sent the Covenant to the diocesan synods for consideration. The measure is backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is due to come back to the General Synod for a final vote in July 2012. Bishop Michael Perham of Gloucester has expressed concern that it could be used to take “punitive action” against certain Anglicans, but he voted in favour of it out of loyalty to Archbishop Rowan Williams. Bishop John Saxbee of Lincoln said the Covenant represented “factory-farmed religion rather than free range-faith” and would only lead to a two-tier Communion.

Lichfield Cathedral ... the Diocese of Lichfield is one of the dioceses of the Church of England to approve the Anglican Covenant (Photograph; Patrick Comerford,2010)

To date, four dioceses – Lichfield, Durham, Europe and Bristol – have voted in favour of adopting the Covenant, and four – Truro, Birmingham, Wakefield and St Edmundsbury and Ipswich – have voted against. Other dioceses are still in the process of debating and voting. A total of 23 diocesan synods must approve the Covenant for the matter to return to the General Synod in July.

The Anglican Church of Australia: All dioceses are to comment on the Covenant by December 2012, and a report is to be prepared for the General Synod next year [2013], when the church is expected to “receive” rather than “welcome” the Covenant. But the Diocese of Newcastle has passed a resolution against adoption and the Diocese of Sydney has rejected the covenant.

Burma (Myanmar): has accepted the covenant.

The Anglican Church of Canada: The Covenant has been sent to the dioceses and parishes for study before being considered by the General Synod in 2013.

Japan: In May 2010, the General Synod agreed to move forward with considering the covenant, over-ruling a recommendation from the theological committee of the House of Bishops.

Mexico: adopted the Covenant in June 2010.

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia: In May 2010, the General Synod approved the first three sections of the Covenant in principle. The Covenant will be studied and brought back to the Synod in Fiji in July [2012] for final acceptance or rejection. Legal opinion is being sought on Section 4. Two Maori dioceses have rejected the Covenant, as have the Dioceses of Auckland, Waiapu and Dunedin, but the Diocese of Wellington voted for it. The Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki voted, in principle, for the Covenant. Although the final vote on the Covenant has not been taken, a vote by the Tikanga Maori indicates the Church will reject the Covenant.

The Philippines: the bishops rejected the Covenant in May 2011.

The Episcopal Church of Scotland: The Faith and Order Board advised the General Synod last year [2011] on the appropriate r processes. A final decision on adopting the covenant could be made at the General Synod in 2014, but a decision not to adopt it could be made earlier

South-East Asia: The Church “acceded” to the Covenant last May [2011] and published an explanation of its understanding of the action, which seems to go beyond the Covenant text itself.

Southern Africa: The Provincial Synod approved the Covenant in October 2010. The decision will have to be ratified next year [2013].

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town (left), and the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of TEC (centre) at a USPG conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The Episcopal Church: In 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC) approved a resolution commending the draft Covenant and successive versions to the dioceses for study. The Covenant will be taken up at the General Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, this year [2012]. Various dioceses have passed resolutions both for and against the Covenant. Most notable, because of its detail, is a resolution against from the Diocese of California; Eastern Oregon, Michigan and East Carolina have opposed adopting the Covenant. The Executive Council has circulated a resolution rejecting the Covenant, although that resolution may not be the one to make it to the legislative floor.

West Indies: The Provincial Synod voted to accept the Covenant in December 2009, and the Standing Committee did so in November 2010.

The debate about the Covenant:

But many questions still remain:

Will any intervention by the Joint Standing Committee, now known as the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, help heal the divisions or simply delay them?

Is the Standing Committee likely to become a new ‘Instrument of Communion’ 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?

When Inclusive Church and Modern Church together placed a large advertisement in the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper, the Revd Dr Andrew Goddard replied with a lengthy, 15,000-word defence of the Anglican Covenant, “How and Why IC & MCU Mislead Us On the Anglican Covenant.” He says: “The IC/MCU statement ... pays little or no attention to the text of the covenant itself.”

Critics say they judge the covenant in the light of its potential and how it could be used once it is in place.

The most obvious disagreement is whether provinces will be subordinated to the international authorities and threatened with punishment if they do not obey.

Goddard considers this a “highly implausible spin,” although he does not say why. The Windsor Report said it was a stated aim was that a covenant “would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion” (para 118).

But how can we enforce true “loyalty and bonds of affection”?

Whether or not the text of the Covenant claims to be punitive, whether its framers intend it to be, or whether it can be used in a punitive manner, a province that rejects recommendations can be excluded from the Covenant’s “enhanced” relationship with other provinces and international committees. Is this enhanced relationship not the relationship most provinces already have with each other? Will there be a third tier for the truly disobedient provinces, those nearly, but not quite beyond the pale?

Does the Covenant redefine Anglicanism? Would the Covenant make Anglican Churches more inward-looking?

Every time the Standing Committee upholds an objection it will establish a new ruling, another doctrine Anglicans are expected to believe. Over time, Anglicanism may become less inclusive and more dogmatic.

The 1998 Lambeth Conference declared homosexuality “incompatible with Scripture” and the Windsor Report, faced with threats of schism, took this to mean that there is an Anglican consensus on this matter. On the basis of this presumed “consensus,” it was declared that the North American churches were out of order in consecrating a gay bishop and permitting the blessing same-sex unions.

