WAS it all, indeed, just a misunderstanding? The Lambeth Palace gloss on the formation of the Anglican Mission in England (AMIE) this week is that the Archbishop of Kenya was ill-informed about “the precise requirements of English canon law and good practice” when he ordained three clergymen in the Southwark diocese last month. We should have thought that common courtesy might have prevailed and that, after all the discussions about the Covenant, the assumption of some form of oversight of clergy in another province might have rung a warning bell or two in Nairobi.
The Lambeth statement also reveals the surprising fact that Dr Williams is no wiser about the intentions of the new Anglican Mission than the average observer. It is hard to see how any individuals or groups could join, affiliate to, or even simply support a venture unless its founders are more open about their intentions. The bishops involved have been told not to speak without permission from the Mission’s chairman or secretary, and so it is hard to discover answers to the two questions asked by Lambeth: under what circumstances will parishes appeal to the Mission’s panel of bishops rather than their normal diocesan structures? And how will the actions of these bishops — still active in the C of E — accord with legitimate church practice?
Then there are questions about what form the ordinations took. In the past two weeks, hundreds of ordinands in cathedrals round the country have mingled joy and bemusement as the numinous nature of their vocation has been formally acknowledged by the Church. The boring bureaucracy of accrediting training courses, testing vocations, and granting licences — sometimes thought to be the tools of the hierarchy — are, in fact, the protections of a sceptical laity: who is this person you propose as our minister? Has he or she been properly selected and trained? Are they humble enough to continue their training with our help? Thanks to the well defined structures in the Church of England, these questions can be answered with confidence.
In the United States, many in the newly formed Anglican Church in North America (the Anglican Mission in America was one of its antecedents) have ambitions to be the legitimate Anglican province there, instead of the US Episcopal Church, which has strayed, they say, from the true path. If the bishops and clergy involved in the Anglican Mission in England are, in fact, in the vanguard of a movement to replace some parts or all of the Church of England in a similar way, it would be helpful if they were to say so. Then at least we would know how to interpret their declaration: “The AMIE is determined to remain within the Church of England.”