The Church of England has just released a notification of the possibility of Anglican Churches around the world having a say in the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury. In doing this, one can only presume that there are people in the ‘Mother Church of England’ who are still looking to the Founding Diocese of Canterbury – through its Archbishop – to exercise an authority in the worldwide Anglican Communion over and above that which the honorary title of the ABC as ‘Primus-inter-Pares’ currently ought to merit. What needs to be understood is that the title, in suggesting the ABC as ‘First among Equals’, may not mean what modern parlance calls ‘Top Dog’ but, rather, one whose position gives him/her the responsibility of assembling the Communion’s bishops in conference – but without any degree of ‘ruling authority’ over and above that of the participating bishops. The ABC is not, nor ever has been, considered to be an ‘Anglican Pope’ with legal international jurisdiction.
This may help ordinary Anglicans like myself (born, Baptized and Confirmed in the Church of England but now a retired but active priest in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand and Pasifika – ACANZP) to understand the idea of the modern situation of the Church of England as an independent Church in the United Kingdom with filial ties to the other Churches of the Communion that are loyal to Canterbury and Lambeth, but without the ABC having any sort of legal authority over them. This has been the case ever since these Churches of the Anglican diaspora, in today’s world, became no longer subject to the Laws of England – as they affected, and still do affect, the local Church of England.
Thus, the idea of allowing other Provincial Churches of the Anglican Communion to have a say in the choice of the Archbishop of Canterbury – democratic as it may sound – still gives credence to some sort of hierarchical rule over the Anglican Communion that the ABC does not have. This understanding came about when the Church of England’s missionary endeavours ran parallel to the colonial rule by the British Monarch over countries of the British Empire. The Empire, in the modern era, has given way to the idea of a “Commonwealth” of Partners sharing the patrimony – but no longer the rule of the English Monarch. As a result of this political change in status, local Anglican Churches of the Diaspora, though still holding a filial (koinonia) relationship with the Monarch and the Church of England; are no longer legally bound to them. (I have a great regard for H.M. Queen Elizabeth, but though she is our Queen, I do not consider her to be ‘Head of the Church’ in Aotearoa/New Zealand)
For this very reason, the separatist ‘Orthodox Anglican’ Churches of the GAFCON Group have been able to set up their own rules of engagement (The Jerusalem Statement of Faith) which, for them, no longer binds them to any sort of direct relationship to the Church of England, the Lambeth Conference, or the Anglican Communion. Interestingly; some of the GAFCON Primates now claim to have replaced the notional leadership of Lambeth, the Communion, and the ABC, while yet professing to belong to the very organisation they have now opted out of. This is a situation that needs urgent clarification.
Some of us in the outer reaches of the Anglican Communion are beginning to think that the only way through this current impasse in the Anglican world would be for the Archbishop of Canterbury (as ‘First among Equals and Convenor of the Lambeth Conference) to call together the Anglican Bishops from around the world who are loyal to Canterbury and Lambeth (not, obviously, those bishops who have refused to attend Lambeth, belonging to GAFCON) into conference for the explicit purpose of electing from among themselves a Lambeth Conference Chairperson, each for an agreed term of office; thus allowing different sources of eirenic leadership to be exercised among the Provincial Anglican Churches
This would take the strain off the Church of England and, specifically, the Archbishop of Canterbury in being expected to assume sole responsibility for the moral and spiritual care of each of the individual independent Churches of the Anglican Communion. This would set the Lambeth Conference free from bickering and discontent – the all-too-visible signs of a dysfunctional community, rather than a group of diverse followers of Christ, seeking to do the liberating work of the Christian Gospel for ALL people.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand