The Crisis in the Anglican Communion: Bring it On

People in the pews want to have some control over what holds the Communion together, and the answer that's emerging is that it shouldn't be uniform views on sex and Scripture.
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My first day back from my blessedly news-free (and clergy collar-free) vacation, I fired up my computer and discovered that -- surprise surprise -- things don't appear to be getting any better in the Anglican Communion.

Church conservatives are outraged over a gay wedding in England and the Church of England's approval of women bishops without the opt-out plan that they wanted. GAFCON, the conservative alternative to the Lambeth Conference, had just begun in Jerusalem, and two prominent bishops there couldn't even say that abusing and torturing gay people was wrong. And all this before the Lambeth Conference in July, which is sure to bring plenty more sobering news.

You'd never guess from all this that, on the local level, many of us are experiencing positive fallout from the current crises in the Communion. For one, people are a lot more curious about and knowledgeable of the Anglican Communion than before. There's also a greater appreciation of our identity as Episcopalians, even among people who don't agree with all the goings-on but can appreciate a church that's at least brave enough to discuss such matters.

But most significantly, I've noticed an increased interest in establishing meaningful connections with other members of the Communion. Along these lines, my parish recently joined a program called Carpenter's Kids, which links parishes in the Diocese of New York to the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. Similarly, several people have also expressed a desire to revive a partnership we formed years ago with the Diocese of Haiti.

Curious to know if the same was happening in other parishes, I floated an email to the priests in my diocese, and got quite a number of responses affirming that it was. The Rev. Alison Quin, of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Stone Ridge New York, wrote "I think there is an effort to strengthen ties even as the politics seem to be pulling us apart. Our parish recently started raising funds for an orphanage in South Africa. It's almost as though the connection has all the more meaning now that it is under threat -- I think being a world wide communion was something most Episcopalians simply took for granted." Several other priests expressed similar sentiments, and almost all who responded agreed that the effects of the crisis in their parishes were mostly positive for all the reasons I'm finding in my own parish.

In addition, The Rev. Margaret Rose, the director of Women's Ministries at the National Episcopal Church, wrote to remind me that such positive fallout isn't limited to just parishes. She said that there may be a link between the current crises and the growth of Anglican Women's Empowerment, an organization that links up women across the Anglican Communion. In fact, the organization has become so popular that, in 2007, it was the largest non-governmental organization represented at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where women from all over the Communion came to the UN headquarters in New York City to weigh in on the status of younger women in their countries and communities. Margaret's theory about this group's success seemed convincing to me. After all, that's exactly what prompted me to get involved with it two years ago.

Unfortunately, if the bishops at GAFCON somehow manage a formal split, such cross-Communion sharing could be difficult if not impossible. But the upshot of all these developments seems to be that people in the pews want to have some control over what holds the Communion together. And the answer that's emerging is that it shouldn't be uniform views on sex and Scripture, whatever the bishops at GAFCON are saying. Rather, it should be relationships born out of a shared desire to help each other out, and to improve, not judge, each other's lifestyles.

As Protestants, this might be a good time to invoke Luther's idea of a "priesthood of all believers." After all, lay people these days sure seem a lot more capable of determining what should hold the Anglican Communion together than many of the ordained people in charge.

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