Recently all clergy received instructions from our diocesan office to read a letter aloud in every church building. This is a very rare event in our diocesan life. In this case the letter was doubly unusual. It is a letter from The Revd Canon Dr Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, asking for input into the process of seeking the next Archbishop of Canterbury, a process led by the Crown Nominations Commission of the Church of England.

Now I’m all for consultation, and I think this is kind of sweet (but please pewsitter number 3 out of 5 at Waikikamukau, don’t be naive enough to spend energy on preparing a submission thinking that this will influence the decision-making processes in the rooms and lavatories where the Crown Nominations Commission meets). But the real reason I was surprised was best articulated by an insightful friend of mine.

The subliminal message of “international consultation” for the Archbishop of Canterbury is an attempt to shift ecclesiology towards Anglicanism being a worldwide church. This is the ecclesiology undergirding the “Anglican Covenant”.

My understanding of current Anglican ecclesiology is that the fullness of the church catholic is present in the local church ie. the diocese. Does the church have a structure beyond the local assembly presided over by the bishop? Strictly speaking, ontologically, no. There may be a voluntary compact of dioceses working together in a region; the churches in Syria and Cilicia; the churches of Galatia; the churches of Asia; the churches of Macedonia; the churches of Judea;… the churches in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia;…

Roman Catholic ecclesiology, in contrast, is quite different. There, the catholic church is the universal, worldwide body. Local churches are like a manifestation of the worldwide organism, centred in Rome. The pope, the bishop of Rome, is like a “super-bishop” with the whole Roman Catholic Church in effect functioning as if it were a single world-wide diocese (in Anglican ecclesiological terms) and local bishops are effectively suffragan/assistant bishops of the pope. And are appointed by the pope. Appropriately, the pope is elected by an international body of cardinals (that each of these are really priests in the diocese of Rome is a fiction that no one takes seriously – and a theory probably most RCs are unaware of).

Correct me if I am wrong – but did we have this level of consultation, of reading a letter in every church, in preparation for the election of the diocesan bishop? A provincial primate?

I would not now expect anything different from this Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, who seems incapable of informing us of provinces that have voted against the “Covenant” [not to mention his failure to note The Province of Southeast Asia has “acceded” to the Anglican Covenant, adding a Preamble to their Letter of Accession]. This is so similar to the Anglican Communion Office, which, even though it is financed by the whole Communion, is incapable of acknowledging a single argument against the “Anglican Covenant” to be presented. [How upsetting it must be for the Anglican Communion Office that its carefully produced pro-Covenant videos (no alternative views allowed) have only had less than 150 views – probably mostly mine, checking the stats 😉 ]

The “Anglican Covenant” is no longer a “proposed” document. According to 4.1.6

This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.

Furthermore, 4.4.2 is clear that the Church of England is not able to propose any amendment to this “Covenant” as it is not part of the “Covenanted Communion”, it is not a “covenanting Church” (4.4.2). Whether the Archbishop of Canterbury, as a member of a non-covenanting Anglican Church, is able to participate in any amendment process should keep the canon-lawyers happily flying to wonderful locations for meetings for years to come. Certainly, the leaping required from corners over vast expanses of paint that will take quite a while to dry is clearly beyond Rowan now, and he was wise to call it a day.

I have great appreciation for Rowan Williams’ spiritual writing, and look forward to his visit to Christchurch.

I will not be putting any energy into the “consultation process” for his successor. I think the process is fundamentally flawed.

The Archbishop of Canterbury hath no jurisdiction in this realm. (Article 37 adapted).

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