25 January 2016

Anglican Studies (2015-2016) 2.2: the
challenges facing Anglicanism today

The Anglican Primates at their meeting in Canterbury earlier this month (Photograph: ACNS)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Mondays: 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Monday 25 January 2016

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 who 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, and the Archbishop of Canterbury intends to call the next meeting in 2010.

● The Anglican Consultative Council, formed in 1968. Its last meeting, ACC-15, was held in New Zealand at the end of 2012, and it meets again later this year [8-20 April 2016] in Lusaka, Zambia. The Church of Ireland members are the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott (Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute) and Mr Wilfred Baker, the former Cork Diocesan Secretary.

● The Primates’ Meetings, which take place every two or three years. They last met the week before last [11-15 January 2016] in Canterbury. Their previous meeting was in the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords, Co Dublin, in January 2011, and the three meetings before that 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 Canterbuty the week before last [11 to 15 January 2016], the Anglican primates issued the following statement:

Communiqué from the Primates, 15 January 2016


Walking Together in the Service of God in the World

The meeting of Anglican Primates, the senior bishops of the 38 Anglican Provinces, joined by the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, took place in Canterbury between Monday 11 January and Friday 15 January at the invitation of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first morning was spent in prayer and fasting.

We came knowing that the 2016 Primates’ meeting would be concerned with the differences among us in regard to our teaching on matters of human sexuality. We were also eager to address wider areas of concern.

The meeting started by agreeing the agenda. The first agreed item was to discuss an important point of contention among Anglicans worldwide: the recent change to the doctrine of marriage by The Episcopal Church in the USA.

Over the past week the unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ. We looked at what that meant in practical terms. We received the recommendation of a working group of our members which took up the task of how our Anglican Communion of Churches might walk together and our unity be strengthened. Their work, consistent with previous statements of the Primates’ meetings, addressed what consequences follow for The Episcopal Church in relation to the Anglican Communion following its recent change of marriage doctrine.

The recommendations in paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Addendum A below are:

“It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

“We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”

These recommendations were adopted by the majority of the Primates present.

We will develop this process so that it can also be applied when any unilateral decisions on matters of doctrine and polity are taken that threaten our unity.

The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.

The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression.

We affirmed the consultation that had taken place in preparation for the meeting by Archbishop Welby and commended his approach for future events within the Communion.

The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.

In the wake of the climate change conference in Paris last month, the meeting heard about a petition of almost two million signatures co-ordinated by the Anglican Environment Network. Reports were made about moves to divest from fossil fuels, the expansion of the African Deserts and the struggle for survival of the peoples of the Pacific as island life is threatened in many places by the rise of sea levels.

The meeting discussed the reality of religiously motivated violence and its impact on people and communities throughout the world. Primates living in places where such violence is a daily reality spoke movingly and passionately about their circumstances and the effect on their members. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has taken important initiatives in bringing people together from a range of faith communities globally for discussion and mutual accountability.

The Anglican Primates repudiated any religiously motivated violence and expressed solidarity with all who suffer from this evil in the world today.

The Primates look forward to the proposal being brought to the Anglican Consultative Council for comprehensive child protection measures to be available throughout all the churches of the Communion.

In a presentation on evangelism, the Primates rejoiced that the Church of Jesus Christ lives to bear witness to the transforming power of the love of God in Jesus Christ. The Primates were energised by the opportunity to share experiences of evangelism and motivated to evangelise with their people.

“The Primates joyfully commit themselves and the Anglican Church, to proclaim throughout the world the person and work of Jesus Christ, unceasingly and authentically, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel.”

(See Addendum B.)

The Primates supported the Archbishop of Canterbury in his proposal to call a Lambeth Conference in 2020.

The Primates discussed tribalism, ethnicity, nationalism and patronage networks, and the deep evil of corruption. They reflected that these issues become inextricably connected to war and violence, and derive from poverty. They agreed to ask the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion to commission a study for the next Primates’ meeting. The Primates agreed to meet again in 2017 and 2019.

