Today marks the start of the 2010 General Synod of the Church of England. As a non-Anglican, I may misunderstand the polity of the worldwide Anglican Communion; with that disclaimer, this is what I think I know, but I stand open to correction.
The Church of England, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the mother church for Anglican bodies around the world. While Archbishop Rowan Williams exercises the authority of persuasion and prestige, those Anglican bodies in communion with the Church of England are essentially self-governing. Thus, Archbishop Rowan unsuccessfully lobbied the Episcopal Church of America last year to refrain from allowing LGBT persons to be ordained as bishops.
Unrelated to the General Synod, Archbishop Williams hosted ELCA presiding bishop Mark Hanson and an ELCA delegation on Friday last. Lutherans and Anglicans already have close relationships (in the US, the Episcopal Church and the ELCA have full communion agreements and in Europe, the Anglicans and the Lutherans of the Baltic states have a similar arrangement in the Porvoo Communion), and the meeting stressed strengthening those relationships:
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson met with Dr. Rowan D. Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a private hour-long meeting Feb. 4 at Lambeth Palace here. After the meeting Hanson said the two discussed strengthening Anglican-Lutheran relationships, challenges each leader faces within his own communions, the proposed “Anglican Covenant” to deepen internal church relationships, global environmental issues, Christian-Muslim relationships, and mutual concern for conflicts in places such as Sudan and the Middle East.
Hanson told the ELCA News Service that the discussion of strengthening Anglican Communion relationships focused on existing full communion agreements — in Canada, Europe and the United States. “We talked not only about how this time of ‘reception’ can strengthen the ministries and mission we share, but provide new opportunities for us to be engaged in ways we haven’t even imagined,” Hanson said.
The two world church leaders discussed how both communions can focus on “the pressing issues of the world in which God has placed us,” said Hanson. He said the two agreed there is an urgent need for the United Nations and the U.S. and British governments to find a solution to the conflict in Sudan. The two also discussed commitment and concern for Palestinian Christians, and support for the Council for Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, for Lutheran and Anglican churches in the region and for dialogue with religious leaders in Israel.
In an official written statement to the archbishop, Hanson noted a series of priorities that Lutherans and Anglicans share, including care for the environment, working to end poverty and disease, and seeking peace and justice through greater interfaith understanding. He also noted that Lutherans and Anglicans have faced their share of “challenges in our communions.”
This latter statement about “challenges in our communions” is a bit of tongue in cheek understatement. The two clerics share a commonality as leaders of church bodies embroiled in controversy over LGBT issues, especially gay clergy. Yet, each has taken a different public posture. Bishop Hanson has attempted to remain neutral although the opponents of the ELCA’s pro-LGBT resolutions last summer would claim otherwise; to Lutheran CORE and the WordAlone Network, Bishop Hanson was a primary culprit and behind the scenes force that manipulated the church wide assembly actions, but this merely reflects a conspiracy theorist mentality, in my view. Archbishop Williams, on the other hand, has been outspokenly against the Episcopalian’s 2009 pro-LGBT actions.
The 2009 US Episcopal decision to allow gay bishops provides the dramatic undercurrent to the 2010 Church of England General Synod. The issue arises over the effort by conservatives to recognize the American dissident group of Episcopalians, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The Telegraph UK reports:
Leading conservative clergy have declared their support for a motion at this week’s General Synod which would ally the Church with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
This was formed in opposition to the consecration of Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop, and the actions of liberals in the Episcopal Church of the US, which is the official Anglican body.
However, the House of Bishops has tabled an amendment to the Synod motion which would seek to defuse the issue by postponing a decision until next year.
The Rt Rev Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn, is opposed to the stance taken by his colleagues. He said: “I am hoping for a sign of early support for ACNA, not a report coming back to Synod by the end of 2011.”
The Rt Rev Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes, a fundamentalist on the Church’s evangelical wing, said: “It seems to me that the House of Bishops’ motion is just needlessly undermining, delaying and prevaricating.”
The original motion, put down by Lorna Ashworth, an evangelical from the Chichester diocese, comes after the Episcopal Church elected a homosexual priest, Mary Glasspool, to be a suffragan bishop in the Los Angeles diocese.
Christian Today offers more background and insight into the debate over the tabled resolution.
American Episcopal priest and blogger Scott Gunn has several posts about ACNA, and his latest is a warning for the Anglicans of the home country that countenancing the schismatics from America will only invite internal turmoil.
Like dealing with a child who is throwing a tantrum, you cannot reward bad behavior. Recognizing secessionists in America ensures they’ll be in England sooner rather than later. Making it clear that they will not be recognized by the Anglican Communion because they chose to walk apart will at least slow them down.
America Magazine, the Catholic Weekly, discusses a different issue which is of greater concern to Roman Catholics, and that is the recent papal invitation for disaffected Anglican priests to be accepted into Roman Catholicism.
The Church of England’s Parliament, known as the General Synod, meets this week, beginning today with an announcement on women bishops which is certain to have an impact on the numbers of Anglican traditionalists choosing to take up the Pope’s ordinariate offer.
Synod voted two years ago to move towards consecrating women bishops, but is yet to come up with a formula for doing so which doesn’t at the same time alienate traditionalists who oppose the move.
Does this make it more likely that C of E traditionalists will accept the Pope’s ordinariate offer? Yes and no. For those that have already decided, in principle, to accept the offer and are waiting on the details, it will confirm their decision. But the view among most traditionalists I have spoken to is that an early exodus would weaken their attempts to safeguard the ‘Catholic’ place in the Church of England. Supporters of women bishops be able to say, in effect, “they’re going anyway. Why agree to what they want?” As long as traditionalists remain in the C of E, the threat of their departure is likely to make supporters of women bishops more likely to negotiate.
You may follow the General Synod proceedings on the website of the Church of England.