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"Disciplining the Episcopal Church not realistic" - by Nicholas Henderson

"Disciplining the Episcopal Church not realistic" - by Nicholas Henderson

The Anglican Communion - relations between First and Third World congregations

by Nicholas Henderson

I would like to begin this evening with an apology or more precisely, in the spirit of Newman, the 19th century Tractarian, an apologia pro vita sua as written originally in 1864. I hope that this doesn't sound too grand, for I haven't really got much in common with Newman (thank God) at all but I mean that since submitting my original title for this evening's talk, I have moved along, I've changed. What was in essence the working title of a proposed doctoral thesis has developed into something at once more specifically Anglican and more contemporary, in that it deals with issues that are currently troubling the Church (not only the Anglican Church) and ideas which as yet unformed on the anvil of questionnaire and rigorous analysis.

However, although it was Newman again who said 'Growth is the only evidence of life' It was Henry Miller (1891 - 1980) US novelist who said 'All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.' That's more like my style. The Wisdom of the Heart, "The Absolute Collective," 1947.

In short I've changed the title from 'The Anglican Communion - relations between first and third world congregations' to the more academic - and obscurantist The development of Anglican Ecclesiology in the context of the local congregation world-wide.

Not a very promising start for an august body such as this but what I am trying to ascertain, in what I do not think has been attempted in any coherent way before, is an analytical snapshot of lay opinion from a fairly wide spread of countries where the Anglican Church is represented. This is a bit like wrestling with a jellied eel and I can't claim to have got hold of it properly yet, although it is comforting to think that neither, apparently, has anyone else.

My task then tonight is to share with you, to offer some explanation, as to how I see the Anglican Church has developed and finally to draw some conclusions, which I admit are quite untested, and certainly will be open to challenge and question, from you, I hope. That is, of course, if I haven't sent you all to sleep, by the end.

Some of the list of countries that I am intending to canvass, may come as a surprise to you; as the idea that the Church of England might have a meaningful relationship with such a diverse and un-English cross section of nations is relatively new in many people's consciousness. I am mindful in this of the comments of a certain well known Vicar about his congregation in fashionable west London "My congregation", he said gloomily, 'my congregation they're not Anglicans' - a pause and then cheering up a bit, 'They're not Anglicans but they're definitely Church of England!'

Vicars on bicycles, alpaca jackets, panama hats, ladies in floral print dresses, wafer thin cucumber sandwiches, marquees and Evensong (1662) on warm summer evenings, these epitomise what we know as the C of E. However, this idyllic Betjemanesque world has moved on, at least to a degree. It can still be found in pockets, perhaps on the south coast, perhaps in Bournemouth but as one who is about to become honorary Canon of All Saints Cathedral - Nkhotakota, Malawi, Central Africa, I can assure you that the legacy of 1800 years of English Christianity has managed to seed itself in some very unlikely places and in an extraordinarily unexpected dynamic and creative form. The Anglican Church is represented in no less than 144 countries worldwide. Often thinly spread, sometimes large and dominant, frequently punching politically above its weight, sometimes beleaguered, what has become known as the Anglican Communion is a phenomenon of our times and controversy (also a feature of our age) I would argue, has been its fertiliser, not its herbicide. In this I imagine (fondly) that my own thesis will find the Church and more especially its laity in far better heart than one would expect and rather than disintegrating before our eyes, an emerging sense of identity is the lot of those who are in communion with the see of Canterbury.

John Betjeman wrote a poem on the death of King George V, January 20, 1936, when the young fop Edward VIII was proclaimed king and arrived as a new style modern, informal, monarch, not in a carriage but on a plane! Betjeman captured the disparity between the old and the new that this represented and perhaps unwittingly predicted the brave new world for Church and State that would shortly emerge in the form of the abdication crisis.

'Old men who never cheated, never doubted, Communicated monthly, sit and stare At the new suburb stretched beyond the run-way Where a young man lands hatless from the air.'

Fancy that, without a hat! Which is a cautionary tale for the likes of me now balding slightly, in my own middle age and coming to terms with a changing world - before embarking on any study, especially one that includes an ambitious five nation questionnaire, to which I have already alluded. Hang on to your hats, I might have to go - to borrow a now defunct phrase from a bygone political campaign, 'back to basics'.

