Our Place in the World?

We here in Aotearoa/New Zealand are tucked away in an idyllic corner of the world.  And yet what happens in the world affects us, and what we do can sometimes affect the world.  The Ma Whea? report recognises that the issues facing our church are issues that other Anglican Provinces have already faced.  I have three observations about these international developments.


First, there is a curious omission in Section 8: International Developments (hence, S8). In an otherwise accurate summary of some international developments in the past decade or so, no mention is made of consequences of events in 2003 – Gene Robinson being consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire in The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada) approving blessings of same sex partnerships – in which several dioceses have left TEC, a number of parishes have left the Anglican Church of Canada (ACCan), and from many of these departures a new Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) has been formed.


Secondly, from a different angle there is a reference on page 7 (in Section 1) to a response to the North American liberalising developments, “In addition, bishops elsewhere had been performing episcopal functions in jurisdictions other than their own without the permission of the incumbent bishop.”


This sentence on its own is a true sentence: for some time, before the turn of the century and since, Anglican bishops responsible for jurisdictions outside the territory of North America had been entering North American territory (principally the United States of America) to perform episcopal actions such as ordinations and confirmations without the permission of the local incumbent bishop.


However the actual situation has been much more complex than the sentence implies. There have been interventions of various kinds. The following is not an exhaustive list: some local congregations have sought and invited episcopal assistance from the global Communion; some bishops from (say) Nigeria have supported the development of Nigerian-aligned Anglican congregations in the USA, both congregations of Nigerians and congregations of ex-Episcopalians keen to remain connected to the Anglican Communion; in some cases ordinations have taken place on North American soil, in other cases on African soil. Space does not permit development of reflection on whether some such interventions are more justifiable than others. But all such interventions have been responses to pastoral need for a bishop acting according to sound doctrine.


Thirdly, on page 32 a difficult sentence is written,


“Thus in the Anglican Church internationally, there have been initiatives both towards the creation of groups with an avowedly traditional approach and for those in favour of a more liberal approach.”


Groups with an avowedly traditional approach are reasonably well known (see above) but counterpart liberal groups are much less well known – indeed the present writer cannot think of any!


The subject of ‘International Developments’ arises because Anglican churches value global fellowship with other Anglican churches. The chief and largest expression of this fellowship as an organisation is the Anglican Communion. Other fellowships exist, including two which have arisen or been strengthened since the events of 2003 (Global South and GAFCON).


The value placed on global fellowship is a subtle value. On the one hand it means that Anglicans enjoy meeting together and so we find that there are distinctive Communion meetings, such as the Lambeth Conference for all bishops (held every ten years), the Primates Meeting (for all primates of each member church) and the Anglican Consultative Council which is the only formal meeting to which bishops, clergy and laity are elected from the member churches. On the other hand the value placed on fellowship does not routinely extend to the New Testament injunction to mutually submit to one another. The meetings noted above are advisory only. No member church has to do what Communion-wide meetings decide to recommend.


For many matters, this Communion which is not a global church works fine. But the events of 2003 sharply exposed the Communion as a body of churches with things in common which could not handle some things which became different. Some member churches objected to those events as contrary to Scripture and teaching held in common throughout most of the Communion. Within TEC and ACCan, many Anglicans also objected. What does it mean to be ‘Anglican’ when fellow Anglicans are disregarding a common value of Anglicans?

For many Anglicans in North America, to continue to be Anglican meant reaching out to Anglicans in other churches, Anglicans who still held to common, Scriptural teaching on human sexuality. Hence the consequential involvement of Anglican bishops in North America who otherwise did not belong there. The Commission’s report does not clearly report to us what the consequences of the events of 2003 represented. The consequences were actions designed to assist Anglicans who found they had more in common with other Anglican churches than with their local churches.


The Commission, however, is correct when it states at the end of S8, “To date however, any outright schism has been avoided.” How that avoidance has happened is a long and complicated story. It may become more complicated depending what our General Synod decides.


Rev. Dr Peter Carrell

Peter is Director of Theology House, and a Vice-President of the Latimer Fellowship