Is this the end of the Communion? : CEN 7.18.08 p 1. July 18, 2008Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Lambeth 2008.
The long foretold crack up of the Anglican Communion appears to be at hand, as political wrangling and media posturing mark the final days before the start of the 14th Lambeth Conference. Though the programme of the 20 day conference in Canterbury is designed to avoid position statements or divisive outcomes—the agendas brought to the conference by the 600 some bishops present will likely push the Communion farther apart, effectively ending the Anglican project.
While the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams has been able to salvage past pan-Anglican gatherings from collapse, the mechanics of the 2008 Lambeth Conference differ from the smaller Primates Meeting and Anglican Consultative Council gatherings. Dr. Williams’ efforts to keep the Communion flag flying will further be hindered by the absence of between a quarter and a third of the Communion’s bishops.
In past international gatherings, Dr. Williams has been able to avert a crack up by resorting to calls for forbearance to conservative leaders and personal pleas to honor the integrity of the Communion. The absence of most African bishops will change the focus of Dr. Williams’ diplomatic efforts, forcing him to turn his attention to the fissiparous American church and seek its pledge of good behavior.
However many of the American bishops, who will comprise 1 in 5 of the bishops at Lambeth, though Americans are only 1 in 40 of Anglicans worldwide—are not seeking preservation of the status quo but sanction for their church’s normalization of homosexuality and will push for approval for gay bishops and blessings.
Dr. Williams also comes into the conference politically weakened by his failed intervention at General Synod to safeguard Anglo-Catholics over the issue of women bishops. The return of the women’s issue is likely to hinder any settlement of the gay crisis as traditionalist complaints that the Windsor Reports statements on the “reception process” were untruthful has been borne out.
The programme of the 20 day conference differs from past gatherings with the bulk of the conference devoted to training sessions and small group gatherings. The first three days of the conference have been dubbed a “retreat”, where Dr. Williams will present five lectures to the bishops in private session at Canterbury Cathedral and on the campus of the University of Kent.
The opening service for the Conference will be held on Sunday July 20 and the conference programme will be presented to bishops that afternoon. Over the next 12 business sessions the bishops will spend their mornings in Bible studies and small groups called Indaba sessions, a Zulu word the organizers have selected to describe the discussion sessions. Afternoons will be devoted to plenary sessions or seminars with titles such as “Bishops: Fostering Our Common Life” or “Bishops: Equal in God’s Sight”.
Outside of the main sessions various pressure and fringe groups will hold meetings or demonstrations to advance their particular agendas, with the most prominent being those of the Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson.
The American bishops come to Lambeth assisted by the benefits of modern technology and media skills. Each American bishop has been given a mobile telephone and asked to keep the others informed of the progress of their small group discussions.
Talking points prepared by the American church for the media have also been distributed, with pre-written answers and position statements generated by spin doctors in New York. Conservatives will not mount a similar media blitz as many have already written off the conference as the last gasp of the old order.
Whether Dr. Williams can hold the Communion together in the face of hitherto incompatible theological and political divisions remains to be seen. While there is not likely to be a single event that sparks the conflagration of the Communion, the lamps are going out all over the Anglican Communion, and will not likely be lit again in our lifetime.