Where else then but to my own family, my own flesh and blood, my nearest living relative? I plucked up courage to present the bare bones of my Questionnaire about the Anglican Communion to my eighty-nine year old, lifelong, practising Anglican aunt, who rose eagle-like to the occasion. 'The Anglican Communion', she said, authoritatively, tackling the very first question, asking her what the phrase meant. On cue and without faltering, the wisdom of the years was offered: 'The Anglican Communion', she said, "The Anglican Communion we've had a lot of trouble with our young Vicar wanting to change the services. I don't mind his new fangled ways, but I really prefer the good old Book of Common Prayer!'

As you can see five thousand answers like that, in four different languages aren't going to get me very far, and lest you be wondering what those countries are that I intend to tackle they are, Malawi, Brazil, Japan, the USA and the UK. To a degree this is an arbitrary selection but does represent countries with which my own ministry has had contact over the years.

So before I get to the substance of what I want to discover about those countries, a brief introduction regarding what has become known as the Anglican Communion, its provenance and supposed significance. If you've heard all this before please forgive me.

As Oliver Davies in his book 'Celtic Christianity' says

To attest to the existence of distinctive national or ethnic spiritual traditions, is ......to acknowledge that spiritual experience always occurs within a social and cultural context...in other words; the implantation of a world religion will take on a specific local colour due to the continuing influence of primal elements.

We should bear that in mind when we hear a web based definition of the organisation about which this study will endeavour to make some sense:

The Anglican Communion, says the WWW is a world-wide organisation of Anglican Churches. Technically it is not possible to speak of the Anglican Church as a whole; it is better referred to as the Anglican Communion, which consists of national churches in communion with the Church of England, and the see of Canterbury. Some of these churches are known as Anglican, others call themselves Episcopalian. The ultimate head of any Anglican church is the Primate, head of the church at the national level; but Anglican primates acknowledge the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares, or "first among equals".

If they are in communion with the ABC, of course, they can always question that communion or threaten to break it.

The Earliest Anglican Church and the C of E

I am one of those who belong to a certain generation of Anglican ordinands who trace the origins of the Church back, not to the tumultuous events of the 16th century, Henry the VIII, his wives and 'divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived' Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Catherine Parr - but to the original Romano- British Church, which appeared almost spontaneously in what was then known as Britain, in the earliest centuries after the death of Christ. The Glastonbury legends of the visit of Joseph of Arimeathea or even the young Christ child himself probably have more about them of the later near divine status of the concept of British Empire than anything else.

But Blake's poem, now sung heartily to the tune of Jerusalem, even in urban or is it urbane, London in the 21st century, contains the opening rhetorical line 'And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green and was the holy Lamb of God on England's on England's pleasant pastures seen?' This enjoyable piece of damp-eyed sentimentality is built on the fact that certainly by the year 314 three British Bishops attended what was an ecumenical council in Arles in France. They attended, not as those under any kind of Latin magisterium based in far off Italy but as independent and theologically orthodox Bishops of an indigenous British Church that would not finally come under the control of the Roman Church until the Synod of Whitby in 664, almost 70 years after the arrival of Augustine in Canterbury in the year 597. Indeed it was not until the eleventh century and the Norman Conquest that some Welsh dioceses finally lost their independence.

In this kind of view, to present a shortened version of a long history, the break with Rome in the 16th century merely represented a return to the original status quo, albeit one with a twelve hundred year gap.

That's a bit contrived but the subsequent rise of English (later British) nationalism created and affirmed the independent Protestant Church of England as the state Church first and foremost but also as the Church of the new and growing empire. Where British adventurers went, there went their chaplains with them along with the Book of Common Prayer and in due course the Authorised version of the Bible.

This, of course, is itself an over-simplistic version as I noticed, only in last week's Church Times (October 29th) an advertisement about a commemorative sermon to be preached in the 'Empire' church of St Martin's in the Fields on behalf of the newish organisation known as 'The Inclusive Church' to commemorate the 150 years of the Anglican Communion and its inclusivity.

I was momentarily perplexed as to which anniversary this represented, was it the Assize Sermon of John Keble that Newman marked as the beginning of the Oxford Movement? That was 1833 and not only was it 171 years ago, it could hardly be described as an 'inclusive' movement, influential as it was. Was it a political anniversary - the 1832 Reform Bill, surely not, even though 1 in 7 adult males could vote as a result. In near despair I turned to their website and the diary page, which was - under construction.

