The following article was written by Brian Lewis for the Preludium blog of Mark Harris.
“We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language” (Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost 1887).
I was alarmed but (bearing in mind Oscar’s witticism) should not have been surprised to hear that some in TEC and ACoC might misunderstand the full significance of the Church of England’s General Synod’s decision to reject the call to “express a desire to be in Communion with ACNA”.
But let us be clear it did just that, not once, but twice or perhaps even three times.
To follow through the sequence of events.
The original motion was:
That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America.
In a background paper circulated in advance of the debate the mover (Lorna Ashworth) made a number of allegations about TEC and the ACoC. This clearly established that though the motion was ostensibly only about ACNA it was intended to invite the CoE to condemn the behaviour of TEC and ACoC.
In response to that briefing paper I circulated to all members of synod two papers.
All synod members including the Archbishops were sent these papers (I believe they are now online at Thinking Anglicans). Members of TEC and ACoC are indebted to Simon; I know how hard he worked on the production of theses papers. I also know how grateful many members of synod were to receive them.
Mrs Ashworth duly presented her motion to Synod, the further allegations made in her opening address confirmed that this was indeed a motion inviting synod to condemn the actions of TEC and ACoC.
In response to the original motion the Bishop of Bristol put forward an amendment (with the support of the House of Bishops) entirely replacing it.
The amendment reads
That this synod
(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;
(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and
(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.
There are two key and essential things to recognise about this amendment (certainly recognised by everyone in the synod and why it was resisted by those supporting ACNA):
(Other finer questions about “affirm” and “remain” were not key to the understanding of this amendment and to my recollection not brought into the debate, indeed an amendment to leave out “affirm” was withdrawn; we could equally say that by saying the leadership had “formed” ACNA the Bishop was saying ACNA is a new church, but that was also not part of the debate nor probably part of the Bishop’s intention. )
The force of this amendment is in replacing OUR desire to be in COMMUNION with THEIR desire to remain part of the Anglican FAMILY.
Synod accepted this amendment.
Synod declined to express “a desire to be in Communion with ACNA”. That matters. Questions not asked are one thing but when a question is asked and the answer is politely No Thank You that changes where you are.
The No Thank You was polite, of course it was, but it was real. The amendment also asked our Archbishops for a report on the situation, and helpfully recognised the reality of the issues any future possible recognition would raise for the relevant authorities.
I find it difficult to see how ACNA could welcome any of this.
Further In case it was just possible that this was not a rejection of synod “expressing a desire to be in Communion with ACNA” the supporters of ACNA put forward again, as an amendment to the Bishop’s amendment, the original request “that this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America”. Asking the Synod to say both things at once. A very Anglican fudge that would have been!
The Bishop of Winchester and other ACNA supporters spoke for this, needless to say I spoke against it.
This was the critical moment of the debate – you might just possibly maintain we had in the Bishop’s amendment acknowledged proper procedure – the role of the “relevant authorities” the role of the Archbishops etc, now we could add in the support of our persecuted brothers and sisters (as they were presented to us), and say we desired to be in Communion with them.
The synod carefully considered this and voted No.
That is the second time.
Then we were asked to add an amendment that expressed “our desire that in the interim, the orders of ACNA clergy be recognised and accepted by the Archbishops subject to their satisfaction as to such clergy being of good standing, enabling them to exercise their ordained ministry in this country, according to the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967.”
We said No. Recognising orders is a key part of being in Communion.
I’m afraid I consider that is No a third time.
It was hardly surprising however that nobody objected to the final amendment, an acknowledgement of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada – indeed I had referred to it myself when calling on synod members to support those who had remained faithful to their church.
I know the very existence of this debate raises questions about one part of the Anglican Communion interfering with another – and those questions were raised – but before we answer them, what of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Presidential address expressing “repugnance” of the “infamous” proposed legislation in Uganda, and the efforts he and other CofE bishops have made communicating directly with the Anglican Church in Uganda. It is also not improper for a synod to offer its view of who it hopes we will be in Communion with. But I recognise there are big issues at stake for the Communion generally – I would just reiterate, I see little cause for concern for TEC or ACoC in the outcome of this particular debate, and to be frank it is beyond disingenuous or bizarre for anybody connected with ACNA to pretend this is in anyway an affirmation of ACNA.