The Anglican Communion came into existence almost at random, with its greatest period of expansion in the latter half of the nineteenth century with the spread of the
For the past generation or more, however, a few provinces in Anglicanism have made unilateral decisions that have had a serious negative effect on the rest of the Anglican Communion. These decisions, mostly made by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and how other parts of the Anglican world responded to these decisions, have brought the Anglican Communion to a crisis. It is clear that the Anglican world has come to a point where it cannot and will not function as it used to. Whatever it comes to look like, the future Anglican Communion will be different from what it has been.
At the risk of putting it too simply, it seems to me that there are now two views about the way Anglicans should do business. One view says that in the modern world, Anglicans need to realize that they are in fact a world community addressing world issues, and that the provinces are interdependent—not “should be interdependent”, but already “are”. Major issues that confront any given province will likely affect all the other provinces. Therefore a way must be found to define Anglicanism as a world community with a decision-making process at the world level. That means that we must “centralize” the way we make decisions in areas that affect the whole Anglican world.
The other view asserts that that is not the way Anglicans have ever made decisions, and actually goes against one of the strengths and boasts of Anglicanism: a decentralized form of government with provincial independence. This claim is certainly accurate—historically, at least. The question is whether this way of doing business meets our current needs. In my opinion, the old way is clearly inadequate. Even apart from the issues that have created the crisis, to try to maintain the old way of doing things is backward thinking—basically merely saying, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” It is doing business this way that has brought the Anglican Communion to its current crisis. It doesn’t work any more. It hasn’t worked for more than thirty years. (I find it more than curious that most of those who claim to be “pushing the envelope forward” in the Anglican world are the “backward thinkers” in the matter of Anglican decision-making!)
The first view, proposed by the great majority of Anglican leaders, is indeed a way new to Anglicanism. This does not make it automatically wrong. In my opinion, it is, in fact, wise, realistic, and essential. The realignment is moving in the direction of this view—creating a worldwide Anglican identity with mutual accountability and effectively recognizing that Anglicanism has become a world family and is no longer a loose confederation.
There are currently four Instruments of Unity in Anglicanism that define us as a world family: the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the symbol of unity and has authority to decide who is an Anglican; the Lambeth Conference of all Anglican bishops, which began in 1867 and meets every ten years to take counsel; the Anglican Consultative Council, a deliberative body that includes clergy and lay people from around the world; and the Council of Primates, or bishops who are leaders of the 38 Anglican provinces. The latter two only came into existence in the 1970s.
Currently, there is proposed to the 38 provinces an “Anglican Covenant” by which the various provinces are asked to agree together to be a worldwide family with mutual accountability and, when necessary, make binding decisions together. It is a situation similar to the time after the original thirteen American colonies had become independent from
What will the Episcopal Church do in the present time? What will the rest of the Anglican world do once the Episcopal Church makes its decision? What will Blessed Sacrament do as these decisions unfold? Ah—these are the questions, aren’t they? As always, they are only different forms of the One Great Question of all: how do we best serve Jesus?