So I was reduced to guesswork, assuming it is not a precise anniversary, I think that it is the anniversary of the first Lambeth Conference - at least it would suit this talk if it were. That took place in 1867, 137 years ago and was the result of the coming together of mission societies such as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, now USPG and various invitations from the American and Canadian Churches, which were eventually responded to by Archbishop Longley in Lambeth Palace, with some 74 out of 151 invited bishops present. True a conference of SPG held in 1853 might have caught the eye of the preacher, Dr Giles Frazer but as I didn't go to the sermon, I'll probably never know. Nevertheless, whether it was 1852 or 1867, as the sermon was preached 'in the light of the Eames and Rochester reports, (Eames on homosexuality 128pp and Rochester 289pp on Women Bishops) it should be noted that the 19th century, which saw the Anglican Communion emerge as a definitive entity, was itself seething with controversies. The 1852 SPG conference was the more joyful of the two events but was tainted with what would become known as rising and divisive anglo-catholicism. The 1867 Lambeth Conference had as it backdrop two issues one the recent publication of 'Essays and Reviews' and trouble not 'in't mill' but in Southern Central Africa in the person of Bishop John William Colenso (1814-1883) who had written a mildly liberal commentary on Romans and later on the Pentateuch, for perplexed African converts. He was vigorously opposed by Archbishop Robert Gray of Capetown whose jurisdiction Colenso challenged by appealing directly to the Privy Council. Suffice it to say this controversial issue was one of the driving forces behind the first Lambeth Conference - thus at a stroke we can see the seeds of the present day relationship between the Church of England, the emerging Anglican Provinces, controversial subjects and authority. There is a real sense of déjà vu for any student of 19th century history and contemporary developments.

Incidentally, the Colenso issue was never really resolved and led to a small schism in the South African Church, known as the 'Church of England in Natal'. It exists to this day as the 'Church of England in South Africa' and returning member so my congregations who have worshipped there have been unable to distinguish it from the Church of the Province of South Africa, except that they liked it more!

Which in turn brings me briefly to the American Episcopal Church, currently under the disapproving eye of the Nigerian Primate (Peter Akinola), in particular, over the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and those parts of the North American Anglican Churches, including the Church of Canada, which have condoned same sex-marriages. Nigeria with its 17.5 million practising Anglicans is a force to be reckoned with.

Ironically then, the Anglican Communion, started in the American Colonies, where some cynics say it might finish. The earliest American settlements were bound up with religious thought and practice, partly in reaction to the Church of England, a fact which should always be remembered as one tries to understand the recent results of the American Presidential elections.

The C of E arrived in 1607 with the Virginia Company in Jamestown, became established (in the state sense) for a while in Maryland and to a degree in New York, but remarkably with an absence of Bishops, who the C of E found it almost impossible to appoint. By 1776 the year of the American Revolution, the C of E in the colonies (through neglect and isolation) had become virtually Congregationalist and the local vestry (still extant) became of great importance.

In other words the lay voice was strong - important for my thesis. The eighteenth century in the US became increasingly evangelical and Methodism at first loosely associated (as in England) with the C of E became the first really big victim of the inability of the English Church to escape its prison of establishment. The reputed toast of the Bishop of London after the refusal to ordain Wesley's men for work in the colonies was 'To put down enthusiasm and to preach the gospel'. That Gospel could only come (apparently) through sworn allegiance to the English crown.

Thus in a similar vein, after the American Revolution, Samuel Seabury, the first Episcopalian Bishop in the United States, although himself ordained priest by the Bishop of Lincoln, England, was in a sense the first schismatic, albeit for the best of reasons. Having remained loyal to the British during the War of Independence (as so many did), to the point of being imprisoned for a while, elected Bishop in 1783 he was naturally unable, after independence to take the loyal oath, and consequently and ironically for the Anglican Communion, was consecrated in Aberdeen on 14th November 1784 by the three Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, itself in a corporate state of persona non grata as a result of having historically backed the Stuarts.

