Posted by: Titus Presler | January 29, 2011

Questions about Anglican primates’ day on theology/ecumenism/covenant

Several observations about the Anglican primates’ deliberations on Day 4 of their Jan. 25-30 meeting in Dublin, as reported in their own briefing transmitted through the Anglican Communion News Service:

Conflation of Diverse Functions into a Single Commission: The day was devoted mainly to the work of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO), with discussion coordinated by its chair, Abp. Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi.  Startling is how this commission conflates three large responsibilities hitherto managed by three groups: the previously longstanding Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, which did important theological work at great depth; the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations, which addressed Anglicans’ many links with diverse churches, links that are at many different states of development; and the Windsor Continuation Group, which sought to oversee the numerous complications arising from the current Anglican crisis and discern ways forward among them.  It is unlikely that a single group gathered from all over the world and meeting only occasionally (most recently in South Africa) will be able to address adequately all those urgencies.

Evident Preoccupation with Issues of Anglican Crisis: The four current emphases of IASCUFO indicate that issues arising from the Anglican crisis are dominating the group’s attention.  The definition of church and the related question whether the communion is a church or a communion of churches constitute an issue that is, yes, fundamental but also a bit elementary for a group purporting to be advancing the theology of the communion as a whole.  The reason is probably a pervasive of sense of crisis and disintegration.  The second topic of the Anglican Covenant is obviously crisis-related, as is the third on the Instruments of Communion and their inter-relations.  The first half of the fourth topic, the reception of the work of the instruments and of the ecumenical dialogues, is also crisis-related, with only the second half indicating a nod to the complex and diverse ecumenical dialogues.  Ecumenism is likely to get short shrift, most unfortunate in light of Anglicans’ historic role in catalyzing ecumenical relationship and work.  Theology and doctrine are likely to be marginalized altogether as managing and responding to the crisis take center stage.  The Anglican crisis is full-blown, I have criticized efforts to minimize it, and it deserves the kind of attention it has been receiving.  It is simply unfortunate that this conflation of commissions appears to suck all other theological and ecumenical air out of the room.  The health of the communion depends partly on other kinds of work moving forward and receiving support – and it may well be that this unfortunate conflation has occurred mainly for financial reasons.

Intriguing Attention to “the Place of the United Churches in the Communion”: The reference is to the Church of Bangladesh, the Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan and the Church of South India – all of them bringing Anglicans into organic union with diverse churches (a different configuration in each case).  Initially the place of CSI, founded in 1947, was very much in doubt, but over the decades it and the others, founded later beginning in 1970, have become virtually full members of the communion, even as they maintain similar connections with other world bodies such as the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council, the World Methodist Council, and the Lutheran World Federation.  On one hand, the fact that these churches are not only Anglican in their provenance means that their relation to, say, the Anglican Covenant cannot be identical to that of what might be called the “purely Anglican” Anglican provinces.  On the other hand, I know from personal experience in north and south India and in Pakistan that their identification with the Anglican Communion is very strong.  I think, for instance, of a CNI bishop whose background is non-Anglican but who nevertheless feels a close connection with the Anglican Communion.  Bishops from these churches have been very active in recent Lambeth Conferences.  Two major initiatives in which I have been involved – the Global Anglicanism Project and the Anglican Indaba Project – have felt it important to locate important parts of their work in one of the united churches (CNI in both instances, as it happened), precisely because the background is both Anglican and ecumenical, not despite the ecumenical character of the church.  My hope, therefore, is that the “place” of the united churches in the communion is not being questioned and that it will be not diminished but strengthened.

A technical footnote on this: In listing all the member churches of the communion, the Anglican Communion website lists the four south Asian united churches in alphabetical order among the 34 provinces of purely Anglican provenance, for a total of 38 provinces.  At the end of the list are the six additional member churches that are not provinces in their own right but are extra-provincial in that they are individual dioceses outside of any particular province which are overseen by the archbishop of Canterbury or by another arrangement: the Church of Ceylon, La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba, Bermuda, the Lusitanian Church, and the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain.  Hence the common parlance of 38 Anglican provinces and 44 member churches – itself offering an answer to the question whether the communion is a church or a communion of churches!


  1. The Anglican crisis is full-blown, I have criticized efforts to minimize it, and it deserves the kind of attention it has been receiving.

    The problem w/ this analysis, is that it gives too much power to those CREATING the crisis, who—by their own choice—stand outside (the instruments of communion), and foment further “crisis.”

    Communion is necessarily (if not sufficiently) “showing up.” Ecumenical relations need not be put on the back-burner, if those who did show up, merely say “The Communion is HERE: let us now reach out to those outside of it!” (The reactions we get to our reaching out—be they from Romans, Methodists, or “Anglicans”—will determine where we go next.)

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