Gerry O’Brien on why fudge cuts no ice

Why The agenda for July will make interesting reading for historians. At a time when the storm clouds are gathering over the Anglican Communion we find the establishment of the Church of England continuing serenely on as if nothing was amiss, like the Captain of the Titanic observing the icebergs and thinking how beautiful they were.

Nine Anglican Bishops have signed the Nassau Statement which will form a submission to Archbishop Robin Eames’ Commission. The statement is forthright in endorsing Christian teaching which has stood the test of time over two millennia.

The signatories ‘view with acute dismay the unilateral and divisive actions by the Episcopal Church of the USA, the Anglican Church of Canada and certain developments in the Church of England to adopt policies which threaten the whole of the worldwide Anglican family.’ They say, ‘we believe that it is urgent to ask whether these actions and policies are a result of authentic development or whether they are departures from the apostolic witness to revealed truth that require discipline.’

Their analysis leads them to say, ‘we believe that it is clear that those responsible for these actions and policies have made little or no effort to show how they could be authentic developments of doctrine grounded in Scripture.’ They continue, ‘we are saddened to observe that by their deliberate, persistent and unilateral actions they have torn the fabric of our communion at its deepest level.’ They assert, ‘the rupture or realignment of the Anglican Communion has occurred already. It is not an agenda or proposal to be implemented but a fait accompli that is now to be recognized. The schismatic is the one who causes the separation, not the one who separates.’

These are strong words. Given that the statement has the backing of five provinces at archbishop level, no-one need be in any doubt as to the seriousness of the situation we face.

The signatories of the Nassau statement conclude by calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting to respond biblically and apostolically to the present unhappy situation through the full exercise of appropriate discipline. Then they say, ‘We pledge ourselves to provide adequate care and oversight for all those in north and south who find themselves alienated and abandoned.’

No doubt many bishops look into their shaving mirrors each morning and offer a silent prayer of thanks to God that the mantle of Archbishop of Canterbury has not fallen on them. He is in the unenviable position of being ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. However, the scope for a classical Anglican fudge is evaporating by the minute. The liberals are in no mood to compromise and the conservatives would view concessions as amounting to unfaithfulness to the Lord.

The time is coming when the Archbishop may have to accept that it is no longer possible to please both sides and he will have to choose which to endorse. In fact, his choice could even be between being the leader of part of what was the Anglican Communion or leader of next to nothing.

Fortunately, lemmings we may be – but we have not yet reached the top of the cliff and wise counsels may prevail. However time is rapidly running out – so what, you may ask, is Synod going to be doing when it meets at York this month?

Sadly the Agenda was prepared long ago and so matters of current concern might possibly be considered next February or next July – by which time the debate will likely have been overtaken by events. 88 members signed a motion last February to debate a motion calling for changes to the draft constitution for the European Union and for a national referendum to be held. Well, the constitution has now been agreed by the heads of 25 national governments and Mr Blair has conceded a referendum. Assuming that Synod gets around to debating this motion before the referendum is held, at the very least there will have to be one of those ‘delete all after That this Synod …’ amendments. However, we may rest assured that all the correct synodical procedures will be followed to ensure that the stable door is shut properly and securely – even though the horse bolted long ago.

Then we have the Parochial Fees order. Costs of weddings are to go up by 10%. The Archbishops’ Council assure us that this is quite acceptable because ‘similar increases last year attracted very little adverse comment.’ They are of course ‘mindful that the number of Church of England marriages has been continuing to fall (both as a figure and as a proportion of the total number of marriages), and that it was important not to undermine the efforts being made to encourage people to marry in church.’

So they bump up the fees, which must mean they are making the assumption that in this case the price elasticity of demand is zero – hardly a plausible assumption, let alone part of a strategy to win back market share.

Worse still, despite my plea in the debate last year, the cost of calling banns is now to be £18, with a further £12 for the issue of a certificate. These charges will be incurred in the groom’s parish and also in the bride’s parish – but you don’t have to be a genius to realize that you can get a significant discount.

Cohabiting couples, who will of course both live in the same parish, will save £30 by not having banns called in another parish. The Church of England, which as far as I am aware still advises against cohabitation before marriage, is now offering a cash incentive of £30 (up from £27 last year) for those couples prepared to ignore the Church’s advice. When are we going to get some joined-up thinking from theologians and accountants?

Finally, we have the contributions from Southwark. One of their clergy wants the Church brought within the scope of the Government’s anti-discrimination legislation. (No prizes for guessing why). Another of their clergy wishes to commend ECUSA and the Diocese of New Hampshire for consecrating Gene Robinson ‘as a bishop in the Church of God’.

As if these two private member’s motions would not cause sufficient waves in the Anglican Communion, the Southwark Diocesan Synod has three motions down. One calls for the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 to be rescinded. The second calls for the consecration of women to the Episcopate. The third asks the Mission and Public Affairs Council to investigate and recommend how church members can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. None of the Southwark motions has any chance of being reached – this time, at least.

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.