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2010: A year that brought further dismay to the Communion: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 24, 2010 pp 8-9. December 30, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church News, Church of England Newspaper.
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Rev Canon Diane M. Jardine Bruce, left, and Rev Canon Mary Glasspool congratulate each other after their ordination and consecration ceremony

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

For the Anglican Communion, 2010 was not a year on which it could look back with undiluted pleasure.  While not quite the Annus Horribilis that was 2003, the communion remained divided and distracted, nursing a colossal hangover watered by decades of doctrinal abandon.  While individual provinces, dioceses and church movements flourished in different parts of the globe—as an international body the Anglican Communion ended 2010 crapulous, dispirited and decrepit.

The pace of decline has quickened: 2008 saw the collapse of the Lambeth Conference as a pan-Anglican body, losing its credibility through the absence of a majority of the African bishops and its rationale for being; 2009 witnessed the breakdown of the Anglican Consultative Council at its meeting in Kingston; and 2010 foreshadowed the end of the primates meeting as a credible body of leadership for the wider church and a mounting distrust of the London-based bureaucracy.

On Nov 7, 2006 the Primate of Uganda, Archbishop Henry Orombi told his general synod: “There is a proverb that says, ‘When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold’.”

Beware “the sickness that is coming from America,” he warned.

While the American church flu’s effects are still ravaging the communion, unlike past years it has not dominated the news, either as the source of controversy, or as the point against which the rest of the communion has reacted.  War, civil unrest, globalization, militant Islam, climate change, nuclear tensions, poverty and disease continued their march.  While the councils of the church have proven themselves unable to act, the wider church has focused its energies on local issues, and carrying on.

The true issues dividing the church, however, are becoming clearer.  The fight over homosexuality, while still bitterly waged by the combatants, is slowly giving way to a new fight over the nature of truth and divine revelation.

Gay bishops and blessings—and lawsuits—topped the news from the Episcopal Church.  The American church continued in decline with the national office reporting that in 2009 average Sunday attendance (ASA) fell by 3 per cent to 682,963.  As of the end of 2009, the Episcopal Church reported having 2,006,343 active members—at its peak in the 1960’s the church counted over 3.5 million members.

In May the Diocese of Los Angeles consecrated the Episcopal Church’s second “out” gay priest: Suffragan Bishop Mary Glasspool, while a number of dioceses and the national church’s liturgical commission began work on crafting same-sex blessing liturgies.  Unlike the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson which prompted an emergency meeting of the primates to discuss the Episcopal Church’s consecration of the first ‘gay’ bishop and worldwide media attention—the 2010 consecration of Bishop Glasspool did not register on the nation’s conscience, nor did it spark any official reaction from the wider church.

On Aug 5, Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania won his appeal of his conviction of conduct unbecoming a clergyman—and returned to office following a three year suspension.

Financial woes have led to the mortgaging of the church’s national offices in New York, while a study by canon lawyer Allan Haley reported the church had dedicated over $21,650,000 to lawsuits and disciplinary actions against the clergy since 2001.  Parish-diocese lawsuits continue to make their way through the courts, with results favoring dioceses in 2010, however, lawsuits between dioceses and the national church saw intermediate wins for the breakaway dioceses of San Joaquin and Fort Worth.

Canada’s property disputes continue as well, with the breakaway Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) filing an appeal in December with Supreme Court of Canada, asking it to overturn a British Columbia Court of Appeals ruling that awarded control of the property of its four Vancouver-area congregations to the Diocese of New Westminster.

In June Canada’s General Synod voted not to make a decision on the issue of same-sex blessings.  Meeting in Halifax it adopted a resolution that recognized that same-sex blessings were being performed in the dioceses of New Westminster, Niagara and Ottawa, but declined to affirm or condemn the innovation.  In November, the Diocese of Toronto released its guidelines for same-sex blessing services.

The church also entered the public eye after Toronto parish re-envisioned the Eucharist as a marketing and evangelism tool, providing Holy Communion to a dog as an act of welcome.

