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If it doesn’t work, do something new

22 January 2016

The strength of the Anglican Communion lies in its diversity, says Jesse Zink


According to thy word: Primates after evensong in Canterbury Cathedral

According to thy word: Primates after evensong in Canterbury Cathedral

A DEFINITION of insanity, it is said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That definition came to mind as I read the communiqué from the recent Primates’ conference in Canterbury (News, Comment 15 January).

In 2005, after a meeting in Northern Ireland, the Primates wrote: “We request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.”

The Rt Revd Gene Robinson was the Bishop of New Hampshire, and some Canadians were considering blessing same-sex relationships. The Primates’ request was deemed the necessary consequence of these moves.

The American and Canadian representatives complied with the request. At a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council a few months later, the Americans and Canadians withdrew. But the suspension did little to mollify conservative Anglicans. In 2008, many conservative bishops boycotted the Lambeth Conference, and instead attended the first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON).

Dissentient Episcopalians formed the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), and said that they were the proper Anglican province.

In 2010, after Americans elected a woman with a woman partner as a bishop, a similar strategy was repeated. American Episcopalians serving on international ecumenical dialogues were removed from membership. Neither did this step satisfy conservative Anglicans. They boycotted a meeting of the Primates in 2011, and held a second GAFCON in 2013.

Last summer, the Episcopal Church in the US amended its canons to remove reference to gender. And so, last week, the Primates imposed a similar three-year suspension — although little of the reporting of the decision made mention of the historical context.


THERE is a clear pattern. The Episcopal Church in the US takes a step towards further welcome of LGBTQ people, and leaders of other Anglican Churches send them (and occasionally the Canadians) to the corner. Yet being sent to the corner seems neither to sway the Episcopal Church’s direction nor to please conservative Anglican leaders. Both continue to march in opposite directions, each with little apparent regard for the other.

Some look at this pattern and argue that it means the Anglican Communion is broken; or, if not broken, then not worth saving. Calls to walk out, ease participation, and end funding abound. But there is another course of action: rather than try the same strategy again (and again and again), what if Anglicans tried something different?

In the wake of the Primates’ meeting, many people have said that the true strength of the Anglican Communion is its network of global relationships at the grass-roots level of the Church around the world.

I have found this to be true. In places as diverse as Ecuador, Nigeria, or South Africa, I have found Anglicans eager for relationship, and keen to learn more about how our different backgrounds influence how we worship the same God.

If this is the strength of the Anglican Communion, we should highlight that strength. Instead of focusing on a handful of older male archbishops, we should intentionally place our focus on the diversity of lay people, clergy, and bishops who call themselves Anglican.

There is ample historical precedent for this. Three times in the 20th century (in 1906, 1954, and 1963), Anglicans held what were called Anglican Congresses. These events brought together Anglicans of all orders of ministry to pray together, learn from one another, and reflect on the calling of Anglicans in a changing world.

The 1963 Congress, held in Toronto, produced a document, Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, which was implicitly referenced in the recent Primates’ communiqué — an indication of its ongoing significance.


THERE was an effort to hold a fourth Anglican Congress in conjunction with the 2008 Lambeth Conference, but funding proved sufficient for only one gathering, and the bishops carried the day.

The recent Primates’ gathering agreed to hold another Lambeth Conference in 2020. In the coming years, millions of pounds will have to be raised to put on such a conference. Here is the opportunity: instead of raising all that money, and inviting only bishops, Anglicans should spend that money on a congress instead.

Invitees could include members of some of the Communion’s many networks, such as those on the family, the environment, or peace and justice. It could include members of the Mothers’ Union, theological educators, liturgists, and those working in interfaith relations. The possibilities are immense.

Such a gathering would not produce a common mind on sexuality — or, frankly, any other issue. But it would broaden the conversation in the Anglican Communion, shift the focus away from bishops and archbishops, and generate an energy that could be more reflective of the rich reality of our Communion.

At the very least — and in the context of the past 15 years of conflict — an Anglican Congress would be trying something different. And that, as we learned again last week, seems all too rare in the Anglican Communion.


The Revd Dr Jesse Zink reviews A House Divided? Ways forward for North American Anglicans here

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