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Hallo again to all.

The Primates Meeting is over. And just what happened? If not intentionally following Paul's injunction to be all things to all people, the primates' agreed statement released seems to have come close. (Links to this and other documents in this week's News Centre.) Simon Sarmiento, Anglicans Online UK-Europe editor, attended the press conference at the end of the meeting and concludes that the statement may be a remarkable example of Anglican fudge. But within that cloud of unknowing, as it were, many readers have found this sentence peculiar and oddly ominous: 'As Primates of our Communion seeking to exercise the "enhanced responsibility" entrusted to us by successive Lambeth Conferences...' One person wrote: 'For a non-legislative body, how do enhanced responsibilities get "assigned" to them?' A good question.

Here is the definition of the Anglican Communion formulated at the 1930 Lambeth Conference:

The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:

• they uphold and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several Churches;

• they are particular or national Churches, and, as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and

• they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.

Eagle or vulture?Note the final clause.

If there is an unstated agreement amongst the primates that we are moving — should move? will move? — towards 'a central legislative and executive authority', will the result render null and void the elusive entity the communion has been? Will it take us towards a more defined and defining communion whose 'instruments of unity' are no longer representative of mutual loyalty, but are rather whips and cudgels?

We are fond of the saying by a theologian (whose name we've long forgot) that the Anglican Communion is more of a mood than a theology. Perhaps that mood was sustained by common cultural bonds, a predominant language found in a common prayer book, and an elasticity and respect for each member's 'national expression of Christian faith, life and worship'. If those are now gone, is there a communion worth reinventing, defined more juristically and enforced more canonically? At first blush, we think not. Muscular law, it seems, would replace mutual loyalty, a 'global brand identity' would replace the varied national expressions of faith, and the 'common counsel of bishops' would become something more akin to a college of cardinals. Whatever that is, we don't think it is Anglican.

In this complex and connected world, it may be that the genius of Anglicanism no longer has a place. If that is so, we should prefer an honourable death — a willingness to let the communion go, to grieve the 'parting of friends' — and not look at the means by which to resuscitate a corpse.

We want the communion to survive, make no mistake about it. But permanent life support is no way to live.

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 19 October 2003

A thin blue line
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