Glacial Gravity or Opportunist Autonomy? - June 2009

by Graham Kings

Date added: 29/06/2009

Glaciers, moving slowly and powerfully, reshape the landscape. They work through gravity. It may be that the Anglican Covenant appears to be glacial in its speed and progress, but then this is hardly surprising in that its weight is involved in reshaping the landscape of world-wide Anglicanism.

Some want to stand in its path to stop it, divert it, or slow it down. These tactics are unlikely to succeed with glacial gravity. Some want to speed it up, but that is hardly likely to work either. It moves at its own speed and reshapes.

Three events are occurring within a few days of each other which relate to the Covenant in differing ways. Last week, from 22-25 June 2009, in Bedford, Texas, The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was inaugurated, with Bob Duncan as its Archbishop. Next week the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) starts in Anaheim, California, meeting from 8-17 July. Also next week, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans UK branch (FCA UK) will be launched at Westminster Central Hall, London, on 6 July.

While agreeing with ACNA on sexuality, I disagree on ecclesiology. I am against the blessings of same-sex unions and against consecrating bishops who are in sexual relationships outside of marriage but I disagree with ACNA breaking the third moratorium backed with gravity by all four instruments of Communion i.e. transprovincial interventions and consecrations.

Questions which may be put to the ACNA should include the following. First, what is its response to this moratorium on transprovincial consecrations now? Just before its launch, the Province of Ruanda created more facts on the ground by announcing more such consecrations. Recently, here in Dorset, I had a very fruitful three hour meeting with a bishop in the ACNA. I asked him about African archbishops consecrating American priests as bishops of African provinces for the missionary work of African provinces in the USA to replace bishops of The Episcopal Church. His evasive answer was not encouraging, implying that it was the other two moratoria which were really important. When pressed on the incongruity of some of the American bishops of African provinces working in the same geographical area as TEC dioceses which are conservative on sexual issues, answer came there none.

Second, what will the ACNA be a province of? GAFCON? Hardly, since you can’t be a province of a one-off conference. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans? Hardly, since you can’t be a province of a Fellowship. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, thankfully, has not gone down the route of declaring itself to be a Church, even though it has autonomously set up its own Primates’ Council. Interestingly, at the FCA Primates’ Council meeting in London in April, the Primates’ Council itself did not recognize ACNA but called on Anglican Provinces to do so. The Anglican Communion? Hardly, since ACNA has autonomously set itself up as a church and is made up of some bishops who have been consecrated in contravention of the third moratorium mentioned above.

It is not at all clear that ACNA will ever apply to become a province of the Anglican Communion. We shall see. Maybe there will be a parallel with the Church of England in South Africa, an autonomous separate church, which has been recognized by the Diocese of Sydney for many decades, but is not part of the Anglican Communion.

What about questions to General Convention of TEC? First, what is its attitude to the Covenant? At the Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica in May, some members of TEC, and some others associated with their antagonism to section four of the Ridley draft of an Anglican Covenant, coupled with uncertainties and a procedural mess in the crucial vote, combined to effect an 8 month delay to the Covenant, though provinces and dioceses were encouraged by the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss it in full immediately.

It may be that the representatives of TEC overreached themselves in Jamaica, and the backlash against the delay, from the highest to the lowest, will result in even greater determination to carry section four through, clarified but substantially unchanged.

As I mentioned in my April Fulcrum Newsletter, ‘Between the Primates’ Meeting and the ACC’, there will, in effect, be a vote on the Covenant at General Convention. This will be the vote on whether or not to renege on Resolution B033 of General Convention 2006, for which there has been much recent campaigning:

Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

The House of Bishops of TEC, in September 2007 in New Orleans, clarified that resolution: ‘The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.’

Second, how will General Convention respond to the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury? It seems to me that he is likely to encourage the holding of the three moratoria mentioned above, the signing of the Covenant and so advice against reneging on resolution BO33. A few years ago, many, including myself, assumed that B033 would not hold beyond 2009, but no such consecrations have taken place since 2003 and the effect of the Lambeth Conference is worth bearing in mind. We shall see what happens. Many TEC bishops who were at the Lambeth Conference now see interdependence in the Anglican Communion in a more positive light, but lay people in General Convention will also need convincing of that.

What of questions concerning the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans for the UK? First, is it needed? Well, for some perhaps, but not many. Originally for church leaders only, with half the places only being taken up 10 days beforehand, it was opened up to everyone and to spouses. Second, where is the claimed charismatic support of FCA UK? Leaders of New Wine and of Alpha do seem to be conspicuously absent.

Third, why are there no ordained women speakers at the launch? A strange, unlikely, unholy, coalition has been arranged between Reform and Forward in Faith (FiF) with behind the scenes organising by international lobbyists. Both Reform and FiF are against women’s leadership in church and specifically against consecrating women bishops. Reform combats homosexuality but FiF has some subcultures which reflect it, even if its leaders are conservative on sexual issues. Some leading members of Reform allow lay presidency at Holy Communion, but FiF have a horror of such a contradiction of the ‘classical Anglican ordinal’ (to use the words in section 7 of the Jerusalem Declaration...).

So, in the current climate of the Church of England preparing legislation for women in the episcopate, FiF needs all the allies it can get: for its focus is against women bishops. Reform’s focus is against homosexuality. FiF wink at Reform’s leaders allowing of lay presidency: Reform wink at FiF’s gay subcultures, sacrifice of the mass and benediction.

Paul Perkin, a prominent member of Reform, is going to be presented as leading FCA UK and Chris Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, has been organising it: cheques have to be paid to Anglican Mainstream. They both collaborated on the so called ‘Covenant for the Church of England’ in December 2006, which also claimed a broad coalition of support, but which soon withered.

This has the same genes as that effort and also has similarities with the irregular ordinations in Surbiton, in the Diocese of Southwark, by a bishop of the Church of England in South Africa, in November 2005. Richard Coekin has been rather quiet of late, but has surfaced again recently with a challenge to his Diocesan Bishop to declare his orthodoxy and renounce revisionism. Richard Coekin’s ultimatum to his bishop runs out just before the launch of the FCA UK and one reason for the organisation is to provide backing for such people. He has been very slow in responding to the offer which the diocese has made for some time to resolve the issues at his church plants. It now seems that this prevarication is because he is waiting for FCA UK to provide him with a ‘better’ solution.

Third, how can claims of broad support be substantiated? In a recent email sent to people attending, there is the claim that the meeting aims ‘to demonstrate that we are standing with the 80% of the Anglican Communion who expressed their identity and their faith through the Jerusalem Statement.’ In the light of the debacle of NEAC 2008 and the Jerusalem Declaration, such ratcheted rhetoric appears hegemonic. Those going are likely to hear more such unsubstantiated figures. Amidst national calls for transparency in organisations, there is a contrast in this organisation – and it is an organisation, despite strange claims to the contrary.

The authentic Anglican way forward is not through the autonomous setting up of rival churches, like ACNA; nor through autonomous blessings of same-sex unions and the consecration of people in such unions, like TEC; nor through inflated claims and opportunist alliances, like FCA UK: it is through the glacial gravity of the Covenant process.

Graham Kings

Graham Kings


Wood panel

Wood panel

A bronze