But Lambeth conference resolutions have never had legislating powers. Yet the Windsor Report treated Resolution 1.10 as binding on Anglicanism – in effect, another component part of Anglican belief to add to the Bible, the Creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles.

A resolution and a report quickly came to be treated as dogma. Bishop Martin Barahona, the retired Primate of Central America, said: “The Windsor Report, it’s just a report. When did it become like The Bible. The Covenant. Why do we need another covenant? We have the Baptismal Covenant. We have the creeds. What else do we need?”

The bitter controversies of the last decade have indeed been most unfortunate. The presenting issues have been ethical and theological disagreement. Can they be resolved by patient, informed ethical and theological dialogue? Or do they need to be dealt with through what some see as “ecclesiastical politics and threats of exclusion”?

What would the Anglican Covenant do?

Opponents says the covenant would enable objectors to forbid new developments.

Each of the 38 Provinces in the Anglican Communion is being asked to sign the Anglican Covenant. By signing the Covenant, a province undertakes not to introduce any new development if another Anglican province anywhere in the world opposes it – unless granted prior permission from a new international body, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

It would redefine Anglicanism.

The Covenant does not mention either the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson or the decisions in the Diocese of New Westminster. But it imposes restrictions on any future church developments that another province opposes.

Would the Covenant establish an authoritarian leadership in the Anglican Communion?

What will happen if the Church of England signs or adopts the Covenant?

Would the Covenant subordinate once-autonomous provinces to a new international body?

The Covenant text states it affects only the relations provinces have with each other, without any effect on their internal governance. However, provinces would be to subordinate a province to the decisions of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion

If the Covenant is approved, would this mean that every time the Standing Committee upholds an objection it will establish a new ruling, which then becomes another doctrine Anglicans are expected to accept and believe?

Is there a danger that over time Anglicanism will become less inclusive and more dogmatic?

What about those parishes and clergy who disagree, or who simply prefer a more open-minded approach?

Classical Anglican theology seeks to balance scripture, reason and tradition, and this balance allows for new developments. However, the Covenant reduces Anglicanism’s authorities to “the Scriptures, the common standards of faith, and the canon laws of our churches,” making it more difficult to justify changes.

The Covenant would oblige provinces “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion.”

Who would decide which decisions meet these criteria? Would it encourage opponents to exaggerate the strength of their objections?

Does the Covenant subordinate provincial decision-making to the new Standing Committee and the four Instruments of Communion?

Would it hinder mission? Think of how many people say they are put off the Church by our apparent reluctance to change and what they see as the Church’s backward-looking stance on many issues. If the covenant slows down change and development, would we have created an additional hindrance to mission?

Could local ecumenical initiatives become subject to objections from Anglicans in other places who do not know or understand the local situation?

If the Covenant goes ahead, provinces not signing up to it will govern themselves in the same way as now. But signatories may, at worst, no longer count them as part of the Anglican Communion, and at best as second-class members, they would be excluded from the Instruments of Communion, and they would become “Churches in association” with the Anglican Communion.

Opponents of the covenant say that if the Covenant had been there in the past, then over the centuries there have been few changes. Think of how the Church no longer approves of slavery, but permits divorce and contraception. We have introduced new prayer books and liturgies, approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops, but some provinces still do not have women as priests and bishops. If the Covenant had been in force when these changes were introduced, other provinces would have objected.

Is there a better way to resolve disagreements?

Refusing to allow reason a role, disagreements have often led each side to accuse the other of not being true Christians.

But are disagreements within the Church always a threat to the unity of the Church?

Anglicans traditionally value the role of reason and expect to learn from other people. We have been better at staying united because we have debated our disagreements openly within the Church, without threatening schism, until a time when we reach consensus.

Can differences of opinion be freely and openly debated within the Church, in the interests of seeking truth, without invoking powers of censure or threats of schism?

Part 4: 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 Dormer, Jack McDonald and Jeremy Caddick (eds), Anglicanism the Answer to Modernity (London: Continuum 2003) (right). Duncan Dormer is Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, and 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 (ed), 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 (ed), 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 Affirming 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?

Resources and supplemental reading:

The Anglican Communion Covenant - final text.
The Windsor Report.

Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007).
Mark D. Chapman (editor), The Anglican Covenant: Unity and Diversity in the Anglican Communion (London: Mowbray/Continuum, 2008).
Jonathan Clark, The Republic of Heaven (London: SPCK, 2008).
Norman Doe, N Anglican Covenant: theological and legal considerations for a global debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008).
Duncan Dormer, Jack McDonald and Jeremy Caddick (eds), Anglicanism, the Answer to Modernity (London: Continuum 2003).
Philip Groves (editor), The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality (London: SPCK, 2008).
Robert Hannaford (editor), The Future of Anglicanism (Canterbury Press/Gracewing, 1996).
Bruce Kaye, An Introduction to World Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Kevin Ward, A History of Global Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Next week:

State-sponsored reform of the English and Irish churches in the 16th century.

3.2: Contextual understandings (1): the emergence, role and authority of the Book of Common Prayer, the Homilies, Articles of Religion.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. These notes were prepared for a seminar on 26 January 2012 as part of the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context