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Hallo again to all.

We could write about hymns. We could chat about gaiters. We could scribble about the 39 Articles and the 'detestable enormities' of the pope. We could muse about metaphysics and meaning. Or tackle theodicy in about 600 words, which is about what this space allows. (A foolish idea indeed.) But there is That Meeting in New Orleans. It takes up a lot of oxygen, as the expression has it, commanding column inches and the ballooning blogosphere.

How a communion is ordered and the way it governs itself are no doubt questions of importance. Our funny old Anglican Communion emerged as the Church in Ultima Thule* in the third-ish century, shaped itself in various ways through periods of deep difficulty (think Synod of Whitby), recreated itself under the brilliant strategist Elizabeth I, and took its brand into other lands with the British Empire. The 'Church of England in _____' was the usual appellation for a new planting of Ecclesia Anglicana on foreign soil.

Map of the Anglican Communion in 1963
Close your eyes and think of the Communion.

The troublesome Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was the first, if you will, to say 'No' to formal communion. It could not be established. There were no legal connexions between it and the new American government. It could not continue under the unseen ministrations of the Bishop of London. It needed to be its own creature and so gave birth to itself, in 1785, with thanks to the Church of England for its 'nursing care and protection' but with a clear and undoubted sense that it was a church in its own right.

As went PECUSA, so did other churches of the Empire, separating themselves from the mothership in their own good time, forming their own governing principles and bodies, becoming what was needful in being The Church in a specific place at a specific time. The differences between or amongst the various churches loosely called the Anglican Communion could be distinct and deep. But no-one in England was agitating for 'a separation' owing to the lax attitude of the American Church towards a Deceased Wife's Sister. No-one in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA sought to dissolve relationships with Canterbury during the appalling surplice riots in the 1870s. When the Lambeth Conference of 1988 adopted a sensible attitude toward polygamy in Africa, the Church of Canada, for example, did not as a body threaten to 'withdraw' from the communion.

Sisters, surplices, slavery — and now sex — have all loomed large as issues for each national church or independent province to get to grips with, in its own way, through its own synodical mechanisms. And each church, to a greater or lesser degree, did (or is). Alas, the issues and problems of our day are amplified and distorted by the Internet and television. The headlines coming out of the Big Easy tell it all: 'last ditch', 'eleventh hour', 'crisis meeting' and so on. Codswallop. The House of Bishops was meeting, as it does, twice a year and at this time the Archbishop of Canterbury attended to discuss the Question of Our Day. Is this a serious matter? Indeed, yes. Is it one about which we should be concerned? Undoubtedly. But has it been escalated to a point where it bears little relation to reality? To our mind, yes.

We've said it before: The Anglican Communion has always been more of a mood than a juridical fellowship. The presenting issue of our day may seem to be question of same-sex relationships and the church, but it is more accurately understood as a battle for power in the Anglican Communion. If some of the primates who head our national churches agitate for an Anglican Communion comprising covenant and constitution and canons, they may do so: but it will not be the Anglican Communion that once was. It will be some other thing. One may like it or not like it, depending on what one thinks communion should be. We don't like it, to be utterly honest. We are in sympathy with what was written in 1963 just before the great Anglican Congress in Toronto:

The aim of the Anglican Communion is to establish, as quickly as possible, autonomous national Churches in every land. It is by missionary efforts that these Churches are born; but the aim is not to keep them as dependent colonies, but to lead them swiftly to the point where they are fully and strongly established in their own soil, with their own leadership, managing their own affairs...§

'Managing their own affairs'. No doubt members of the circa 70 congregations who have left the Episcopal Church in recent years feel that their church 'managing its own affairs' has managed them in a way contrary to the Gospel. We don't impugn the integrity of the opinions or the consciences of those leave-takers. But we see it as more honourable to leave in peace, forming a new church, if they must, or aligning themselves with another, if they will. (See Churches Not in Communion, passim.) Those who disagree with actions of the General Convention of the American Church, if they stay as members of that church, can promote and promulgate their points of view, seek to be elected deputies to that convention, and avail themselves of all aids and appliances to convince others of their positions. But the forming of extra-ecclesial alliances, the encouragement of nonstandard consecrations, the rejection of any overture to care for and ensure a place for 'minority' views in the American Church — all these smack of battles for power and a distinct desire not to let churches 'manage their own affairs'.

We don't believe the Anglican Communion can 'break up', for there has never been a formal international legal body so to break. There has been the very young (date of birth: 1971) Anglican Consultative Council and a few other groups denominated clumsily 'Instruments of Unity'. They are collegial and comparatively informal. There is the decennial Lambeth Conference: a consultation and not a curia. There are networks and links galore, from NIFCON to MISAG II ¶, splendid channels of cooperation and good works amongst our national churches. There are pulpit exchanges and residencies at theological colleges. There is our precious (but now polymorphous) Book of Common Prayer, which links us liturgically, no matter how loosely. But there is no body of international canon law. No college of cardinals. No index prohibitorum. And if there are those who desire to see a Nihil Obstat in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury with regard to the management of affairs in our national churches, it is not us.

Perhaps in these days of screaming sound bites and 'all crises, all the time', our attitude seems too Augustan and abstract. We'll accept the charge as a badge of honour. It seems to us that many of the problems of our current day are owing to those 'who cannot possess their souls in quiet', as someone once said. We try hard to do so, and if that sometimes seems bland and Laodicean, it comes at a cost.

The Anglican Communion, bound by 'mood', can be no more, for the times that produced such a communion are gone. The Anglican Communion 'of covenant' or 'of canon' is desired by some as an appropriate rebirth. We would prefer a communion of good will, 'comprehending a variety of emphases whilst preserving a simple core of faith and order kept intact from our inheritance from the primitive Church'§.

Such a communion cannot break and cannot really ever end.

See you next week. Still.

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Last updated: 23 September 2007

*Oh, okay the 'Church in the British Isles', but we do like the Latin.

§ The Anglican Mosaic (The Anglican Congress, 1963)

¶ Who on earth makes up these names?

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