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By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
January 25, 2023

Thesis 3
Over the past century, the Anglican Communion has grown exponentially in numbers in the Global South while declining in the West. Although the "Instruments of Unity" appear on paper to give representation to the newer churches, in practice the Communion bureaucracy in England -- the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Communion Office, and financial backers in New York and London -- run the show.

It is something of a miracle that an Established national church in England became the "mother" of a communion of churches "from every tribe and language and people and nation," proclaiming an eternal Gospel to the principalities and powers of the modern world. Even as Britain rose to become an imperial power, there was no necessity that its form and substance of Christian faith, worship and order would be inherited by in its dependencies.

And, truth be told, it was not the King or Parliament or the Bishops or the Archbishop of Canterbury who were primarily responsible for the fruit of Anglican mission. The primary movers of mission were voluntary societies, preeminently the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and the Church Missionary Society (CMS), along with others, who recruited missionaries and missionary bishops and who promoted and funded evangelism, education, health and welfare throughout the emerging communion.

These societies were motivated by a sense of obedience to the Great Commission of the Risen Christ to "make disciples of all nations," and they saw their role not as benefactors but as fellow sinners and servants, even martyrs of the living God. Most notably, CMS under Henry Venn promoted the "three self" philosophy of mission, aiming at building up "self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating" churches. The success of this strategy, however imperfectly implemented, helps explain why it was that when the sun set on the British empire, Anglicans worldwide did not pack up and go home, because they were home. Anglican Christianity had become indigenous, and before long national bishops, clergy and lay leaders took up the mission and the churches grew and flourished.

The global communion is a many-splendored thing, extending "o'er each continent and island," with variegated cultures and languages and disparate economic and social conditions. In fact, the designations "global South" and "two-thirds world" are at best a generalization. What has divided "the West" from "the rest" has been a clash of worldviews, in which human sexuality in God's image is the presenting, though hardly the only, issue.

The clash of worldviews at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 revealed a failure of governance rooted in the founding of the Anglican Communion in 1867. Most of the churches at the first Lambeth Conference were colonial churches, and the bishops were English or North American. This constituency remained predominant until the 1960s, when "autonomous" provinces began sending indigenous bishops. Even then, their representation was marginal.

According to Joseph Adetiloye, the Primate of Nigeria: "In 1978 I waited at the microphone, and I was the first black African bishop to address the Conference. I told the assembled bishops that I was the first to speak, and it had taken until 1978 to be recognized, but in 1988, the assembly would listen to what the bishops of black Africa were saying. Further, by 1998, what African bishops had to say would chart the course of the communion."

It would be easy to attribute Adetiloye's predicament to racism or cultural arrogance, but in fact, I think it was reflective of the emergence of a "Lambeth bureaucracy" after the Second World War. With Europe devastated by the war, the Episcopal Church stepped forward to bolster the Communion establishment as an "executive bureaucracy," with a kind of managerial control articulated by the social theorist Max Weber and introduced in the United States and in the Episcopal Church in the early 20th century.

In the case of the Communion, the executive hierarchy rests ostensibly in the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), an assembly representing the various Anglican provinces but actually in the Anglican Communion Office (the Secretariat) in London. Not surprisingly, the first three Secretaries General of the Communion were Americans, from 1969-2004; they have been succeeded by two hand-picked "company men" from Africa, who do not represent their local constituencies. This bureaucracy came to be called an "Instrument" of the Communion, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference.

By the 1970s, many Anglicans became concerned that the Communion bureaucracy was superseding the "inherent authority" of bishops and in particular of the Primates of the Global South. This led to the establishment of a Primates Meeting "for mutual counsel and pastoral care and support of one another and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Primates Meeting came to be called a fourth "Instrument." What was not clear was how this inherent authority was to interact with the de facto control of Communion Office, which organizes and finances the meetings and other affairs of the Communion.

Thus, we come to the puzzle of Communion governance: finance. The annual budget of the Communion Office (2019) is about $2.3 million, largely funded by the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA. In addition, Trinity Church Wall Street in Manhattan, which boasts "inclusiveness" as a core value, has been a benefactor to churches in the Anglican Communion, funding development grants for projects in the developing world. While it is simplistic to draw a straight line from money to influence, neither is it irrelevant in explaining the direction taken by the Communion bureaucracy in its manipulation of and opposition to the churches of the Global Communion.

The collision of the "Instruments" was to become pivotal at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 over human sexuality and the division between the Global South and the West that followed.

Note: See here the Introduction https://virtueonline.org/toward-reviving-reforming-and-reordering-anglican-communion to the Fourteen Theses. On each subsequent week, I shall comment on one of the Fourteen Theses.

Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry, former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University and author of two books and numerous articles on global Anglicanism.

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