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Saturday, 6 February 2010

General Synod and the Anglican Church in North America

At the sessions of the General Synod of the Church of England this week, a private member's motion will be debated: “That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America”.

The proposer of the motion, Lorna Ashworth (Chichester Diocese) wishes to give the Synod a chance to hear of unfair treatment of loyal Anglicans in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, which has led to the formation of a separate body, the Anglican Church in North America. Mrs Ashworth asks “Does not our fellowship and communion in the Lord require us both to be aware of these happenings, to express concern, and where appropriate to provide the support we can?”

There are many complex issues involved. Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans has brought together some background papers concerning these issues for ease of review (they are to be found in his February 5 entries in the Thinking Anglicans blog).

I am slightly uncomfortable that the General Synod will debate an issue that touches upon the unity of our part of the Church of God, resourced by papers, briefs and reports from both sides of the debate, but without any direct involvement or engagement of the Churches or people concerned. I wonder if we can really further our unity, or even seek a fair understanding of what is going on, in this way.

A couple of years ago I was at an ecumenical meeting when the church leaders, all well versed in ecumenical theology, were asked to make an informal list of the qualities that would mark the life of a Church that was committed to unity. The list included these characteristics:

• Honest communication and conversation among the members, with real listening to each other
• Occasions to gather, meet, pray and celebrate as the Body of Christ
• An attitude of respect for one another other and of valuing each other
• Deep love for each other
• Looking always to what we have in common
• Appreciation and acknowledgement of differences
• Feeling at home in a variety of traditions
• A commitment to a common search and journey

These remarks were not intended to side-step any matters of faith and order which must be addressed in theological dialogue among Christians. But, sadly, I see in the list of qualities, some that seem to be missing in our approach to intra-Anglican disputes and divisions.

In the Diocese in Europe, unlike the rest of the Church of England, we experience life in communion with the Episcopal Church (USA) close at hand. In fact, in Germany, the Episcopal parishes and our own Church of England ones function as a joint deanery, the Council of Anglican Episcopal Churches in Germany (CAECG), and join together in "the performance of their missionary task...proclaiming the Word of God, administering the Sacraments, pastoral work, religious education, charitable activity and participation in ecumenical endeavours, according to the principles of the Anglican Church". The CAECG has not been untouched by the issues affecting the wider Anglican Communion, but the members are committed to journeying together and to face to face dialogue when differences occur (which they do). Its members seek to live the qualities articulated at my ecumenical meeting some years back. It is a precious grass-roots laboratory of intra-Anglican relations.

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