Can we finally bury the Anglican Communion?

I’ve not paid attention to matters related to the world-wide Anglican Communion for some years. After the relative disaster of the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and  the apparent collapse of efforts to create a more binding relationship among the provinces by means of the Anglican Covenants, I suspected the Anglican Communion would continue to exist more as an idea than as reality. When Archbishop of Canterbury Welby announced he wasn’t going to convene a Lambeth Conference in 2018, the reality seemed quite dead.

Not so fast. When he made that announcement the ABC also said he was going to convene a Primates’ Meeting–for those unfamiliar with odd and obscure Anglican vocabulary, “Primates” are Archbishops and other heads of provinces; provinces being national, or multi-national branches of the church.

That group is meeting this week in Canterbury, England. There was much speculation in the run-up to its gathering about what might emerge. Tensions over matters related to full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians continue to cause friction. Would Archbishops from the Global South show up? Would they force action against the Episcopal Church over our decision to permit same-sex marriage?

The Primates have spoken. They have asked the Episcopal Church to temporarily withdraw (for three years) from Anglican and ecumenical bodies:

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these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal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.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is representing the Episcopal Church at this meeting. Episcopal News Service offers these words from him in response to the Archbishops’ Communique:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.

“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”

Pain indeed. Whenever relationships are broken, whenever there is division in the church, there is pain. Archbishop Welby himself reportedly said in an address to the Primates:

We so easily take our divisions as normal, but they are in fact an obscenity, a denial of Christ’s call and equipping of the church. If we exist to point people to Christ, as was done for me, our pointing is deeply damaged by division. Every Lambeth Conference of the 20th century spoke of the wounds in the body of Christ. Yet some say, it does not matter, God sees the truth of spiritual unity and the church globally still grows. Well, it does for the moment, but the world does not see the spiritual church but a divided and wounded body. Jesus said to his disciples, “as the Father sent me so send I you”. That sending is in perfect unity, which is why even at Corinth and at the Council of Jerusalem, we find that truth must be found together rather than show a divided Christ to the world.

Powerful words, but they ring rather hollowly this evening.

The Anglican Communion may not seem like a big deal to many Episcopalians. It may not even seem real. And it may be that the Archbishops’ decision will have little impact. After all, the Episcopal Church is not going to revisit its decision concerning same-sex marriage. Other provinces already recognize and perform same-sex marriages and its likely that others will join that group. I’ve long expected that ultimately the communion would divide internally along such lines, even as the church in the US has with a parallel entity the Anglican Church of North America existing alongside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the powerful forces at work in our society that are changing how people relate to institutional churches. As denominations decline and denominational loyalty disappears, what might any of this matter in thirty or fifty years?

Still, there’s an important role for international relationships with Christians in other countries. Through such relationships we are reminded of the universal nature of the church and through such relationships we can cooperate with Christians in other countries in all sorts of ways. Grace’s membership includes people from England, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Barbados, and Jamaica. Just this past Sunday an African family recently relocated to Madison from another city in Wisconsin visited Grace. How will our congregation be affected by the Primates’ decision today?

The Marriage Mess in the Episcopal Church

I haven’t blogged on issues around marriage and same sex blessings in the run-up to General Convention, for a couple of reasons. First, I found it difficult to wade through all of the materials and the extensive discussion around the various proposals. Second, knowing that the Supreme Court would weigh in on the issue of gay marriage in June, I suspected that its decision would have some impact on General Convention’s deliberations and I thought it best to wait and see.

Well, the Supreme Court has weighed in and yesterday, the House of Bishops weighed in as well. Yesterday, the bishops approved a number of things. They removed from the canons (church law) references to marriage that specified it is between a man and woman and they also approved for trial use beginning the First Sunday of Advent in 2015, two new marriage liturgies. Because they are “trial use,” they can only be used with the approval of the diocesan bishop. More details on the bishops’ actions are available here.

All of these resolutions will need to pass the House of Deputies, and the canonical changes will require approval at the next General Convention 2018. In the meantime, we’re left with at least two different liturgies, the possibility that dioceses will make different decisions about the use of those liturgies, and further strained relations within the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and with many other Christians.

Still, the bishops’ actions are significant. Given the speed with which gay marriage has become legal and accepted in our country, and given the extent to which it diverges from practice in the Christian tradition and traditional biblical interpretation, it’s worth considering carefully what affect these changes might have on the world-wide Anglican Communion and our relations with other Christians.  I’m even more concerned about the precedent this might set for how we will go about our theological and ethical reflection in the future; especially how all this might affect any future prayer book revision (an idea that seems to be getting increasing traction in the church). No doubt wiser minds than I have considered all this and have put their minds at ease.

Jordan Hylden wrote an insightful commentary that explores how the Episcopal Church might continue to make room for dioceses and bishops who oppose same-sex marriage in the church, and leaves us with the question whether the Episcopal Church can develop a way forward that will embrace diversity in doctrine, worship, and discipline.