As an interesting consequence two strands therefore emerged in the Anglican Communion, one descended from Cranmer's second revision of the BCP 1552 which eventually became the 1662 and the Scottish (always more catholic) from the first of 1549. Scotland 1764 US 1789

That the Anglican Communion got off the ground at all, given these kind of very English obstacles placed in its way, is not the subject of this lecture but does need wondering at, for all its ecclesiastical ineptitude. One can therefore imagine a world of sedate religious obfuscation being accidentally spread world- wide on the coat tails of the nascent British Empire and the emerging American one. 'God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.' 1774. It is reportedly the last hymn William Cowper (1731 - 1800) ever wrote, with a

fascinating (though unsubstantiated) story behind it.

Cowper often struggled with depression and doubt. One night he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself. He called a cab and told the driver to take him to the Thames River. However, thick fog came down and prevented them from finding the river (another version of the story has the driver getting lost deliberately). After driving around lost for a while, the cabby finally stopped and let Cowper out. To Cowper's surprise, he found himself on his own doorstep: God had sent the fog to keep him from killing himself. Even in our blackest moments, God watches over us.

I nominate Cowper as patron saint of the Communion.

At first sight, one might have supposed that any virtue of the Englishness of the Communion, perhaps contained in the language itself, perhaps in the type of reformed Christianity, which is epitomised in the BCP would have its attractions for those countries that had English roots. Certainly in what is now known as Malawi and what was originally part of the British protectorate of Nyasaland in 1891 became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After an ill-fated experiment in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and after three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu BANDA the country held multiparty elections in 1994, under a provisional constitution, which came into full effect the following year. The next President Bakili Muluzi (a Muslim) came to power in the 1994 elections and was re-elected to office in 1999. His attempts to amend the constitution to allow for a third term have been unsuccessful and the latest President President Bingu wa Mutharika seems more promising. Increasing corruption, population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, and HIV/AIDS pose major problems for the country. However, the Anglican Church there has gone from one diocese to four in the space of thirty years, it is a classic example of what is described nowadays of a shifting power base in the Anglican world from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere.

But what of my last two chosen places of study Japan and Brazil? One in the north and one in the south, of all the places in the world most removed from English influence these are prime representatives.

True the Anglican Church in Japan, the rather ostentatiously styled, Nippon Sei Ko Kwai - the Holy Catholic Catholic Church of Japan, is numerically small, but across its fourteen dioceses and through its schools, universities and colleges, it punches politically and theologically a sharp left (political) jab and draws its adherents (like the C of E used to) disproportionately from the middle and upper classes.

Although, perhaps originally evangelised by the Nestorians in the 9th century it was in the 16th that St Francis Xavier brought Latin Christianity to the country, this was late severely persecuted producing an underground Church (from which the tea ceremony evolved as a hidden Eucharist) and all foreigners were thrown out.

This prevailed until 1859 when a treaty with France re-established a foreign presence and in the same year missionaries arrived from the Russian Orthodox Church of all places (although geographically its not so surprising) and also in the same year American Episcopalians. As the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church puts it 'at first conversions were aided by the thirst for Western education and a desire to enter Western civilization'. Growing nationalism in the 20th century ironically did the Anglican Church a favour when all the Western bishops were expelled in 1941 whilst at the same time many Anglican suffered for their opposition to the cult of Emperor worship, and the governments attempts to force all non Roman churches into one union. After the war the church was re-established under an entirely Japanese episcopate. It is true that Japanese feel very close to the British in terms of being a monarchical island race but the hybrid English/American virtues of reformed Christianity remain attractive for their own reasons. Evensong in Hiroshima, for example, in Japanese is a delight and my own parish has a bi-monthly Eucharist for a small but enthusiastic congregation of Japanese.

Which brings me in the breathless whirl that I am taking around the world and before I share with you what I am expecting to discover, to Brazil.

It too was the product of imperialism but of course from the Iberian peninsular and the Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian monastic orders in a Latin form. Although, ironically ultra montanists (pro Papal authority) pioneered the independence of Brazil from Portugal in the early part of the 19th century (1822) but at the end of that century with the establishment of a republic in 1889 a conflict between Church and State came to a head with the Church being disestablished and freedom of worship granted to all bodies. Two subsequent popularist religious movements were accompanied by a growth in Protestantism and the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil and here I quote from their website.

