Edwin Barnes anticipated one sort of Lambeth Conference and found himself
experiencing quite another
BEFORE…Bishop Barnes wrote this paper in preparation for Lambeth ’98
The first Lambeth Conference was meant (by the Canadian Bishops who asked for it) to be a body to resolve doctrinal questions. This was refused and so all Lambeth Conferences have been simply advisory and consultative. The question of any binding authority for those who called themselves Anglican was avoided – not for the last time. We still must ask, though, what makes a Communion? The Eames Commission (of which more later), speaking of the basis of Koinonia in the Anglican Communion, lists three elements which “are common to the 29 Provinces of the Communion”: these are: The common confession of the apostolic faith; Common Worship (‘The celebration of the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist’); A single interchangeable ministry.’
1) A Common Faith?
The Anglican Communion now describes itself has having a diversity of practice and belief, which may be determined by any individual province. The Eames Commission, set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the light of women’s ordination to the episcopate, simply reports this. ‘Provinces that have decided to ordain women … hold that an autonomous Province is able to legislate for such a development”.
2) A Common liturgy?
The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal of the Church of England have provided a standard for liturgy throughout the Anglican Communion, the way of praying which has been a shared inheritance. In the USA, a problem for that church’s internal unity arose over Prayer Book revision. Once that bond of unity is dissolved, what remains to the communion? Recent liturgical revisions, even to making the use of the Prayer Book illegal, means there is no common liturgy left within the ‘communion’. The Ordinal has been entirely altered in some Provinces, most particularly to accommodate women’s ordination.
3) Interchangeable Ministry?
When ordination is altered through provincial decisions to ordain women, there is no longer an interchangeable ministry within the “communion” . It was to resolve such matters that the Archbishop of Canterbury set up his Eames Commission in response to Lambeth 1988. Like the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, this Commission’s reports have only advisory status. For all that, having been endorsed in almost all its conclusions by both ACC and the Primates’ Meeting, the reports must carry the greatest possible moral weight. The Commission defines membership of the Communion as being “in Communion with the See of Canterbury’, but it gives no help in deciding what bounds, if any, must be drawn to this Communion. Eames admits ‘Complete interchangeability of ministries within the Anglican Communion has been restricted since the ordination of women to the priesthood’. Eames consoles itself by asserting “Our communion is always imperfect this side of the eschaton’. It also strongly resists the logical conclusion of the notion of imperfect communion, for this would call into question the whole essence of the ‘Anglican Communion”. As for any matter being capable of being resolved by any constituent part of the “communion’, it reminds us (from the XXXIX articles, curiously) ‘that councils not only may, but have, erred’.
So, the first report of Eames agreed that there is a diminishment at the level of ecclesial communion. It proposes language such as ‘impairment’ of Communion, or “restricted” or “incomplete” communion. It also cheered itself by saying ‘a real degree of authentic communion is entailed from the common recognition of baptism among separated churches’ – relegating ecclesial communion in the Anglican Communion to nothing more than that which exists between Anglicans and any other church or sect. To Eames what counts is retaining the idea of an Anglican Communion, even when ‘communion’ has been almost emptied of meaning. “Talk of an ‘Anglican Federation’ on the grounds that ministry is not fully interchangeable is not consistent with our understanding of koinonia”. The notion that what is inconsistent is the Commission’s understanding of koinonia seems to have escaped them.
So the Anglican Communion has moved to defining itself as a body of Christians in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury – though that communion may be impaired, restricted, or incomplete; with a common confession of the Apostolic Faith – though that may be altered by any province, acting unilaterally; and with a common heritage of worship – though that may be ignored or even declared illegal by any Province of the communion.
This being the case, recognising that there are sharp divisions on matters of faith and morals, no common worship within the ‘communion”, and no longer an interchangeable ministry, it is hard to see how the Anglican Communion can survive except as a sentimental relic of an imperial past.
It might he more honest for its constituent members now to seek union with those who are closest to them, probably (certainly in England and North America) dividing into modernists and traditionalists. Of these, the former would readily become part of a Pan-Protestant pact (as already seems to be happening with the Porvoo and Meissen agreements in Europe, and the concordat with Lutherans in N. America). The latter could seek once again to be joined to other Catholic and Orthodox Christians, picking up perhaps on the ARCIC and other conversations.
AND AFTER… he reflects on the conference as it turned out.
It is just possible that the Anglican Communion has begun to face the problems created by its lack of any centralised authority. There were tentative moves this Lambeth (despite much opposition from, among others, many Americans) to give the Archbishop of Canterbury an official oversight role. Had this been in place twenty years ago, some of the divisions which have happened over the West’s ‘liberal agenda’ might have been avoided.
Even more encouraging for those of us who are trying to hold fast to the ‘faith once delivered’ was the overwhelming support for the conclusions of the various reports of the Eames Commission. The experiment of women’s ordination to the priesthood which has been occurring in part of the Communion, and the very small attempts at ordaining women as Bishops, have been firmly shown for what they are’, experiments, in a fragment of a fragment of Christendom, which in due time, after a very long period of discernment, will either be shown to have been in accord with the intentions of the Almighty, or to have been nothing more than a passing fashion. Meanwhile, those of us (the majority of the Anglican communion) who hold fast to the church’s tradition, have been endorsed and strengthened. The Church of England has ensured episcopal oversight for everyone who stands in that tradition – and the PEV system is only a small part of that system of oversight. This has been commanded to the entire Communion now, and those parts of the church which try to force people into toeing a ‘modernist’ line are shown to be quite out of step with mainstream Anglicanism.
It was especially remarkable that the Conference came to such conclusions, when the pressure of the Lambeth media circus was entirely in the opposite direction. it took huge efforts to get one small mention of the PEV system in England and Wales in one edition of the daily Conference newspaper; yet in almost every edition there would be an interview with a woman ordained as bishop and a photograph of one or more of these ladies or their ‘spouses’. Though there were only eleven women ordained as bishops in a conference of around 800, one of the eleven had to be given a prominent role in the opening eucharist in Canterbury.
There was an attempt to stop bishops ministering to people in need of pastoral care where the diocesan bishop proved to be unorthodox, heretical even. That motion started off with very fierce language indeed. It ended up much improved, and confined itself to saying roughly that on the whole it is maybe not altogether desirable usually for bishops to go into other bishops’ territories without an invitation. It is unlikely that this will stop some of the more militantly orthodox African bishops from accepting invitations to care for parishes in the more outrageous dioceses in the New World.
So, thanks largely to our Archbishop’s own influence, and despite the machinations of many of the ‘liberal’ hangovers who surrounded the Conference, the outcome was far more hopeful and encouraging for the future of the Communion than I had dared hope before it began.