The liturgies as proposed and other materials related to marriage from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music are available here:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed on the House of Bishops’ votes:

Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

At a time of such suffering around the world, he stated that this was a moment for the church to be looking outwards.

An interesting back and forth hosted by The Anglican Theological Review provides theological perspective and is worth reading, for the way the issues are articulated and clarified.

IfIs the Anglican Communion whimpering to its end?

News reports today suggest that the Lambeth Conference, the meeting of Anglican Bishops from across the world that is scheduled to take place in 2018, has been postponed indefinitely. Although there’s no official word from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori of the Episcopal Church reported at the recent House of Bishops meeting in Taiwan that Archbishop Welby had informed her of the postponement.

The Lambeth Conference meets every ten years and has previously been postponed twice because of World Wars I and II. This time, the postponement is not due to world war but to conflict within the Communion itself. In fact, more than 200 of the 700-plus bishops boycotted the 2008 gathering.

Lambeth is understood to be one of the four “Instruments of Communion” that bind the Anglican Communion together (in addition to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meetings, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Jefforts Schori was quoted to say that Archbishop Welby told her that the next Lambeth Conference would not to be preceded by a Primates’ Meeting at which “the vast majority of are present.” Whether such a meeting is possible in the current climate remains to be seen.

If true, this seems to me a very big deal indeed. I’m rather surprised PB Jefforts Schori’s comments were not picked up and explored earlier. The Anglican Communion is knit together by means of very weak threads and the postponement of Lambeth can only mean further disintegration. In the meantime, other bodies are being created that bring together like-minded groups intent on creating their own version of Anglicanism.

An Untidy Church: Archbishop of Canterbury on Division and Disagreement

Aside

The chief legislative body of the Church of England is currently in session. It’s been an eventful week with the fast-tracking of legislation for women bishops approved by a wide margin.

They are also debating the Pilling Report on human sexuality which called for “facilitated conversations” to help Christians with different perspectives on human sexuality to understand the positions of others. The report also advocates “that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship.”

This week, the Episcopal Church celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the consecration of Barbara Harris, a stark reminder that although we are partnered with the Church of England through the Anglican Communion, we very different in many ways.

There are also similarities, of course. The conversations we’ve been having about LGBT inclusion at Grace are not all that different from those proposed by the Pilling Report. And like the Church of England, there are still deep divisions within our denomination. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addressed General Synod yesterday, urging the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, congregations, and individual Christians to find ways to live faithfully with disagreement. His words are passionate, powerful, and challenging:

So, for example, if we are to live out a commitment to the flourishing of every tradition of the church there is going to have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ and therefore must be deeply loved by me and love means seeking their flourishing.  We cannot make any sense of Philippians chapter 2 and the hymn to the Servant unless we adopt that approach.  The gift that Christ gives us, of loving us to the end, to the ultimate degree is meaningless unless that love is both given and received, and then passed on. …
Yet what lies on that journey? Well, it is certainly an untidy church.  It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places.  It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that.  It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.  It’s a church that speaks to the world and says that consistency and coherence is not the ultimate virtue, that is found in holy  grace. …

Let’s bring this down to some basics.  We have agreed that we will ordain women as Bishops.  At the same time we have agreed that while doing that we want all parts of the church to flourish.  If we are to challenge fear we have to find a cultural change in the life of the church, in the way our groups and parties work, sufficient to build love and trust.  That will mean different ways of working at every level of the church in practice in the way our meetings are structured, presented and lived out and in every form of appointment. It will, dare I say, mean a lot of careful training and development in our working methods, because the challenge for all institutions today, and us above all, is not merely the making of policy but how we then make things happen.

We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling.  There is great fear among some, here and round the world,  that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.

We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes.  This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive. …

Read (or watch) it here:

Christians and the LGBT community in Madison and around the world

At Grace we are continuing to reflect on ways of making our congregation more open and welcoming of all people in spite of our struggles with the diocesan ban on offering same-sex blessings and Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. A recent article by Doug Erickson told the story of the suicide last fall of Mindy Fabian, a transgender teenager who struggled to find acceptance at her school and a place in the world. It’s a reminder that even in a progressive city like Madison, LGBT persons face adversity, prejudice, and bullying.

But it’s much worse in other places in America and across the world. After lengthy silence, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to all Anglican primates to remind them of their public “commitment to the pastoral support and care of everyone worldwide, regardless of sexual orientation.” This came while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is traveling in Africa and after considerable criticism for his silence on the recent laws passed in Uganda and Nigeria that increase criminal penalties on LGBT individuals.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori has also recently reiterated the Episcopal Church’s commitment to LGBT rights:

The Episcopal Church has been clear about our expectation that every member of the LGBT community is entitled to the same respect and dignity as any other member of the human family.  Our advocacy for oppressed minorities has been vocal and sustained.  The current attempts to criminalize LBGT persons and their supporters are the latest in a series, each stage of which has been condemned by this Church, as well as many other religious communities and nations.

