Nothing if not provincial

13 January 2009

Michael Doe reflects on Anglican identity


An Introduction to World Anglicanism
Bruce Kaye

“WE ARE fighting for the very heart of Anglicanism,” a bishop said to me during the Lambeth Conference. The question is: where is that heart? Not just: has it now moved from Canterbury to Kampala, or Sydney, or even New Hampshire? But more deeply: what is it, apart from a shared history, that holds us together in such a way that we must either stay together at all costs or throw out some others in order to defend it?

The history is, of course, important. This timely book by Bruce Kaye, until recently General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia, rightly sees Anglicanism as a story that over time and in each place — all very incarnational — has produced a particular Catholicity in which the local and the universal are held together.

The author traces how that inculturation first formed the Christian nation here, and then took shape in many different cultural contexts around the world. He draws out both what is held in common, particularly in ministerial order and liturgy, and how the Anglican leaning towards conciliarity has reflected the different political realities in, say, the United States and Nigeria.

While Anglicanism’s insistence on the historic episcopate makes it distinctive from other “reformed” Churches who may share the rest of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, it departs from the Roman model in understanding itself not as a Church, but as a fellowship of Churches, in which the province has increasingly been seen as the ecclesial unit and the place where local responsibility, not least for mission, is held together with Catholic order.

Kaye points out that the institutions of the Anglican Communion, the so-called Instruments of Unity, are, unlike those of the Roman Catholic Church, fairly recent creations, and without their jurisdictional character or aspirations.


One of the most helpful insights of this book is its contrast between the doctrine reports that the Communion has produced in recent years. For the Sake of the Kingdom, in 1987, was rooted in the actual empirical experiences of Anglican Churches around the world, as it sought an extensive engagement with scripture on the theme of creation and the Kingdom of God. It thereby challenged all cultures, and could have led to a much more interdependent understanding of church.

By 1996, however, the Virginia report, commissioned in the backlash caused by the American decision to ordain women, and working from an understanding of the Trinity seen by some as rather constrained, resulted in a much more uniform version of the meaning of being church, and therefore the way Anglicans should relate to each other.

Here is the current dilemma. Do the latest controversies point to the need for more of a supra-provincial structure, which is where critics of the Windsor process see the proposed Covenant leading us? And where in this is the role of the Primates? As one archbishop also said to me at Lambeth: “At my first Primates’ Meeting, I went in feeling like a curate and came out feeling like a cardinal.” According to Bruce Kaye, such things are, for Anglicans, innovative, if not revolutionary.

Bishop Doe is General Secretary of USPG: Anglicans in World Mission.

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To order this book, email the details to Church Times Bookshop (please mention "Church Times Bookshop price")

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