I usually feel at a distance from church meetings, especially ones for discussing unity and ways getting around differences of doctrines, practices and personalities. I will be attending my own Diocesan Synod in early May, for which I have already sent a report of my priestly ministry. We tend to discuss essential business. Fr Jonathan Munn looks after the money and gives his detailed accounts. Each priest reports on his parish. Our Bishop will have much to tell us about the church shop in Canterbury. All these things are a part of our family life and witness to the life of Christ within us. I am not much of a meeting enthusiast, but they are important for any community.
Fr Jonathan Munn has just written Defragging the Anglican Church, using the analogy of a computer reorganising its hard disk. A fragmented hard disk is like dividing up the books in a library and putting the sections into the shelves in a more or less random fashion. To read a book, we would have to find and read the first section, and then search for the other sections and read them in order. Fragmentation slows a computer down, even if it searches through its hard disk much faster than our efforts in a disorganised library. In French, the computer is called an ordinateur, an organising machine that puts information into order. That’s what it does. I’m not sure such an analogy describes the efforts of bishops of different Churches to resolve their differences and work for unity. Obviously, the word fragmentation is something in common, which inspired the use of this analogy.
However, the method does not consist of merely organising information into a rational order. Fr Munn’s article points us to the blog of Bishop Chandler Jones of the Anglican Province of America. There is a certain amount of reorganising and rationalisation to be done with church constitutions, but the important part was discussing the existing problems in view to working out a solution.
In the most tumultuous days of the TAC’s ordinariate movement, mostly in early 2010 and through 2011, the ACA resisted the most and came under the criticism of the ordinariate-bound parts of the TAC. I remember reading the arguments accusing the American bishops of duplicity and infidelity to their promises made in Portsmouth to go along with any plan proposed by Rome. I will not go over it all, especially now that memories are fading and documentation is indeed fragmented, but I will say that Americans are more concerned for pragmatic considerations and self-preservation than anyone else. The experience was a kind of catharsis that caused the Continuing Anglican remnants to become a little more serious about saving the entire Continuing Anglican idea. Not all Anglicans want to remain with the “revisionists” or become Roman Catholics or Orthodox. Continuing Anglicanism is not a shipwreck to be exploited for spare parts and things useful to other agendas. It has its own integrity and ecclesiology as an expression of Catholic Christianity.
Institutional instruments like constitutions and codes of canon law are important, but there is a human, pastoral and theological basis that is not being neglected. We are too thin on the ground, but the American Continuing Anglican Churches, at least the ones generally recognised to be legitimate, look much more mainstream with their church buildings and schools for the children. The clergy over there are generally stipendiary and that makes a big difference, making a priest much more available for his ministry – just as long as it doesn’t all become too “corporate” and with the same bureaucratic blight as with the old mainstream churches. There are real ideas for collaboration and unity without absorption.
The Episcopate is being seriously professionalised, and this can only be a good thing. I understand that our own Archbishop Metropolitan is involved in the discussions. They are working on an assembly of bishops to help distinguish between the genuine and the “false”, since there are bogus internet churches, looking very big and official (yet no one has heard of them), but lacking substance. People need to be educated in the notion of predictability and likelihood. The real churches are known about and there are no “lost worlds”.
It is important for particular Churches to retain their autonomy and freedom. This is conciliar ecclesiology, not ultramontanism or Papal imperialism! We will continue to have overlapping jurisdictions for some time to come. Such collaboration could bring about the sharing of the most costly resources like seminaries for the training of new priests. Importantly, this kind of plan would reduce the risk of rogue bishops and amateurism in the Episcopate.
This is not the first time such meetings have been held, but the ongoing effort leads to hope. What about Continuing Anglicans outside North America. Personally, before joining the ACC, I took care to resign from the Traditional Anglican Church honourably and with respect and courtesy. It is incredibly difficult for any of us to make much headway in England and Europe. I understand that the Traditional Anglican Church in England is getting back together again, now they have a Bishop and a few of the confused clergy who returned. We need to look at other Churches as positively as possible.
Many problems remain to be solved, and they cannot be minimised or dismissed as insignificant. I do believe that the ACC has been right to hold to certain principles that other churches find difficult to follow. However, we can be thankful that dialogue and work are under way.
Indeed, we look forward to the fortieth anniversary of the Congress of Saint Louis, and to much progress having been made to recover from bad experience in this process of Christian healing and reconciliation.