A globular Communion

My guess is that defeat in England will not stop those who see the Covenant as the future of the Communion.

They will continue to try to persuade provinces to sign up, probably adding the argument that England will come on board after 2015.

Death of the Covenant from other causes
But the Covenant will die nevertheless. What will kill it are the internal contradictions within the Communion itself. It simply will not be fitted into a single document.

Consider the GAFCON churches. I blogged long ago about the different attitudes of Global South Churches towards the Covenant (I see my maths was no good then and it's not improved). This diversity is, I believe, still the case. The Southern Cone and the West Indies have already declared their adhesion to the Covenant. But I can't see Nigeria, Uganda or Kenya signing up (though, of course, any of these guesses are hostages to fortune).

I can also see a number of churches (the US, perhaps Canada) simply not coming to a decision at all.

Either way, the presupposition that membership of the Anglican Communion means uniform relations between all participants (whether as fact or ideal) has broken down in practice. I anticipate this is likely to be confirmed in organizational structures - and the longer some push for the Covenant the worse will be the collapse of the ACO, its Networks and Ministries, when it does happen.

The Covenant entailed the explicit declaration of uniform relations between participants. It is likely to contribute to its opposite - the formalisation of uneven relationships. In effect we end up, not with the end of the Communion, but with a significantly different configuration.

A globular protein - PyruvKinase, I think,
- and a way of visualising the Communion?
The death and re-birth of the Communion
I think we will end up with a globular Communion - clusters of provinces coming together on what are basically grounds of congeniality (in which social and theological attitudes all have an important place). 

Some of these lumps will have members (ACNA and other groups with which the Communion in not currently in Communion) which are not recognised by those in other lumps. Some lumps (one including Nigeria, for example, and another including TEC) may not talk to one another. But for the most part churches which primarily identify with one lump will maintain a variety of formal and informal links with churches in other lumps.

(I confidently predict that, when churches self-identify in this way, they will not choose 'lump' as the official designation.)

Mothers' Union members meeting in West Africa
A significant bonus of this reshuffling of relationships is that it need not necessarily threaten bi-lateral or multi-lateral links at parish, diocesan or organizational level. The Mothers' Union in Africa, for example, can remain strongly associated with the MU in London even when the churches officially belong to differing clusters.

Not managing the Communion
Mapping such Anglican-heritage churches will be a difficult and undoubtedly fluid exercise. Managing a globular Communion will be impossible.

Instead of 44 autonomous provinces and member churches there will be, say, half a dozen primary lumps each with their own communication structures, decisions about interoperability, and lumps within lumps. Each lump will have varying degrees of interaction with each other lump, and the distinct members of every lump will each have differing associations across the globular whole.

The fact is this kind of development is already happening. The Covenant would have fitted ill with those who assent to the Jerusalem Declaration. Some provinces are sharing theological education initiatives. Some already recognise bodies which are not in communion with the rest.

Mapping complexity, in this case networks
of climate change sceptics and supporters.
Similar tools could be used for the Communion
These circumstances will eventually force change in whatever central structures survive. (So too will money, but that's another story.)

My suggestion would be that the term, idea and value of 'manage' should be discarded. In its place should be 'facilitate', 'enable', 'resource' and similar terms: explicitly servicing the various lumps on their own terms. In this the internet offers a huge potential.

The Communion's existing networks should not be co-opted to further the ACO's centralising mindset but could be great assets in supporting and resourcing the agenda's of the various lumps - learning from one another but allowing the component parts to use what

Of course, these observations are neither a blueprint nor at all adequate to the task. I offer them only as starting suggestions of how the Communion might develop in the decades to come: not towards 'A Church', but towards servicing the Church which is already here.

These developments would also make a mess of ecumenical convergence on a global scale. But I think it would be more honest, and ultimately more fruitful, to base the search for ecumenical convergence in the reality of church life, and not on a notion of what church life might become.

And, by way of warning, in searching for suitable images I also came across Bonini's Paradox:
Everything simple is false. Everything which is complex is unusable.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... Churches in configurations may choose not to call those configurations lumps, but it seems to me that those who are the subjects (victims?) of Relational Consequences will become Lumpenanglicans.