The decision to offer the wafer, but not the wine, to ‘Trapper,’ a four year old un-baptised Alsatian mix-breed, prompted outrage and mirth in the Canadian press, and an apology from the interim rector of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Toronto.

The Anglican Church of Mexico became the first province of the Communion in 2010 to formally adopt the Anglican Covenant.  La Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America (IARCA)—the Anglican church in Central America—elected a new primate in April, with the conservative Bishop Armando Guerra of Guatemala succeeding the liberal Bishop Martín Barahona of El Salvador.

The Bishop of Barbados, Dr John Holder was enthroned as Primate of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, while diocesan synods wrestled with the problems of the region’s endemic crime and sluggish economies.

In November, Bishop Hector “Tito” Zavala of Chile was elected Presiding Bishop of la Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur (the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone).   The province’s general synod also rejected allowing the ordination of women to the priesthood—prompting the Diocese of Uruguay in December to petition for release to join another province that would permit it to ordain women.

Political instability continued to plague the Solomon Islands, as the church sought to stem tribal violence across the Central Pacific.  In a speech commissioning the new members of Parliament, Archbishop David Vunagi of Melanesia on Sept 12 warned the MPs the country risked sliding back into anarchy if they could not work together.

Political and social instability also plagued Papua New Guinea, but on June 11 the Anglican Church elected the Bishop of Popondota, the Rt. Rev. Joseph Kopapa, to serve as primate and archbishop of the province.

On May 12, the General Synod of the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia meeting in Gisborne, New Zealand announced it had affirmed the election of Dr, Winston Halapua as Archbishop of Polynesia, while in the North Pacific, the Bishops of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK), the Anglican Church in Japan, agreed to issue a formal apology to their Korean brethren for their country’s conduct on the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea.

The decision came at the second joint meeting of the Korean and Japanese House of Bishops in June.  The 11 bishops of the NSKK and the three bishops of the Anglican Church of Korea (SHK) discussed the lingering hostility many Koreans and other East Asians feel towards Japan for its conduct during the early and mid-Twentieth century.

At its May General Synod, the Japanese church also overruled a recommendation from the theological committee of its House of Bishops, and voted to go forward with discussions on an Anglican Covenant.

In September, Archbishop Paul Kwong of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSK) dedicated the Revised Chinese Union Version (RCUV) of the Old and New Testaments, the first new translation of the Bible in Chinese since 1919.  The HKSK has also been engaged in talks with the China Christian Council—the state approved Protestant Church in China—seeking to build a common witness for Christians in China.

The Anglican Church in Myanmar remains under the watchful eye of the country’s military junta, while in Malaysia 2010 started off with a spate of church arsons set by Muslim militants.

The Anglican Church of Australia continues to deal with a spate of sexual abuse cases, most arising in the 1970’s and 1980’s, while the Bishop of The Murray was deposed for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy and the Bishop of Ballarat resigned in the face of an investigation into charges of bullying.

The Diocese of Sydney bucked the trend of Anglican Churches in the developing world and reported 5 per cent growth in attendance in 2009—a result of its Connect09 outreach and evangelism programme.  Sydney, along with Melbourne and a number of other dioceses, were also heavily involved in a number of local issues ranging from Christian education in schools, euthanasia, and immigration reform.

The church in Ceylon saw the retirement of its two bishops—both strong critics of the country’s conduct in its war with Tamil guerrillas, while the Church of South India was plagued with corruption trials and property lawsuits.  The Moderator of the CSI remains under investigation for fraud, while the Bishop in Coimbatore faces multiple criminal counts of theft and fraud while property litigation and communal violence and anti-Christian persecution have bedeviled the Church of North India.

Persecution has also been a marked aspect of the life of the Church of Pakistan in 2010, with a number of attacks reported against churches and individual Christians, while the nation’s blasphemy laws remain a threat to non-Muslims.

Development, corruption, education, the environment, political reform and independence were among the issues dominating the churches of Africa.  The Episcopal Church of the Sudan is preparing for a January 2011 referendum on independence for South Sudan—and dealing with the expectations of a people emerging from almost 30 years of civil war.

