Geoffrey Kirk on a report which barely saw the light of day

There are, in the attic of my house, four large cardboard boxes which are the mute memorial of my time on the General Synod. They are full of Reports. I have not measured the acreage of print, but I have felt the avoirdupois. Most recent among them (mercifully a free handout and not purchased at the asking price of £9.95) is the Hurd Report.

‘Have you heard of Hurd?’ I have been asking journalists who are over-excited about the Canterbury Stakes, ‘it gives a blueprint for the See of Canterbury in the twenty-first century.’

You would have expected even the most jaundiced hack to show a little interest in the projected nature of the job for which the candidates are so obligingly lining themselves up. But not so.

The Great and the Good

This cannot be because the Report lacks gravitas. Chaired by a distinguished former Home and Foreign Secretary, the Review Team included the Queen’s former Private Secretary; two GCVOs; two CBEs; one OBE; one AO (who is also an Archbishop); and to crown it all Mr David Lammy MP. Who, as the song says, could ask for anything more? But the Press, having decided some time ago that the Report was not going to recommend the establishment of a third English Archbishopric, have lost interest.

If you read the Report you will know why. At a recent meeting sponsored by Southwark Forward in Faith at Partnership House, Lord Hurd’s personal charm and obvious love of the Church of England endeared him to his audience. He held the floor engagingly for some forty-five minutes on the review process, the areas of investigation and the recommendations of the Commission. A thorough acquaintance with the text would have revealed to those present what a tour de force that was.

Stating the obvious

The contents of the beautifully produced ninety page booklet To Lead and to Serve, can easily be summarized.

The ABC has a number of interrelated jobs. He is Bishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Southern Province, Head of the Church of England, President of the Anglican Communion and involved in matters ecumenical and inter-faith. This is too much for one man.

So it would be a good idea to offer him some help. This can come from a number of sources:
a) the role of the ABY could be played up a bit;
b) more responsibility should be taken for the day-to-day running of the Diocese of Canterbury by the Bishop of Dover;
c) other senior bishops should carry policy and media portfolios;
d) a proper Chief of Staff at Lambeth would help sort out diary and engagement priorities (NB a layman might do this job better than a spare bishop);
e) Anglican Communion interests might be best served by a Bishop from another part of the Communion working with the ABC (NB The Church Commissioners are getting cheesed off paying for the Anglican Communion – so he had better be paid for by the Communion as a whole);
f) in Ecumenical and Interfaith affairs a little minor tinkering with present arrangements should suffice.

None of this, you will say, is earth shattering. And indeed not.

Questions to be asked

I have no idea of the cost of the whole review process (and no idea who footed the bill). But I would happily have taken a consultancy fee of around the same amount, and written the Report myself within a fortnight – unless extensive foreign travel were deemed absolutely necessary, in which case I would not have resisted, and taken a month and a half.

What really matters, however, is the missed opportunity. In the absence of anything more definitive this ramshackle group of autonomous Churches in ill-defined relationship one with another looks increasingly to the Archbishop of Canterbury to supply its lack of a clear identity. Questions need to be asked. Is the Anglican Communion (why do secular analogies come most readily to mind?) more like the United States or more like the British Commonwealth? And so is the ABC to be more like the Queen (and Lambeth more like Buckingham Palace); or more like President Bush (and Lambeth more like the White House)? That is to put the questions crudely – but they are real questions. The ‘instruments of unity’ of the Communion are, in fact, living testimonies to the crisis management which has hitherto been the ‘Communion’s’ only form of ecclesiology.

Instruments of Disunity

The Lambeth Conference had no influence in the Colenso Affair (in response to which it was created) and has had no effect whatever in restraining doctrinal deviancy in more recent times.

The Anglican Consultative Council dealt, at its first meeting (when it scarcely knew what it was and what it was for) with the proposed Hong Kong ordinations of women. By assuring the Bishop of Hong Kong of its support (when Hong Kong was a diocese directly under the Archbishop of Canterbury, and should have been ordered and guided by him) it espoused and supported a doctrine of provincial and diocesan autonomy which many other provinces and dioceses cannot endorse.

The Primates’ Meeting has only recently become annual, and has already been thrown headlong into the conflict between the North American provinces and others in the two-thirds world, which it shows no sign of moderating or controlling. The result of its deliberation at its meeting in Oporto was not a cessation of hostilities, but the launching of Inter-Continental Ballistic Bishops.

Yet the Hurd Report takes these three seriously deficient institutions as givens. It tries to write a future for the Archbishop in the Communion around the very ‘instruments of unity’ which have failed it. It never for a moment debates the more basic issues about the nature and identity of the international body which he leads and serves.

Questions unasked

What models exist for a such a body? Upon what doctrine of episcopacy and what view of catholicity does its ‘Provincial Autonomy’ depend? What precedents or models for Primacy are there to help define the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as its chief bishop? What institutions would best serve its unity – and in particular its adhesion to Catholic truth and order?

Of course, such a thorough-going investigation would be thoroughly un-Anglican, and would in any case require a Review Team with more theologians than GCVOs. It would take time and – Anglicans being as Anglicans are – it would probably go unheeded. But will Hurd be better heard? I suspect not. The Report came at a time when it could help us to appreciate what a good job (against almost unsurmountable odds) the last incumbent had done, without binding his successor to anything in particular. In that very Anglican way – but in that alone – it was a job well done.

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s Lewisham in the Diocese of Southwark.