Stanley Ntagali, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda has responded to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Uganda bill:

We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

There is supposed to be a screening in February at UW of the documentary God loves Uganda that details the role of colonialism and western missionaries in creating homophobia in Uganda.

 

William Temple, 1944: The Universe is the Fundamental Sacrament

Today is the commemoration of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died on this day in 1944. It is said he died of exhaustion

 

Some of his prayers:

O God of love, we pray thee to give us love:
Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,
Love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls;
Love of our neighbours near and far;
Love of our friends, old and new;
Love of those with whom we find it hard to bear,
And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;
Love of those with whom we work,
And love of those with whom we take our ease;
Love in Joy, love in sorrow;
Love in life and love in death;
That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with thee,
Who art eternal love. source: Paxtonvic

O Almighty God,
the Father of all humanity,
turn, we pray, the hearts of all peoples and their rulers,
that by the power of your Holy Spirit
peace may be established among the nations
on the foundation of justice, righteousness and truth;
through him who was lifted up on the cross
to draw all people to himself,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. Source: jrwoodward.net

O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Word and Revelation of the Eternal Father, come, we beseech Thee, and take possession of our souls. So fill our minds with the thought and our imaginations with the picture of Thy love, that there may be in us no room for any thought or desire that is discordant with Thy holy will. Cleanse us, we pray Thee, of all that may make us deaf to Thy call or slow to obey it. Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost art one God, blessed for evermore. Amen.

The Universe is the fundamental sacrament:

“In truth the Church is itself the permanent sacrament; it is an organized society possessed (though not always availing itself) of a supernatural life—the life of God—which united humanity with itself in Jesus Christ. But all of this again was only possible because the universe itself is an organ of God’s self-expression. Thus we have the following background of the sacramental worship of the Church: the universe is the fundamental sacrament, and taken in its entirety (When of course it includes the Incarnation and Atonement) is the perfect sacrament extensively; but it only becomes this, so far as our world and human history are concerned, because within it and determining its course is the Incarnation, which is the perfect sacrament intensively—the perfect expression in a moment of what is also perfectly expressed in everlasting Time, the Will of God; resulting from the Incarnation we find the ‘Spirit-bearing Body,’ which is not actually a perfect sacrament, because its members are not utterly surrendered to the spirit within it, but none the less lives by the Life which came fully into the world in Christ; as prat of the life of this Body we find certain specific sacraments or sacramental acts.” Christus Veritas

On the Trinity

“The Holy Spirit, as made known to us in our experience, is the power whereby the created universe—which the Father creates by the agency of the Son, His self-revealing Word—is brought into harmonious response to the love which originated it. The divine self-utterance is creative; within the thing so created the divine self-utterance speaks in Jesus Christ; the divine impetus which is in the created thing by virtue of its origin is thus released in full power to make the created thing; Love by self-sacrifice reveals itself to the treated thing; Love thereby calls out from the created thing the Love which belongs to it as Love’s creature, so making it what Love created it to be.” Christus Veritas

“Thus nothing falls outside the circle of the Divine Love. The structure of Reality when regarded analytically is a stratification wherein the lower strata facilitate the existence of the higher, but only find their fulfillment as those higher grades inform them. The structure of Reality when viewed synthetically is the articulate expression of Divine Love. God loves; God answers with love; and the love wherewith God loves and answers is God: Three Persons, One God.” Christus Veritas

 

 

Baptism: Learning from the Royal Christening

One of the lovely and important aspects of the establishment of the Church of England is that the sacraments of the Church (marriage and baptism) can become teaching moments for a whole nation. We will be baptizing two babies at Grace on All Saints’ Sunday (November 3) and I was talking yesterday evening with one set of parents, I mentioned today’s baptism. I’m sharing these links because they help us reflect on what baptism means for us, and especially what it means in an increasingly secular society.

The Church of England created a lovely and thoughtful video in which the Archbishop articulates the meaning of the rite:

Cathleen Grossman writes about the decline in numbers of baptism across the US. The numbers of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention fell to about the same number as in 1948, when the total membership of the denomination was less than half what it is today. In 1970, about 20% of the babies born in the United States were baptized Roman Catholic; today, that has fallen to 8%.

The Guardian notes that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have selected seven of their friends to be Prince George’s godparents and have solicited stories from readers about what their experiences of the relationship.

And from the Church of England, prayers for the Royal Christening (actually, prayers for all baptisms):

Prayer for HRH Prince George

We thank almighty God for the gift of new life.
May God the Father, who has received you by baptism into his Church,
pour upon you the riches of his grace,
that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,
and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.
Amen.

 

Prayer for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Faithful and loving God,
bless those who care for this child
and grant them your gifts of love, wisdom and faith.
Pour upon them your healing and reconciling love,
and protect their home from all evil.
Fill them with the light of your presence
and establish them in the joy of your kingdom,
through Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.