WHILST APPLICATIONS for a nominated place on the Archbishops’ Council are, of course, STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL, and even the numbers of those applying cannot be revealed, I have to tell you faint hearts out there that business is brisk. Though my own dream-ticket of Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, David Mellor and a lone parent from north of the Trent now seems unlikely to be achieved, there is no shortage of applicants from all walks of life. Like the new People’s Birthday Honours List, we are convinced that the nominated places on the Council will reflect the broad spectrum of the People’s Church – toffs rubbing shoulders with street-sweepers in a heart-warming display of national solidarity.
Speaking of which, I am very grateful to all of you who accessed our new Lambeth website (www.lambethspin.com) to thank me for the caring and sensitive way in which I dealt with the problem of polygamy last month. I had no idea that so many of you out there in the People’s Church, are engaged in the sort of multiple relationships which Archbishop Ndungane had in mind!
To those of you who accessed us anxious about possible further developments in Anglican moral theology, I have this to say: calm down! There is no such thing as a ‘liberal agenda’. On the contrary, we at Lambeth take each issue on its merits, as it comes. It never occurs to us to assess the general implications or evaluate the ultimate consequences. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, we say (though most of us are now using the New International Version, and I am by no means suggesting that any of those things are, so to speak, ‘evil’ ). And we think that should be your motto too! It is just absurdly neurotic to suggest that there is any connection at all between women priests, gay marriages, the decline of the family and doctrinal heterodoxy.
In any case I have to tell you people (in the kindest possible way) that there is no point in going on about the consequences of women priests: we’ve done it, and there’s an end to the matter! You can’t expect us to undo it!
We are, I grant you, having a mild temporary set-back. We did, of course, say that women priests would pack the pews, flood the parishes with the new priests that the system so desperately needs, and generally render the whole show dynamically relevant. But that, after all, is the sort of thing people do say in circumstances like that: we said it about Methodist reunion in the sixties, and we’ll probably say it again. It is true, I admit, that the statistics which we didn’t publish recently show only too clearly that none of this has proved to be the case. But you can hardly blame us! Do you know how hard it is to run a multi-national corporation like the Anglican Communion? Let me tell you, it’s a nightmare of indiscipline and rampant sectional interest.
Don’t let the fact that some English dioceses have lost about a quarter of their worshipping membership in the first six years of the Decade of Evangelism cloud your judgement. These things take time! In the hurley-burly of the secular world there are, it is true, quinquennial General Elections which can change governments and alter policies. But thank God that in the People’s Church we do not have to rely on the see-saw of opinion. We have a self-perpetuating government that can pursue forward-looking and enlightened policies for as long as it takes!
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery – but what do you say about a form of flattery which goes beyond even imitation? Spooky or not? Some people have suggested that the AbC and the American Presiding Bishop have their disagreements – and certainly they do not see exactly eye to eye on the gay thing. But in essentials, as we at Lambeth have been relieved to discover, the two hearts beat as one.
The AbC, of course, meant every word of what he said in Luxembourg Cathedral about eucharistic hospitality. It was a generous initiative, opening up new vistas of inter-church co-operation. It really is time we Christians stopped excluding each other!
But even the AbC cannot have guessed that our friend Frankie would take matters so rapidly into his own hands. Just as soon as the AbC had given the green light, there he was, in blue jeans and lumberjack shirt, just another ordinary communicant in his local Roman parish, St. Agnes, East 43rd St, Manhattan.
Frank (the PB, as we call him in the office) had just dropped by ‘to be alone with Jesus’. But we at Lambeth believe that he was also out there courageously to break down the barriers of division. In a bold post-modernist gesture Frankie cocked a snook at the rules, give the theologians the thumbs down, and asserted the primacy of raw human emotion (hence the lumberjack shirt). Frank was acting, he courageously told the American bishops, ‘out of his own sense of need’. And acting, I might say, as we in the People’s Church believe we should all act: on impulse and from the heart. If it feels right, do it! That’s what you people out there taught us at the time of Diana’s funeral; and believe me, we have learnt our lesson! Cynics may call it sentimentalism, but we know better.
The spin doctors are at work even as I write! Plans are afoot for similar revelations here! Mark my words, before long Dr. B. will be leaking information about Eileen’s surreptitious trips to Farm Street, and Frank Sergeant’s appearances (in safari suit and desert boots) at the Solemn Mass in Westminster Cathedral. We don’t think we can commit the AbC himself to anything more, as yet.
As I am sure you will have guessed, a good deal of my energy recently has been devoted to the exodus to Canterbury. It is, I have to admit, something of a wrench to leave London for the architectural inadequacies of that obscure hill-top campus. But we all have to be there. The fate of the Anglican Communion, as I am sure you are thinking, may well be sealed in a concrete pavilion just off the Whitstable Road. What, we are all asking ourselves, does the future hold in store? Who will emerge as the stars, and who the villains? For stars and villains there must certainly be: a Lambeth Conference is nothing if it is not a mythology. One thing is certain. Without the Tutu Roadshow the press will be far more difficult to control.
New Directions readers will wonder what, deep down, I really think. And so I will tell you.
Lambeth ‘98 will not be the watershed which many are predicting. In fact, like all its predecessors, it will not be significant at all. Of course we build the thing up – you have to dignify with some importance anything which costs so much – but its decisions will prove not to have been decisions; and its guidance, such as it is, will not be heeded. Despite the pre-Lambeth sabre-rattling, the AbC will come out of the thing relatively unscathed – not, of course, because of what he has done, but because of what he has refrained from doing (masterly inactivity is the forte of a constitutional monarch, as we all keep trying to impress upon him). It will all be an epitome of episcopal ministry as the Anglican Communion has developed it – long on pomp, circumstance and sociology, short on dogma, dignity and ecclesiology.
Oh dear! Do I sound cynical? I certainly don’t mean to. I do my job, I hope you understand, because I love this awkward, ramshackle, old church. I love it from the heart, and I don’t suppose I could ever give it up. It has made me what I am, in more senses than one.
What I detect is that some of you people out there do not share that loyalty. Somehow you think that you have a higher loyalty – though I cannot imagine what that might be. That is why you can sometimes be so negative.
But don’t be mistaken: you may be ambivalent about the C of E, antagonistic even; but I love it.
Andrew Armitage-Shanks is Archdeacon-at-Lambeth. His opinions are idiosyncratically his own.