John Shepley continues his examination of the impact of the 1970 resolution by the Anglican Consultative Council with a look at the longer-term consequences for the Anglican Communion and ecumenical relations
When Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett were ordained to the priesthood on 3 December 1971, it was not in a large rich and populous province but in a tiny diocese which could hardly claim the undivided attention of the Communion at large. The event was momentous, nevertheless. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that what happened in Hong Kong on that day effected an abrupt and irreversible change in Anglican ecclesiology.
By a skilful piece of politicking the bishop of Hong Kong had thwarted the express intention of the Lambeth Conference to institute a period of Communion-wide reflection. He had manoeuvred the newly formed Anglican Consultative Council, at its first meeting, into a curiously worded expression of approval of his action. He had ignored the wishes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, and of the Council of the Church in East Asia to which his diocese belonged. He had gone ahead regardless. The tail had successfully wagged the dog.
The consequences of Bishop Bakers actions were predictable, inevitable even. Women’s ordination would proceed in other parts of the Communion (in particular in the United States – the proposer and seconder of the fateful ACC motion were both Americans). By the Lambeth Conference of 1978 the development would be a done deal. All talk of Communion-wide consultation and theological reflection would be a dead letter.
Those, no doubt, were the intentions of Bishop Baker and his friends. But there were unintended consequences that followed from them.
The first was the enunciation of a doctrine previously unacknowledged among Anglicans: that of provincial autonomy. The first Lambeth
Conference had been an attempt to avoid such unilateral action. A group of Canadian bishops had suggested a gathering of bishops world-wide, under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to address the Colenso crisis and related matters of faith and order.
The formula devised and passed by the Limaru meeting of the ACC meant that the Lambeth Conference of 1978 had no alternative but to recognize the ‘rights’ of constituent provinces, which it duly did: ‘The Conference also recognises the autonomy of each of its member Churches, acknowledging the legal right of each Church to make its own decision about the appropriateness of admitting women to Holy Orders.’
Provincial autonomy in orders, of course, had the added consequence of settling for good and all the status of Orders in Anglican ecclesiology. Were Orders fixed and immutable – part of the irreformable furniture of Christian orthodoxy, along with the ecumenical creeds and the canon of Scripture? Or were they cultural by-products, which could be restructured according to perceived needs?
It was a controversy which had been raging since the sixteenth century. Were Orders, in fine, a primary or a secondary issue? The Limaru formula and the Lambeth 1978 resolution clearly affirmed the latter.
Impact on ecumenism
The ecumenical implications unfolded with time. Anglicans (for example, in the negotiations with Methodists in the Sixties) had traditionally insisted on ‘full visible unity’ with mutually recognized and interchangeable orders. Butthe Limaru formula and the Lambeth resolution frankly acknowledged that such a state of affairs no longer obtained within the Anglican Communion itself. How could Anglicans demand of others what they themselves no longer
possessed? The dilemma was to affect relations both with the Churches of the Reformation and with the ancient churches of East and West.
Anglicans have always had deep and sometimes fundamental disagreements about doctrine (eucharistic theology, for example). But they had not previously doubted that orders were and ought to be an indispensable sign of koinonia and fellowship. To assert otherwise (as Lambeth 1978 had effectively done) was simply to invite divergence in other areas and on other matters.
It did not take a crystal ball in 1978 to guess that by 1988 the game would have moved to the consecration of women bishops. And it was easy to guess that such action would be proposed by The Episcopal Church. The then Presiding Bishop of what was then ECUSA brought the matter to the first meeting of a newly established Instrument of Unity,’ the Primates’ Meeting, in 1985.
After Limaru 1971, Michael Ramsey wrote, ‘I quickly came to think that it was not the right way to run the Anglican Communion and that it was a poor substitute for a meeting of archbishops.’ But the Primates’ Meeting could no more avoid the consequences of the ACC’s actions than could Lambeth 1978; and it was outmanoeuvred in much the same way. The outcome was clear from the moment when the Primates decided to set up a Commission (the ‘Grindrod Commission) to consult widely’ and report to Lambeth 1988.
Addressed to a Communion which had only recently abandoned the interchangeability of orders as an effective sign of koinonia, the first chapter of the report was entitled ‘Listening as a Mark of Communion!