Church leaders in Kenya campaigned unsuccessfully for the rejection of the country’s new constitution, arguing that it would give Islam a privileged place under the law, while also opening the door to abortion.  The Tanzanian church pressed its government to review its economic and tax policies, but also remained internally with a minority faction opposing the church’s break with the Episcopal Church.

The Anglican Church of Rwanda saw the retirement of Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and the election of a new primate, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje.  The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Burundi in June reelected Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi to serve a second five-year term as primate of the East African nation’s church.

The Anglican Church of the Congo continued to be ravaged by civil war, with many of its congregations and clergy scattered by fighting between rival militias and war lords.  In April, the Bishop of Bukavu narrowly escaped death when gunmen invaded his home and threatened to kill him unless he paid a ransom for his life.

The Church of Uganda played host to a meeting of the continent’s bishops in August, and continued a strong course of growth.  Fighting in the north with the Lord’s Resistance Army died down, but attacks by Islamist terrorist in Kampala have raised security concerns.

A new primate, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh was enthroned in Nigeria—and the communion’s largest province remained fully engaged in the life and work of the continent’s largest country.  Political crises, ethnic and sectarian violence in the north, criminal and guerrilla activity in the Delta, corruption, a failing education and health system and a declining economy were a major focus of the Nigerian church in 2010—coupled with a spirited church planting and evangelism programme.

The Church in West Africa also was actively engaged in the political life of Ghana.  The Church in Ghana continued to press political leaders to foreswear tribalism and sectarian politicking—while the church advanced plans for dividing the province to form a Church of Ghana out of the Province of West Africa.

The last vacant see in Central Africa was filled in 2010, allowing the first new primate to be elected since the retirement of Archbishop Bernard Malango in 2007.  The Anglican Church in Zambia continued to play an active role in pressing the government to crack down on corruption, while the government in Zimbabwe cracked down on the church—the split caused by renegade bishop Dr. Nolbert Kunonga continued unhealed with Anglicans locked out of their parishes by police for the past year and a half.

In Southern Africa, the church’s House of Bishops returned to the subject of same-sex blessings, for the third time in six years, preparing guidelines for the clergy on the church’s response to the legalization of gay marriage by the state.  The church has continued its prophetic role as a voice of downtrodden and oppressed, championing migrants and the poor, while also pressing the government to combat corruption and set a higher moral tone for the country.

The African archbishops have also pressed Dr. Williams to suspend the primates meeting scheduled for Jan 2011 in Dublin.  On Aug 24 during the All African Bishops Conference in Entebbe the African primates told Dr. Williams that if US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Fred Hiltz were invited to the 2011 primates meeting, they would not come.  This view was reiterated in a Nov 9 letter to Dr. Williams.

In Entebbe, Dr. Williams said he had not the power to withhold an invitation to Bishop Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Hiltz, and on Nov 17 Lambeth Palace stated that “given the closeness of the time, and the fact that the majority of Primates have already indicated that they will attend, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not minded to postpone the meeting.”

A quarter to a third of the communion’s 38 primates, will not attend the January meeting—absenting themselves due to the presence of the Americans and Canadians.  African leaders have also privately expressed their exasperation with Dr. Williams, and have “given up” on him—Archbishop Henry Orombi noting that while they respect the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, they will likely have to wait for Dr. Williams’ successor to be installed before the breach is healed.

The breach with Dr. Williams also extends to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council—which a number of primates have dismissed as lacking credibility.   While its members have pledged a new transparency and openness in its dealings, the ACC’s staff has declined to state which provinces have approved the creation of the new body.  A number of provinces have stated they were never consulted on the adoption of a new constitution for the organization.  Bishop Gregory Venables told CEN that he reviewed all his correspondence with the ACC and its secretary general and can find no record of a request to approve the group’s new governing documents.

The Standing Committee has been plagued with institutional missteps, conceding that an appointment made by its members at its Dec 2009 meeting was unlawful, while its staff’s actions have raised questions.  A request for guidance on the legality of the Anglican Covenant made by the New Zealand General Synod and forwarded to the July meeting for action, as of November 2010 remained unmet, the church’s general secretary told CEN.