The Primates owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of the Anglican Communion Office, and especially the Secretary General, to the staff at Lambeth Palace and at Church House Westminster. The Primates were especially grateful for the warm welcome, generous hospitality and kindness offered by the Dean of Canterbury and all at the Cathedral. Their contribution was very important in setting the mood of the meeting in prayer and mutual listening. Thanks to the Community of St Anselm for their prayer, help and support, Jean Vanier for his inspiring addresses, and the Community of St Gregory for the loan of the crosier head to sit alongside the St Augustine gospels.

The Primates received their time together as a gift from God and experienced many signs of God’s presence amongst us. They appreciated the personal care and humility shown by the Archbishop of Canterbury especially in his chairing of the meeting. We leave our week together enriched by the communion we share and strengthened by the faithful witness of Anglicans across the world. The Primates deeply appreciate the prayers of many throughout the world over our time together.

Addendum A

1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.

2. Recent developments in the Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.

3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.

4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.

5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.

6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.

7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years TEC no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

8. We have asked the ABC to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.

Addendum B

We, as Anglican Primates, affirm together that the Church of Jesus Christ lives to bear witness to the transforming love of God in the power of the Spirit throughout the world.

It is clear God’s world has never been in greater need of this resurrection love and we long to make it known.

We commit ourselves through evangelism to proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ, unceasingly and authentically, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel.

We rely entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us speech, brings new birth, leads us into the truth revealed in Christ Jesus thus building the church.

All disciples of Jesus Christ, by virtue of our baptism, are witnesses to and of Jesus in faith, hope and love.

We pledge ourselves together to pray, listen, love, suffer and sacrifice that the world may know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Come Holy Spirit.


The Anglican Primates at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, five years ago (Photograph: Orla Ryan/ACNS)

At their meeting in Swords four years ago [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 former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, described once as a World Alliance of Anglican Churches?

Part 2: The ‘Instruments of Communion’ today

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

1, The Archbishop of Canterbury:

The Most Revd Justin Portal Welby ... enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013

Archbishop Justin Portal Welby was enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury three years ago [21 March 2013]. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, and he will probably crown the next British monarch.

He has placed poverty at the heart of his priorities. He has been critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, been supportive of the Occupy protests at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and has not been fooled by the smooth talking of bankers. He has asked whether companies can sin, and has sat on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. He favours women bishops, but supports “the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage.” However, he has spoken out strongly against homophobia and says he is “always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us.”

Archbishop Rowan Williams … 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 farewell letter to the Anglican Primates, Archbishop Rowan Williams said the member churches of the Anglican Communion must live with some diversity but not become like “distant relatives who sometimes send Christmas cards to each other.”

He told the primates that the loose association of 38 member churches “has endured much suffering and confusion and still lives with this in many ways.” But he added: “Our Communion has never been the sort of Church that looks for one central authority… We have to have several points of reference for the organising of our common life.”

“As I leave office … there will of course be some self-questioning for me at the thought of much left undone and unresolved,” he said.

In his letter, he described the Anglican Communion as a “halfway formal model of a global community of prayer” that links Anglicans around the world through common work on projects such as spreading the faith, promoting healthcare and defending rights of women and children. “What we aspire to as Anglicans is not to be a federation of loosely connected and rather distant relatives who sometimes send Christmas cards to each other, but a true family and fellowship.”

Eight 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 earlier, in an interview with Paul Handley [The Church Times, 6.12.2002, pp 14-15], the former archbishop was 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.”

Lord 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 got to then in 2016?

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 Marty Minns, a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) until his retirement in 2014.

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

Bishop Robinson was 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.

Marty Minns, 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 was 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, 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.

GAFCON met most recently in Nairobi three years ago [21-26 October 2013]. Archbishop Welby visited Nairobi immediately beforehand to meet the leaders and organisers. A number of members of the Church of Ireland were present.

The Church leaders who identify 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 first GAFCON conference and the absence of GAFCON’s leadership from Lambeth 2008 was criticised significantly, even by 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 [now Archbishop] 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, Archishop 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 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 was the then Bishop of Lewes, the Irish-born Wallace Benn – wrote 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 two archbishops with Bishop Pat Storey at her consecration … 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 explains some of the responses to this month’s meeting (January 2016), particularly Professor Norman Doe’s comments reported in the Church Times.

