Philip Turner’s latest contribution to the ongoing post-Dublin discussion: “Communion on the Verge of a Breakdown: What Then Shall We Do?“, posted both at the ACI website and at the TLC Covenant weblog/website.
Benjamin Guyer’s piece at Covenant (“A Protest against the New Primatial Standing Committee“), to which my priest and friend David Hyman drew my attention yesterday, has drawn a couple of interesting replies from James Wirrel and Ian Montgomery. Guyer has been consistently dismissive of GAFCON (not that I don’t have my own concerns with the movement for ecclesiological reasons) and of any extramural Anglicans in North America (he is particularly disdainful of ACNA and AMiA), so Fr Montgomery’s hortatory comment (after Wirrel’s extended comment) is particularly apt. The fact that Guyer has shown himself over and over again either to be incapable of recognizing or just refusing to recognize that AMiA, and to a lesser extent ACNA, have been able to bring unchurched and other-churched people into Anglicanism who would otherwise likely never have darkened the door of an Episcopal parish, has been a real irritant to me. Be that as it may, however.
To be sure, we have all sinned and come short of God’s glory in the ongoing struggles within the Anglican Communion. Conservative Episcopalians like Guyer have been dismissive of ACNA, AMiA, and GAFCON in ways that misprise and slander faithful Anglicans in these groups (accusations of North American conservative money fueling the engine of the Global South I can understand from Western revisionists – but from Western conservatives?). Some Global South provinces began and encouraged endeavors in North America that have caused division and scandal within conservative dioceses in The Episcopal Church (why, for instance, were any AMiA congregations started in the Diocese of South Carolina under no less a conservative bishop than Ed Salmon? – and yes, I know some of the history behind that, but as a member now of a church in the AMiA, it still scandalizes me).
The Communion Partners and other faithful, theologically conservative Anglicans within The Episcopal Church and those faithful, theologically conservative Anglicans in ACNA, AMiA, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and other extramural jurisdictions must work together, under the leadership of the Global South primates and other bishops to re-form the Communion. Concrete steps toward reconciliation must begin soon, before we can actually move ahead with the theological and ecclesiological heavy-lifting the task will require.
In the (albeit pollyannish) ecumenical optimism of the 1970s and 1980s, some of the proposals coming out of groups like COCU (the Consensus on Church Union) included penitential liturgies between the sundered Christian churches (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) that included confessions of sins of schism, hardheartedness, misjudgment – and that included acts of forgiveness of one another, symbolized by the coming together of leaders in these acts of penitence and forgiveness. What if the Communion Partner bishops in The Episcopal Church (+Lawrence, +Stanton, et al.) were to come together with the ACNA bishops (++Duncan, +Iker, +Ackerman, et al.), the AMiA bishops, and Reformed Episcopal Church bishops publicly and liturgically to confess together to one another and to Almighty God their particular sins of commission and omission, and those of their churches (since bishops, as the heads of their churches, may really and sacramentally do that) against the Body of Christ within the Anglican Communion, to receive God’s and one another’s forgiveness, and having sought the forgiveness of the offended brother, were to approach the Lord’s Table together to share in his Body and Blood?
In November 2005 I was privileged to be present at the “Hope and a Future” conference held under the auspices of the Anglican Communion Network (recall that this predated the departure of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy, and Pittsburgh from The Episcopal Church), at which a number of leading conservative Episcopalian bishops were present, along with several Global South bishops and primates (including ++Akinola and ++Orombi) and bishops from the Reformed Episcopal Church. At the concluding Eucharist, the Reformed Episcopal bishops, formally out of communion with any other Anglican group since the original schism in the 1870s, joined in the procession with the other bishops. I was brought to tears as I saw the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Leonard Riches, receive communion from the hand of +Duncan, and then saw the other Episcopal and Anglican bishops receive communion from +Riches, as he administered the Cup and +Duncan the Bread to them. A schism healed, with the very tangible and visible act of communion in the Lord’s Body and Blood. Around that same time, the Church of Nigeria and the Reformed Episcopal Church announced a concordat between them, with mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries and members. And, of course, the REC is a constituent member of ACNA – whatever that means institutionally for now, since they maintain a separate institutional existence as well. (Though this reminds me of something that I read just this morning in an essay by the Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko, quoting Fr Alexander Schmemann: that the Church isn’t an institution with sacraments, it is a sacrament with institutions.)
Imagine such a thing with regards to the separated Anglicans in North America!
And what locally could we envision, painful though it would be and meaning the laying down of all grievances, not to be taken up again, in acts of penitence and forgiveness? What if Bishop Chuck Murphy, Primatial Vicar of the Anglican Mission for the Archbishop of Rwanda, were to seek publicly the forgiveness of +Mark Lawrence (and +Ed Salmon?) in a liturgy in the cathedral church in Charleston, and they his forgiveness – and were then all to concelebrate the Eucharist? (After all, some preparation has been made in +Lawrence’s settling of the Pawley’s Island lawsuit over a year ago.)
Then, after these public acts, what if the bishops and their churches committed themselves to mutual ministry in those places where their jurisdictions overlapped, pledging not to begin new initiatives without the consent – and pray God with the prayer and assistance – of the other? Even did their jurisdictions continue separate institutional existences (which I have no doubt will be the case in North American Anglicanism for years to come), it would mean the end of the schisms that have divided faithful Anglicans in North America for the past decade or so (or 140 years, in the case of the REC).
Could you imagine faithful conservative North American bishops of all the various jurisdictions going into Global South-initiated meetings of the Communion’s bishops in such a reconciled state as that? I know it seems terribly idealistic, and it would involve giving up to the Lord’s healing a lot of hurt and (often justified) grievance, but what really is there to prevent our doing this? Aren’t we the people whom Jesus has called to forgive their brothers and sisters seventy times seven times? Aren’t we the people whom God in Christ has called to deny themselves, daily to take up their crosses and follow him?