The Anglican Covenant remains alive, but came under attack from an Anglo-American coalition that argued its strictures were too harsh and “un-Anglican” and urged its rejection.  Conservative primates of the Gafcon movement also attacked the Covenant, but arguing it was too weak with the revisions adopted by the Standing Committee in 2009 insufficient to hold the communion together.

At year’s end, Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the flashpoint for many of the communion’s battles, announced he would take early retirement, and step down in 2013.

In an important series of articles printed in December in the Washington Post on the Bible and homosexuality, Bishop Robinson identified the key divide between liberals and conservatives.

The question was not so much about what Scriptures says about human sexuality, Bishop Robinson argued, but what it says about truth and on-going revelation.

“In John’s Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus says: ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth’.”

“I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, ‘Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven’t done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don’t think for a minute that God is done with you – or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth’.” Bishop Robinson wrote.

Canon Peter Carrell, a New Zealand commentator, noted the true issue facing the Communion as encapsulated by Bishop Robinson’s commentary was not the morality of homosexuality and the second order issues addressed by the Covenant, but “what is the nature of the truth around which we fellowship as Anglicans in the communion?”

“Is it the old, old story of Jesus and his gospel, or is it the new Truth of Bishop Robinson and his peers? It cannot be both. We are in a rift because truth is non-contradictory,” he observed.

The year 2010 saw a subtle shift within the communion, away from political battles and committee fights, to an articulation of what was at issue—is the Bible trustworthy or true, or has a new spirit and age brought forth a new truth for Christians to behold.

Comments

1. frianm - December 31, 2010

Thanks for this article and IMHO excellent analysis. I have quoted sections and given attribution over at the Covenant website. http://covenant-communion.net/index.php/forums/viewthread/1473/#7258

Thanks for being there for us. Ian+ in Peru

2. Anno Domini « Journeyman - January 1, 2011

[…] DominiJanuary 1st, 2011.George Conger posts an excellent round up of events in the Anglican Church in 2010.  For someone like me who has been out of the loop for a […]

3. Diana Lopez - January 3, 2011

Excellent summary…it was indeed a newsworthy year. Thanks be to God that He is in control!

4. Audre' Myers - January 3, 2011

In reading Mr. Conger’s “2010: A year that brought further dismay…”, all I could hear in my head was “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The lines that run over and over and over in my head are, “…There is no peace on earth I said” and “God is not dead nor doth He sleep”. Because I am not God, I often dispair for the Anglican Church and then remind myself that the One Who made all things will make this sorry state of affairs right-in His time, in His way.

I left the Episcopal Church and have joined an Anglican Province America church. My brain is safe with the conservatives-no female priests, Scripture taught and believed in the most catholic manner, no sexuality issues-a church of peace and concord. I often remember to thank God for Presiding Bishop Walter Grundorf.

5. Carson T. Clark - January 4, 2011

A moderate perspective on homosexuality, society & the Church: http://bit.ly/i5Ve1h

6. SPREAD - January 6, 2011

[…] The question posed by the Pope’s action is this: do we conclude with the departing English bishops that after some 450 years the Anglican experiment has failed – that without connection to the Church of Rome it is unsustainable – or is there still the possibility of renewal and reform from within the Anglican Communion? Wherever it might come from, the response needs to be equally bold because the crisis in the Church of England and the governance of the wider Communion is so severe.  George Conger https://geoconger.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/2010%E2%80%88a-year-that-brought-further-dismay-to-the-com… […]

7. Anglican Mainstream South Africa » Blog Archive » The Authorised Version? – GAFCON and the Anglican Ordinariate - January 7, 2011

[…] The question posed by the Pope’s action is this: do we conclude with the departing English bishops that after some 450 years the Anglican experiment has failed – that without connection to the Church of Rome it is unsustainable – or is there still the possibility of renewal and reform from within the Anglican Communion? Wherever it might come from, the response needs to be equally bold because the crisis in the Church of England and the governance of the wider Communion is so severe. George Conger https://geoconger.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/2010%E2%80%88a-year-that-brought-further-dismay-to-the-com… […]


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