Henry VIII only separated the church that existed there of the guardianship of Rome. With the settling of America and the independence of the United States, the Anglican Church was established as a free denomination of the civil power, creating dioceses, parishes and institutions. One of these institutions was the Theological Seminary of Virginia, of where they had come the missionaries who had established the Episcopal Church Anglican in Brazil in 1890. The IEAB is part of the Anglican Communion, a family of national churches in permanent and historical communion with the see of Canterbury. The Anglican word, before meaning English, represents the great international Christian family. –

Which last sentence sums up to my ears where the Anglican Church is today and why it might legitimately be asked, through its laity, what they think about the issues of our own time, questions of authority - so diffusively spread - and the sense of unity and solidarity that currently prevails.

The issues

How will that unity and solidarity, so boldly proclaimed at http://www.ieab.org.br shape up in the contemporary light of so many issues, what do people really think about what is known as the Anglican Communion and who are these people anyway. The latest statistical research from the last British census anecdotally tells us that some 20,000 people put their religious affiliation down as Jedi many, many more were C of E but precious few grace the pews in our churches.

The cradle Anglican may actually be in a minority elsewhere in the world outside merry England. I shall then be asking people how they came to be Anglicans. I am expecting a good many to be converts of one kind or another, those who have been persuaded of the virtues of the type of Christianity that Anglicanism represents. If this is the case then they have embraced an expression of Faith that is built on what is known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral. First formulated and agreed in 1888 at the second Lambeth Conference, it is a slightly revised version of the four articles of faith agreed upon in 1886 at the Anglican General Convention of what was then the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.

The text was as follows: That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as 'containing all things necessary to salvation' and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. The Apostles' Creed as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith. The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God in the Unity of his Church.'

It is this latter that figures in my Questionnaire, after all if a Church like the American could flourish for two centuries without Bishops, what role do they have nowadays, in people's minds? I suspect it will prove to be something between the Prince Bishops of Africa, through the providential of America, to the proscribed of England. By which I mean Bishops in the Anglican Church, have varying decrees of power down to those in England who are surprisingly helpless in the face of beneficed clergy - no wonder they all want to suspend livings.

Laity in this country often feel understandably, in my opinion, attached to their livings and consequently their church buildings, more than their clergy, as a means to security security. Another important therefore is one of how valued laity feel - here I suspect - no predict that they feel that control is too much in the hands of the clerical classes. Issues are often pontificated on (literally) with authority, without consultation, and without consensus, which brings me to the 'hot' issues.

In a world- wide church these 'issues' might range from polygamy to sodomy but more realistically matters of Church order and authority will prevail. In this there is probably a distinction to be made between, for example, the ordination of women and that of self - confessed gay people. Roughly about half the Provinces of the Anglican Communion have women priests. Small, albeit noisy, schismatic groups have appeared as a result and a disingenuous Act of Synod produced alternative oversight and flying bishops for those opposed in England and Wales. This has become a kind institutionalized schism. All of this without any clear idea of what the laity think? I hope to address that lack of knowledge at least a local level.

The other really 'hot' issue is supposed to be sexuality or more precisely homosexuality and the ordination of those with publicly declared disposition in that direction. I really can't see that the clarion calls for the disciplining of the American Episcopal Church in particular are realistic. What is it that ultimately can be broken away from? I suppose that the non- appearance of Provincial Bishops at the next Lambeth Conference would indicate something, but in a Church with a diffuse authority it is difficult to see how this would mean much. And, of course, once again nobody really knows the views of the laity.

So, as this is Christmas I have decided at the end to give you (if you want it) the Questionnaire that I am intending to hawk around the world, so you too can get drawn into the maelstrom of contemporary controversy and offer your opinion. I hope that you have gained from this brief foray an idea of the relatively recent emergence of the Anglican Communion, a glimpse into its provenance in several different countries and an understanding of how authority as a concept may yet be developing despite or perhaps because of the issues that it has periodically faced.

It is always difficult to get proper perspective from the vantage point of the now, but in order to glimpse the future we need to take cognisance of the past.

Above all we need to hear the voice of the laity otherwise in the words of Cicero against Catiline, one of his political opponents cum tacent clamant literally 'When they remain silent they cry out' and often used as 'silence is an admission of guilt' the counterpart being, cuius regio eius religio 'the ruler of a territory chooses its religion' and if that were the case the Anglican Communion isn't worth the paper it's not written on, until my Questionnaire comes out - that is, said he rather arrogantly.

The Revd Nicholas Henderson is Vicar of All Saints Ealing Common and Chairman of MCU.

END

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