End game

I am now confident that, at last, we have finally come to the beginning of the end of the schism in Anglicanism, though not in a way I had anticipated.

In the US (and Canada?) court cases over property are being settled in favour of the official church and to the dismay of the schismatics. For example: Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and British Colombia.  Legal actions are not finished, of course, but the end of the tunnel grows closer.

It seems that, in some places at least, this is leading to a shaking out of those who really want to go on ideological grounds and reconciliation with those who simply wanted to stay in the places they had always worshipped. The suspension of normal business inevitable with unresolved cases is now over and people can start to get back to normality - even though the landscape has changed.  The senior leadership of a Diocese can concentrate on their primary tasks of leadership, nourishing and dealing with the normal headaches of any organization.

Internationally, the GAFCONites now have sufficient internal cohesion and decision making structures to enable them to be a self-sufficient separate body. They will undoubtedly lay claim to the Anglican brand, at least for a while, but while this may be confusing it is just a minor irritant.

The Primates in the Dublin sun
I prefer the French: RĂ©union des Primats
Which leaves the rest of us and the extraordinary Primates' Meeting.

Days 1 & 2, once the preliminaries were over, focused on the substantive issues that Primates face in their own Provinces, not on the Communion itself.

Day 3 began with 'Primacy'. I suspect this is a hot issue now for two reasons. First, the Primates (who, being more elevated, see further than most) were trying to articulate their role in a Church that they can see has already changed - much ecclesiological reflection is post hoc self-justification. The second reason was evident in their method. They took a detailed look at the differences between their roles, activities and powers in the different provinces. This is about the polity of the church, not theology, about preparing to work better in the new Anglican Communion, whatever shape that will have.

The ecclesiological emphasis was also predominant on Day 4. The Archbishop of Burundi, Bernard Ntahoturi, presented the reflections of The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO), a merger of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission.  Snappy.
He told fellow Primates that the December meeting of IASCUFO in South Africa saw the members work in four groups: one studying the definition of ‘church’. Archbishop Bernard said, “We are asking: ‘Is the Anglican Communion a Church or a communion of Churches?’” The second group is looking at the Anglican Communion Covenant and resources for studying it. The third group is studying the Instruments of Communion, their theological meaning and how they relate to one another. The fourth group is considering the topic of ‘reception’, that is how the work of the Instruments and of ecumenical dialogues is communicated and understood at all levels of the Anglican Communion.
Day 5 concluded this ecclesiological thread with discussion of the Primates' Standing Committee.  It then moved to other matters: gender-based violence and 'a range of [other] issues of international concern'.

Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi &
Primus David Robert Chillingworth
Press Conference: Photo ACNS
The briefing for Day 6 opened with a somewhat defensive note that 'These briefings have been prepared on a daily basis by Anglican Communion Office staff with oversight from a variety of Primates representing different parts of the Communion.'  They tidied up a number of documents for promulation and held a press conference (podcast - I listened but could barely hear most questions and wasn't much enlightened by the answers). They concluded with Communion.

The official papers are available here.

I think George Conger is right: it is the end of the Communion we once thought we knew.

The Primates' meeting is to be a consultative forum with no powers of instruction or direction. Powerful and influential, certainly, but these stem from the role of participants within their own Provinces, not across provinces. As the Primus said in the press conference, this is a Communion of independent provinces.

Gonger is also right about the concentration of powers in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Standing Committee is to be the Archbishop's 'consultative council'. In effect the Diocesan structure of the English Church is writ global: the monarchical Archbishop rules and courtiers advise. They have no veto.

A Communion for the twenty-first century
So this would now seem to be the shape of the Communion:
  • Each province is autonomous.  
  • There is a stronger recognition of the differences of structure, decision making and distribution of powers within each province. Pressures towards harmonisation have been rebuffed.
  • The motif of 'family' has resurfaced, specifically in its aspect of 'blood is thicker than water', i.e. we disagree but continue together. Clearly this is only true for those family members who are prepared to stay together.
  • There is a renewed emphasis on regionalism, facilitated by the Primates' Standing Committee. This will be a difficult trick to pull off effectively: on the one hand the centralising agenda will still pull matters towards the Archbishop of Canterbury and, on the other, the defence of autonomy will pull people apart. However, if successful, regional groupings could well supply an intermediate layer of debate and discussion which will enable better co-ordination of a looser Communion to the benefit of all.
  • It is an ever more clerical Communion. Unless regional meetings include the laity as full participants they will reinforce the dominance of  bishops.
  • The more deliberative nature of the Lambeth Conference (if continued) and Primates' Meeting will leave a vacuum. Some people will always want clear and authoritative statements despite and because it's a murky and ambiguous world. There will still be a demand for the equivalent of Lambeth Conference Resolutions - but these should remain of moral and persuasive authority, given force only when incorporated in each separate province following their own distinct procedures . 
  • Power will flow to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Leadership of global deliberation will flow to the international consultative bodies. Thus power will flow to the Anglican Communion Office. Information and administration is power and it will all go though the ACO & Lambeth Palace staff.
  • The Anglican Consultative Council will be marginalised.  Like an English Deanery Synod it will make work for itself but its primary function now is merely to vote for (some of the) members of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.  
  • The SCAC itself, which briefly looked as though it would hold the Communion's strings, will become a rubber stamp to endorse decisions made between the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the Communion, the ACO & Lambeth Palace staff.
The place of the Covenant in this is not clear.  Clearly the Covenant is not dead.  The logic of this shape of the Communion would marginalise it, perhaps draw any teeth, but the question remains: will the Covenant be an effective document or will it now join the honoured ranks of documents with little or no consequence?

I'm still afraid it's the former. If passed the Covenant contains so many powers-in-embryo that it will inevitably be used.

[Slightly amended 6/2/11]  


  1. Anonymous6/2/11

    Your 6th bullet point seems to be incomplete.

  2. Thank you, anon (if I may call you that). Bullet point completed and a couple of other minor changes made.

  3. Good analysis down to your 'George Conger is right' section, thereafter nobody can be sure. Your suggestions have just a whiff of despair about them.

    As this is such a risky and uncertain area it would be best for the Covenant, upon which your predictions for the 21st century hinge, not to happen.

    Please therefore keep up the campaign against the Covenant which your blogsite has championed. Common sense may eventually prevail. If, for example, the General Synod of the C of E were to vote against the Covenant it would surely be dead and finished. Ironically, the Archbishop of Canterbury would then emerge with his authority enhanced over the whole Communion rather than presiding over a formalised schism.