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Anglican Communion

Anglican Communion Homonym

Anglican Communion

Much in the news and in the blogosphere is the invitation of Anglican Primates by the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet in Canterbury 11-16 January 2016. Our thoughts and prayers are with this meeting and its preparation.

Much of the response to this announcement is around “What is the Anglican Communion?” and “What is the future of the Anglican Communion?”

One of the problems is that “Anglican Communion” is a homonym. People use “Anglican Communion” to mean different things. It is a homophone and a homonym. And it is people who struggle with the root word ‘homo’ who are, often as not, part of the problem. [Please, let’s not bring homographs into this!]

Here is one definition of “Anglican Communion”, the one I vow and sign up to in the Constitution of my church:

This Church is part of and belongs to the Anglican Communion, which is a fellowship of duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces or Regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, sharing with one another their life and mission in the spirit of mutual responsibility and interdependence (Constitution Preamble).

The GAFCON Anglican Homonym

The Archbishop of Canterbury has included Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), in his invitation.

Reminder 1: ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion as defined by the Constitution quote above.
Reminder 2: Unlike other languages, English has no authority for deciding how words etc. are used. To put it bluntly, in the English language the lunatics are not only loose – they are running the asylum. People can use the word “Anglican” in any manner that catches on.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

There is a response from the GAFCON Primates about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation, underscoring that they reiterate “they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented”.

In this GAFCON communiqué they stress:

It is therefore of some encouragement that the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened the door of this meeting to the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Foley Beach. He has already been recognized as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion by Primates representing GAFCON and the Anglican Global South at his installation in Atlanta last October and he is a full member of the GAFCON Primates Council.

Did you see what they did there? They have a different use of the term “Anglican Communion”, a homonym. They think that they, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury, can define who is in this Homonym-Anglican-Communion.

A very British Communion

The Church of England’s ties to politics and hence to the British Empire are inherited in the Commonwealth-(formerly the British Commonwealth)-like Anglican Communion. In 1789 the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America began after the thirteen American colonies declared independence from the British Empire. NZ Anglicans were next up with our own Constitution in 1857. 1867 was the first Lambeth Conference – a meeting of bishops we could listen to with respect. They met every 10 years or so. In 1971 there was the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. And in 1979 there was the first meeting of the Primates’ Meeting. None of these meetings can make decisions binding on local churches (usually called provinces).

There is no requirement for our archbishops to attend the Primates’ Meeting. There is no requirement for our bishops to attend a Lambeth Conference. There is no requirement for us to participate in the Anglican Consultative Council. I appreciate that our church does, and I urge us to continue to do so.

There is also no requirement for us to accept any of the decisions made at those meetings. I have seen energetic reflections whether what is being called next January is a “Primates Meeting” or a “Meeting of Primates”. I can see absolutely no difference whatsoever in terms of decisions made affecting our church.

So, to those who suggest that this is some sort of watershed, or that this is the end of the communion, or finally admitting the demise of the communion recently, nothing has in fact changed recently whatsoever.

Not a Transitive Relation

Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion

A relation R is transitive if A stands in relation R to X and X stands in relation R to B, then that means A stands in relation R to B. Equals is transitive: 2+1 = 9÷3, and 9÷3 = 5-2 means 2+1 = 5-2.

But being in full communion is not transitive. If Church A is in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the Archbishop of Canterbury is in full communion with Church B, this does not mean that necessarily Church A is in full communion with Church B. It may be. But it also may not be.

The ill-fated, so-called “Anglican Covenant” attempted to make “full communion” a transitive relationship within the Anglican Communion, so that everyone would not just be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury – but also with everyone else.

Whatever our Constitution said, New Zealand Anglicans’ communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury became an impaired communion in 1977 when women began being ordained here. They could not function in the Archbishop’s diocese, nor in his church, the Church of England. From 1989 there were male priests here ordained by a woman bishop. Those male priests could not function in many places in the Church of England, and still cannot – because the Church of England has accepted that there be places where even males cannot function if they’ve been tainted by hand-laying contact involving women.

The Anglican Communion has lived and functioned as an impaired communion for four and a half decades now – about a third to a half of its existence.

I am in favour of the ordination of women. The Anglican Communion became an impaired communion when women were ordained. But as women form the majority of our church, it’s not comfortable to say that. Far better, for many, to make the issue of disunity a minority – LGBTs.


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17 thoughts on “Anglican Communion Homonym”

  1. Hi Bosco
    A couple of ‘technical’ points/questions:
    (1) Definition of the AC: our constitution as cited above uses the words ‘duly constituted’ but to what do they refer? To Dioceses etc which are ‘duly constituted’ (whatever that might then mean) or to the AC (presumably referring to the formal apparatus of rules etc by which the ACC, the Primates’ Meeting and Lambeth Conferences are constituted.

    If the former then ACNA – as I understand it – is as ‘duly constituted’ as any other body claiming to be Anglican and the question of AC membership (from our constitution’s perspective would then be whether ACNA is in communion with the See of Canterbury.) On the face of it, the invite to the PM (or MoP) looks like a step towards that communion.