Patrick Comerford with Archbishop Rowan Williams at the Primates’ meeting in Dublin in 2011

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 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, eight 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 four 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 the then Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop John Neill, 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. In 2011, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland agreed to “subscribe” to the Covenant, but it was rejected in the diocesan synods of the Church of England in 2012, and it looks like the General Convention of TEC has “kicked for touch” but is unlikely to adopt 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).

More 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)

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland agreed in Armagh five years ago [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?

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

The Church of England: The General Synod of the Church of England sent the Covenant to the diocesan synods for consideration. The measure was supported by Archbishop Williams but could only come back to the General Synod for a final vote in 2012 if it was accepted in the dioceses. Bishop Michael Perham of Gloucester 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 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.

It was finally defeated in the diocesan synods in April 2012 and was not brought back to the General Synod. The tally of dioceses was 26 against the Covenant and 18 for.

The Anglican Church of Australia: Two years ago [30 June 2014], the General Synod adopted a resolution affirming openness to considering a covenant but without mention of the covenant currently on offer.

Burma (Myanmar): has accepted the covenant.

The Anglican Church of Canada: The Covenant has been sent to the dioceses and parishes for study, and a vote by the General Synod, which was expected two years ago [2013], but this vote has now been postponed until this year [2016].

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: On 9 July 2012, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia declared that it was unable to adopt the Covenant.

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

The Episcopal Church of Scotland: On 8 June 2012, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted decisively against a resolution to adopt the Covenant in principle.

The Church in Wales: The Governing Body passed a motion on 18 April 2012 indicating its willingness to consider the Covenant but asking the Anglican Consultative Council to clarify the status of the Covenant in the light of its rejection by the Church of England.

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

Hong Kong: The Hong Sheng Kung Hui, the Hong Kong Anglican Church, adopted the Covenant in June 2013.

Southern Africa: The Provincial Synod approved the Covenant in October 2010. The decision was ratified three years ago [2013].

Sudan: At a meeting in May 2014, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan adopted the Covenant.

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)

The Episcopal Church (TEC): In July 2012, the Episcopal Church considered the Covenant at the General Convention, which voted to “decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant” and “to continue to monitor the progress of the Covenant until the next General Convention in 2015.”

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

Melanesia: the Church of the Province of Melanesia adopted the Covenant in November 2014.

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.

Andrew Goddard considers this a “highly implausible spin,” but 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 or more 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 was 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 is to happen now that the Church of England has indefinitely postponed signing up for 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.

In the Missiology module, you have already debated ‘Fresh Expressions’ and its implications for the mission of the church. But what does this development mean for Anglican theology? Later, when we look at Anglican ecclesiology, we shall ask about what it means for Anglicanism and Anglican identity.

But you should also be aware of the work of critics of ‘Fresh Expressions’ too, and what they say this movement means for Anglican identity. The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge and before that was tutor in doctrine at Westcott House, Cambridge (2010-2014), tutor in doctrine at Saint Stephen’s House, Oxford, and junior chaplain of Merton College (2006-2010).

In pastoral theology, he is known for Care for the Dying: A Practical and Pastoral Guide (written with the physician Sioned Evans, Canterbury Press, 2014). In the Liturgy module, many of you have read his Why Sacraments? (London, SPCK, 2013). For some of you I have recommended his The Love of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy for Theologians (London, SCM, 2013) as a way of helping to frame clear thinking and rational thought in writing theological essays.

Andrew Davison and the Revd Dr Alison Milbank have made a compelling critique of ‘Fresh Expressions’ in their study of mission and the church, For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM, 2010). This book provoked widespread debate as the most significant theological critique of this trend in contemporary Anglican ecclesiology.

Another important school of thinking to develop in Anglican theology in recent years is Radical Orthodoxy. This theological and philosophical school of thought makes use of postmodern philosophy to reject the paradigm of modernity. The movement was founded by John Milbank and others and takes its name from the title of a collection of essays published by Routledge in 1999: Radical Orthodoxy, A New Theology, edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward.

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, and singles out, for example, Radical Orthodoxy.

Some other 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:

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).
Andrew Davison, Alison Milbank, For the Parish, a Critique of Fresh Expressions (London: SCM, 2010).
Norman Doe, An 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).


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.

(The Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. These notes were prepared for a seminar on 25 January 2016 as part of the MTh Year II course, TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context

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