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Hallo again to all.

The primates of the Anglican Communion met last week in Northern Ireland to consider a number of things... no, to be truthful: to consider One Big Thing. It would be an unusual Anglican who has not heard of that meeting or sampled the masses of articles, op eds, leaders, prophecies, and predictions leading up to the meeting. 'The normal calumnies of piety flew to and fro' following the release of the 'Communiqué' — the title itself giving a sort of diplomatic grandeur to the concise statement.

HRH Elizabeth IAlthough the subject of all this is the proper way for Anglican churches to relate and respond to gay and lesbian Christians, the looming question is the survival of the Anglican Communion — if one presumes there is actually de jure such a thing and that it is something more than a mood. That may seem casually and even cruelly lighthearted at this time, but it is not meant to be. For the importance that one places on the fellowship of the provinces and the somewhat peculiarly titled 'Instruments of Unity' will determine, to an extent at least, the way that one responds to the Communiqué.

Sexual matters, more than any other, seem to foment intellectual and emotional passions, so questions of how provinces relate to one another and what happens when they disagree are less abstract than they might be if the issue were usury. Since those well-known decisions and actions in the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, passions have been raised, parties formed, lines drawn, and a general spirit of rancour and disagreeableness — a kind of theological occluded front — has been with us for the last 18 months or so. The Windsor Report and the Newry Communiqué are the relatively opaque results of those high-level wranglings.

We worry that the survival of the Anglican Communion has become, for many, a pharisaical preoccupation, pulling us away from Gospel imperatives and the two great commandments of Our Lord. The Anglican Communion has always been more a web of love and history and not, till now, a juridical gleam in anyone's eye. Whether it will withstand the storm of Windsor and volleys of communiqués (for surely there will be more to come) is an important consideration, but one that ought never cause us to lose sight of What All This Is About: proclaiming the good news of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When 'vociferousness has exhausted itself', the homeless still need shelter. If the Episcopal Church in the USA becomes separated from the Church of Nigeria, if the Anglican Church of Canada finds itself no longer in the same room with the 'Southern Cone', our Lord still asks us 'Lovest thou me? Then feed my sheep.'

We say this not to diminish the sadness that all of us feel at the deep rifts in a Communion that has been precious and life-giving in so many ways. But we're concerned that we're all focussing so intently on the Anglican Communion's survival that the reason why it exists at all may be forgot in the midst of all the sputtering and fissiparous elements.

'No faith with heretics is not an ecclesiastical rule; it is a natural and inevitable human emotion', Charles Williams wrote in The Descent of the Dove. We saw that last week when it was reported that some primates chose not to take communion with others. Of all that our differences can cause, surely that must be one of the most devastating. Later in that same work, Williams posits:

The history of Christendom itself would have been happier could we all have remembered this rule of intelligence — not to believe a thing more strongly at the end of a bitter argument than at the beginning, not to believe it with the energy of the opposition rather than with one's own. 'I can maintain an opinion; I cannot choose one.' But if God has revealed one? He Himself can maintain it then; we need not be disturbed.

'We need not be disturbed'. Dear friends, we must care, but we must be careful not to fall into despair. We must be attentive, but we must not, in our attention, be distracted from loving God with all our heart and mind and soul.

'Fear God, serve the King, and be a good fellow to the rest—' Elizabeth I wrote to Lord Burghley. Fine advice from a queen whose temperament and wisdom allowed that which we call the Anglican Communion to come into existence. If it ceases to exist in its present form, the qualities that created and sustained it will continue and flourish. Of that we are certain.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 27 February 2005

A thin blue line
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