The past four years have been for me and many faithful Anglican Episcopalians an exercise in hope: hope that our Lord will sort out this mess we’re in; and particularly hope that the conciliar processes of the Anglican Communion will be allowed to grow and to come to fruition. Certainly the draft Covenant presented to the Primates Meeting by the Covenant Design Group in February of this year bears witness on the part of the wider Communion to a desire for such a development.
The Lambeth Conference, because it is at least theoretically composed of all the bishops of Anglican Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, has a particular and central role to play in these conciliar processes. Indeed, because of the charism for ministry given to bishops by God the Holy Spirit at their ordination (both personally and corporately) to guard the faith of the Church and to act as faithful pastors, it is they who have a particular responsibility and ministry to take counsel together to discern the mind of Christ for the Church as new challenges to faith and praxis arise. This ministry is not shared with the clergy and the laity, though theologically and pastorally gifted clergy and laity may advise bishops in their task of discernment, because the laity, presbyters and deacons do not share the charisma for this discerning authority with the bishops. This ministry of discernment belongs, not to the Anglican Consultative Council (as is claimed by those who have elevated democracy and “representation” in the councils of the Church over charism), but to the Lambeth Conference, which by the exercise of this pneumatic authority would evolve into an episcopal synod. Nor does this ministry of discernment, this conciliar authority belong only to the Primates Meeting, composed as it is only of the primates, presiding bishops and moderators of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, and not of all the bishops of the Churches. So was it ever in the undivided Church, at Nicaea, at Chalcedon, at Ephesus, and in many regional councils and synods contemporary with and subsequent to the Ecumenical Councils. It may well be that our Lord, in this time of a Communion-wide crisis that cries out for conciliar discernment and decision-making, is calling the Churches of the Anglican Communion to recognize the charismatic and pneumatic authority of the Lambeth Conference.
Thus it was with some dismay that many of us read, earlier this summer, of Dr Williams’ invitation of all of the sitting bishops of The Episcopal Church ”“ save Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire ”“ despite early signs of the American bishops’ rejection of the provisions of the Dar es Salaam Primates Meeting communiquÃ©. But greater cause for dismay was given by Dr Williams’ stated plans for the Conference, which ”“ despite plans for discussion of an Anglican covenant generally and the text of the draft Covenant in particular ”“ seem aimed at denying the bishops gathered for the Lambeth Conference any conciliar decision-making role. My own dismay at this latter has been particularly acute, as I have for some time pinned some hopes on the resolution of this present crisis on morally authoritative action by the 2008 Conference. The dismay at this denial of a conciliar decision-making role is no doubt behind the news that the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, believes that the Lambeth Conference, along with the archiepiscopal See of Canterbury, have been “lost as instruments of communion” (see “American Province ”˜Lost’, Network Asserts“, published today in The Living Church online).
I suppose that it could be argued that the trajectory toward Communion-wide conciliar decision-making is neither deflected nor stopped outright by Dr Williams’ stated plans for the Conference, that work done in 2008, particularly work that eventuates in a covenant linking the Churches of the Communion more closely together, will bear conciliar fruit in 2018. But I would humbly submit that by then the Anglican Communion will have suffered far deeper divisions than even those suffered thus far, and that schisms ”“ perhaps irreparable in our lifetimes ”“ will have occurred. Already many parishes have left The Episcopal Church, many of these being taken into the care of bishops in other Anglican provincial Churches (Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Southern Cone, Kenya). The Anglican Communion Network, a meeting of their council just concluded, appear to be laying the groundwork for a new conservative Anglican province in the United States that will emerge out of the Common Cause Coalition of various Anglican missionary initiatives and denominational churches. Many faithful Christians in The Episcopal Church have left Anglicanism altogether, some for more conservative Protestant churches and others for the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Orthodox Churches. Our own parish, though not rent by the controversy, has seen the departure of a number of gifted and committed families in the past three or four years over the intransigence of our bishops, our diocesan leadership and the General Convention; and over the slowness ”“ slowness that begins to look like a receding into the distance ”“ of resolution in favor of a faithful Anglican presence in the United States in communion with the See of Canterbury. Alienation between Churches has bred alienation between and within dioceses of this Church and within parishes in those dioceses. My own family are very nearly at our rope’s end, and my wife and I have no idea where we would turn for another church home. My spirits are at a very low ebb indeed, and I once again feel deeply connected with Elijah in the wilderness, an icon of whom hangs just within the front door of our house.
Read it all.