Editorial comments: Lambeth, GAFCON and my ‘two sense’ worth

22th May 2008

Much can be gathered through reading articles on the Net on how Lambeth and GAFCON are being perceived. What is obvious is that there are a range of views, as one would expect, depending on one’s churchmanship, theological views and personal experience of the communion or those wider ‘instruments.” 

I don’t wish to take any personal stand here and those of my Province (Southeast Asia) have been made known .

However, I have ‘sensed’ two things in my personal interaction with Anglican leaders across the board.

Firstly, there are many Anglican clergy/leaders who have felt isolated and ‘displaced” through this period of crisis. GAFCON provides an opportunity for such clergy and leaders to meet others to find encouragement, bonds of fellowship and mission partnership together. I have met clergy who are quite clueless or indifferent towards communion politics but are nevertheless emotionally and spiritually affected by the crisis, with very real impact on their work on the ground and in their parishes. GAFCON provides an important pastoral relief and I will say, a needed redirection for many of them. As this gathering is not just for bishops only, it open doors for ministry to arguably the group most affected by this communion crisis – Vicars and clergy. Their voices are not often heard. It is my prayer that they do not become casualties (no lack of intention, just attention) as we continue to find a ‘covenant way’ through this crisis. 

GAFCON will meet this critical need. As a clergy myself, and from this perspective this gathering can be a timely and needed blessing. 

On the other hand, in interacting with some others (and this will include clergy as well), I have sensed that there is a very real anxiety that this ‘breaking up’ may be happening within the ranks of the orthodox or Global South folks. Some have good reasons to wonder whether there is a global perspective or wisdom to this, as to whether others understand what the breaking up of (or a certain kind of realignment in) our Communion may mean for other parts of her, some who are bearing the light in very strenuous conditions.

Again this group of clergy are quite clueless regarding the politics. But the impact on the ground is very real.

If they wake up one day to find that they have lost their connection to a historic church or that she is so fragmented that she can no longer provide any real covering (or in any remote sense of the term “Mother Church”), the future looks bleak indeed. Every member church seeks to be a part of a historic one. It is a primal cry. Nouveau organizations won’t do in regards to that deep seated call and need. To have to even ponder on this possibility is puzzling to some who have wondered whether this crisis could have provided a fresh opportunity for a renewed and as many have dared hope for, a stronger Communion.

Just sensing two responses and I think they are both worthy of our prayerful considerations.

Canon Terry Wong
Editorial Team


3 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Thank you, Canon Wong. You have accurately described these realities and why GAFCON is so important and timely. I’m reminded of the October 2004 Dallas-Plano Conference. There was renewing power there and it sowed seeds that have grown into real and strong alignments. GAFCON will have the same benefit to all who attend.

  2. Bryden Black Says:

    Thank you Terry Wong for your widow’s mite of wisdom - and that is how I view it!  Care-ful, considered and considerate, immensely pastoral and undergirded by a form of theology I wish was more evident elsewhere.  So; many thanks again!

    I have myself only one cent to spend, which I narrate rather than deliver directly.  In 1997 the Gospel and Cultures Commission of Victoria (Australia) published a collection of papers that originated from our occasional meetings under the auspices of the Victorian Council of Churches.  Edited by our chair, Randall Prior, we entitled the collection, Gospel and Cultures: Initial Explorations in the Australian Context.  In hindsight, we should not have been surprised when we had to do a second print run!  My own meagre contribution was entitled “The Significance of the Uniqueness of Jesus in a Pluralist Religious World - the Questions we ask, the Answers we seek”, where I tried to go for the jugular (stupidly? naively? bravely?) offering an alternative to the then popular but deeply flawed framework that pitted the options of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism alongside one another.  The point however that has stayed with me concerns how we view the basic significance of uniqueness within the context of pluralism.  And please note, not just plurality but the ideological premise of pluralism, that cultural paradigm so readily assumed by many in the West.

    Another, more recent essay tried to get a handle on the same thing via another tack.  It began as a paper given to the Systematic Theology Association of Aotearoa New Zealand in 2004, at which Stephen Bevans of Chicago was the keynote speaker.  It finished up as part of another collection, Whose Homosexuality? Which Authority? homosexual practice, marriage, ordination and the church, eds Brian Edgar & Gordon Preece (Australian Theological Forum, 2006).  Their title took its cue from my own, “Whose Language? Which Grammar? ‘Inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’, versus the crafted Christian concepts of catholicity and created differentiation”, which was an historical sweep from the late 17th C to the present ‘read’ via some of the work of Colin Gunton and Alister McGrath especially.  For how we view and so interpret and so evaluate is at the core of the “crisis” that has befallen the Anglican Communion: that is my own one cent’s sense.  Unfortunately, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (Harvard, 2007) was not yet available; but its own deeply penetrating sweep confirms much of what I was attempting in a much smaller manner.  And now I see that Matt Kennedy is posting his own “Mere Christianity in a Pluralist World” at http://www.standfirminfaith.com/, a very helpful assessment.

    If someone was wishing for a bottom-line, take-home summary (why are we such pressed individuals?!), I’d offer Michael Ramsey’s remark, attempting to capture his vision of the Church, from some years ago: “Comprehensiveness does not mean several different religions crowding uncomfortably under one umbrella. Comprehensiveness is justified because the unsearchable riches of Christ so easily evade the grasp of any one individual, group or party.”  Tragically, however, what has happened since his own time is that pluralism has so regenerated and reinvented itself that, under the Anglican “umbrella” of the 21st C, we are indeed confronting “different religions” and not just the rich facets of Jesus Christ’s catholic church.  All of which makes for a very giddy existence on the ground, as Canon Wong perceptively remarks.

  3. Editorial Says:

    Alice - just to add to your comments. I suppose what may make Gafcon a bit more special is the international presence, esp of many African & Asian brothers and sisters. I can imagine how encouraged some will be through this fellowship, connections and experience. 

    Interacting with various comments elsewhere (esp at Standing Firm),  being Anglican and Communion-faithful should certainly go beyond being Canterbury-centric. As has been said often, an observation of how the Communion has grown worldwide should at the very least cause us to listen to what other member churches (Provinces) are saying. My colleague, Michael Poon, has repeatedly drawn attention to this.

    One form of this ‘equi-voice’ has been the Global South, as the recent letter from PB Mouneer Anis has so carefully stated. We need patience to listen, collegial humility to respect and genuine attempts to understand the views of other sister churches. These are amongst some starting points on how we can live meaningfully together as a communion, in the midst of expected and acceptable differences.

    Bryden - well said and thanks for sharing your insights. Great quote from Michael Ramsay. He laid the foundation stone for my current parish 30 years ago…talking about historical roots!