    If the latter then ACNA is clearly not (yet) a member of the AC.

    (2) While I agree that decisions of AC bodies are not binding on members and thus it matters little from that perspective whether the January meeting is a Primates Meeting or a meeting of the Primates; I thought it did matter from internal rules of the Communion concerning how the Instruments of Communion relate to one another whether it is, strictly speaking, one kind of meeting or another.

    (3) On the question of GAFCON’s view of the membership of ACNA of the AC I agree that we cannot make words mean whatever they want to mean. But in this case we have a substantive body of Anglican churches putting a stake in the ground and saying that they will treat ACNA as though it is a full member of the AC. That means that there is a substantive body of Anglicans (well represented, if they turn up at the ACC and at any future Lambeth but not so well represented at ACC) ready and willing to vote for inclusion of ACNA in membership. There is also a hint, even more than a hint, that if the AC does not include ACNA as a formal member sometime soon then it will lose GAFCON as members. So there is a political pressure there to make the GAFCON statement true which is quite different from thou and me forming yet another church in the States which we call ‘Anglican’ and make sure we have all the requisite robes and candlesticks to make it look Anglican on the website!!

    In this particular case the invite of the ABC to ++Foley Beach is a significant recognition of Anglican status and connection to the Communion even if it remains for time to tell us what formal ‘definition’ of ACNA emerges in relation to the formal apparatus of the AC.

    1. Thanks, Peter. No, I am not saying “that we cannot make words mean whatever they want to mean” – in fact the opposite. Like other homonmyms (address, bark, beam, fold…) “Anglican Communion” is being used in different ways. Our Church’s constitution is using it one way. GAFCON is using it another way. I think you are over-egging the “invitation to Archbishop Foley or his representative to be present for part of the time.” Blessings.

      1. Time will tell whether I am over-egging or not!
        I am not underestimating:
        – the novelty of this invitation (no other primate of an ‘Anglican but not Anglican Communion’ church has been invited in this way before;
        – the challenge of this invitation (it is also a novelty to have a primate of an Anglican church of this non-AC kind sharing jurisdictional territories with other Anglican churches being invited to participate in the same meeting as the fellow North American primates – I imagine ++Welby has talked with ++TEC and ++ACCan and secured their agreement not to spit the dummy);
        – the significance of this invitation (it seems pretty clear that it being issued is a response to the negotiating power of the GAFCON primates, thus they are exerting influence; yet ++Welby has stood ground ‘cos they want ++Foley there for the whole time and he will only be there for part of the time);
        – the symbolism of this invitation (it demonstrates openness on the part of the ABC and other primates to think outside the usual Anglican Communion square (viz. ‘members only’); it may betoken an openness to new ways of thinking about overlapping jurisdiction … on which a certain church was once a pioneer and the Primates Meeting of that day slapped them down … but in a non-binding way :).)

    2. Peter, a century before ACNA was a twinkle in it’s Daddy’s eye, we had a “duly constituted” church in North America claiming to be Anglican in the same territory as TEC. No one ever recognized it even existed, as far as the AC was concerned. That Anglican Church, the Reformed Anglican Church, has now been swallowed up by ACNA in it’s crazy quilt of over-lapping diocesan jurisdictions. ACNA exists, but it’s very messy in its “duly constituted-ness.” Even then, it’s much tinier, about 1/5 the size, than even ACANZ&P. It has become the mouse that roared.

      Isn’t there also a continuing Anglican Church in Southern Africa? Overlapping with areas of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa? Should we dust off the welcome mat for that lot?

      1. Br David, in New Zealand we have our very own Anglican Catholic Church, with a bishop and an oratory (you can zoom in to the farmhouse on the satellite version of the map provided). It needs to be made clear, this is not affiliated with the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia! Blessings.

      2. Hi David
        It is a crazy quilt but the ABC is recognising some kind of sanity in it!

        The Church of England in South Africa has a continuing life overlapping with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The former is not a member of the AC, the latter is. It would be interesting to find out if the former wanted the AC welcome mat dusted off!

        1. I doubt that he is recognizing anything in ACNA. If he were, AB Foley would be invited to the Meeting, instead of a couple of get-togethers, most likely with his GAFCON mates.

          I see +Justin acquiescing to the threats of the GAFCON lot in an attempt to get them to the table.

          But all is conjecture on any of our parts, yours & mine. We shall have to wait and see what the truth of the matter is come this JAN.

          PS – If ACNA was truly interested in being recognized as a constitute member of the AC, why have they not taken one step to begin the process that was spelled out to AB Foley’s predecessor a few years ago regarding membership in the ACC.

  2. Thank you for such a clear and well thought out article! I get livid every time I hear that the Southern Cone is asking the ABC to somehow censure or take action against TEC. There is a well-loved and highly popular branch of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church whose polity it is to be governed by one supreme head – but the Anglican Communion AIN’T IT!

  3. Well argued piece, though I would date the beginning of the Episcopal Church with the consecration of Samuel Seabury in 1784 (I was ordained in Connecticut) and impaired communion not from the ordination of women but from the refusal of some provinces to recognize all the ordained ministers of other provinces.

  4. “If the former then ACNA – as I understand it – is as ‘duly constituted’ as any other body claiming to be Anglican and the question of AC membership (from our constitution’s perspective would then be whether ACNA is in communion with the See of Canterbury.)” – Dr. Peter Carrell –

    The very first word of your Sentence here, Peter – “IF” – begs the question of whether, or not – considering the fact that the only Anglican Church in the U.S. currently in communion with Canterbury or the ACC is The Episcopal Church – and ACNA has opted out of that Fellowship – then how, possibly, can ACNA be ‘duly constituted’ as part of the entity known as the Anglican Communion?

    ACNA is ordered – like the GAFCON sodality – not according to the provenance of ACC, but as a self-generated entity, that has no legal status in the Anglican Communion. So how can you say, in that context, that either ACNA or GAFCON are ‘duly ordered’ within the constitution of the Anglican Communion?

    What the Global South Provinces have done – entirely of their own accord – is to have brought ACNA into their own constituency – not that of the full membership of the world-wide Anglican Communion. There is a difference – a quite important one for those of us Anglicans who do not share the lack of respect for women and gays that is rife in both ACNA and GAFCON.

    1. Hi Ron
      I am not referring to whether ACNA is duly constituted as an AC body according to AC rules. I am referring to whether ACNA is duly constituted as an Anglican body according to Anglican tenets, customs and practices with some ‘hands on’ succession from duly ordained Anglican bishops.
      The answer to that question is the same answer as to the question whether TEC was duly constituted as an Anglican church when the CofE refused to ordain a bishop for it and it found willing hands in the Scottish Episcopal Church!!

  5. Thank you Bosco for your wonderful website. Of all commentators on matters Anglican, you are surely one of our leading lights. This post has brought together several points that I have been grappling with for years, and I would like to contribute (apologies in advance for length).

    I left England in 1994 for New Zealand with the idea that the Anglican Communion is a global religious identity, just held together with looser ties and greater variability of interpretation than, say, the Roman Catholic Church. But this is not true. I have concluded that ‘Anglican’ can really only refer to whatever developed in any particular place from what the Church of England brought and subsequently left behind. The passage of time, accompanied by lack of patriarchal guidance, has left so much variance between these ‘Anglican’ entities that it’s arguably no longer justifiable to refer to them as being in a communion. Perhaps it never was?

    I think we need to go back to basics and ask: “What is the Church of England?” Isn’t it the church of the English nation with its basis at least partly in 16th century politics? Once you take the ‘England’ out of ‘Church of England’, what are you left with? Something not tied to English history or politics. Something new, adapted to local circumstances, partly dependent on what ‘flavour’ of the Church of England was exported to begin with. The more time passes, the greater the differences. This is compounded by the lack of uniformity in belief and practice in the parent church in the first place. If you need an example, contrast the Diocese of Sidney with the Church of Melanesia!

    Ultimately, the local expression of Anglicanism in any place is surely going to be what people who use that label decide what it’s going to be. If there’s going to be a communion of any kind you need certain core values to hold it together, but isn’t this what all the arguing is about? What those core values should be? If nobody could agree on those in the first place, aren’t we on a hiding to nothing?

    I have come to the conclusion that if one wants to be an ‘Anglican’, one must be whatever an Anglican is in one’s particular time and place. In any place there may be several expressions of Anglicanism. Some may be ‘official’, some not. But what is ‘official’, if the Communion is a recent construct (thank you Bosco for pointing this out) that doesn’t reflect objective reality outside the Church of England?

    If one can’t live with this, then the only answer is to go somewhere else. Some people do this and still call themselves Anglican. But if what I have described above holds, then this is permissible. Others would say it’s not. Anglicanism in its broadest sense is at least honest because it reflects human diversity. Others again would say ‘no’ because that means anything goes, and Christianity doesn’t allow that. Ultimately, because Anglicanism is what it is, the arguments will never end, and those who use the ‘Anglican’ label must accept this reality and do their best as Christians within that context.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Chris. And thank you for your reflection which, I think, moves the discussion forward.

      Is one of the issues that the word “communion” as in “The T Communion” tends to be mostly used with the T being “Anglican”. Yes, I think we can talk about “The Eastern Orthodox Communion”, and “The Old Catholic Communion”, but after that, I think “The Anglican Communion” pretty much completes the usage of the word “Communion” in the sense of a way that churches connect?

      If we have a word, “Blaren#$levich” and we use this word of three different things – and those three things are quite different, then it doesn’t help us to understand the word “Blaren#$levich” – nor the Blaren#$levichness of those three things.

      Each, the Eastern Orthodox Communion, and the Old Catholic Communion, have their own accidents of history – just as you point out the Anglican Communion has. Some might like the Anglican Communion to be more Eastern-Orthodox-Communion like, or more Old-Catholic-Communion like. That seems to be part of where this discussion can lead.


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