Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anglican Communion and Missionary Societies

Being a part of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has opened me up to some of the subtleties of our Communion in ways I would have not gotten had I not joined this group. The intricacies of culture and the technicalities of governance have opened my eyes and my heart in ways I could not have imagined a few months ago.

First of all, in my mind I thought of the Church of England as being all of the UK. Of course I know there is an Episcopal Church of Scotland—I wasn’t at all aware that Wales was a separate church. I didn’t think of the Episcopal Church of Ireland at all –that is until the Eames report. I didn’t realize that there were widely varying ideas in all of these churches.

I knew that the Church of Canada was a bit bolder than TEC at times. And of course I have always thought of New Zealand as far and away ahead of TEC because of the second woman bishop and of course, their BCP is so beautiful and inclusive.

I must admit I was outrageously naïve about other places in the Anglican Communion such as Nigeria and Uganda and other locales where the ecclesiology is as tied to family standing as were English bishops in the 12th and 16th centuries.

I was equally unaware of the everlasting protestant/catholic tension in the English church. I knew we had it here in the States, but never saw any part of that while touring about in the UK. Having come to TEC from Rome in 1979, I was really unaware of how important to our church the 79 BCP was in calming the catholic/protestant riff in TEC. While the ‘edges’ continued their flight (and still continue) into self-chosen isolation, the majority of the Church, because of the 1979 BCP still finds their unity in the worship.

Like the US church, though, the CofE has been influenced in places by the charismatic movement which brought a type of reformed theology that I don’t think is really consistent with Anglicanism. I do know that Knoxian presbyterian reform was always present in England. But the Charismatic movement was laced with a type of non-Anglican, American fundamentalism that has been spread throughout the Communion. This type of Christianity has also colored the theology in many places in Africa depending upon what missionary society sent missionaries there, just as Anglo-Catholicism influenced the development of the Church in the US.

The diversity of the Anglican Communion is much greater than I ever imagined. A friend from MO is in a diocese that has a companion relationship with someplace in Africa. She said that the people there do not believe in the real presence of the Eucharist. I thought that was part of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. But not necessarily. The broadness of the Communion then demands a broadness in structure.

I am heartened by the news coming from the meeting of the Primate’s meeting in Dublin last month. Without the Gafcon lot, there was some serious discussion of what was important in the communion. Perhaps divorce in the Communion is a good thing—or perhaps a ‘cooling off period’ is appropriate. I do hope that at some point that our two Anglican entities can find some common ground once again. But as we come together and reclaim our historic roots, it is important that we call ourselves to respect one another. Can we demand of another church to proclaim the Gospel to their people the way we do?

For almost 30 years I have been critical of the kind of missiology we have perpetrated from TEC. Rather than sending our best to do mission work, we often send those with little education and poor training. We do not fund our missions well either. So we send people out, often ones who embrace a Christianity that does not reflect our Church or the kind of education that is being taught in our pews. Sometimes these missionaries are people who have not lived in the US for years and cannot find a place with in American or English society when they retire. They can be ex-patriots or even have an aversion to western culture. So it is not surprising that many of those churches where there has been a high involvement of our missionary societies have problems with western culture.

I served as a missionary early in my career. I wanted to spend my life doing that but I realized that had nothing to teach people who were much more spiritually sophisticated naturally than I was. What they wanted from me was my Americanisms, my American dreams, my understanding of freedom. What they gave back was a way to trust in God that my culture had not taught me.

Christians have only one thing that we can give to others—Christ.


Pat said...

Thanks for all these good thoughts. Did you know I wrote up a study of the fate of the Virgin Mary in the different prayer books starting w/ the first one?
I think there may be pretty many of us bringing in the non-Anglican influences--w/ my "Sunday School faith"!

Ivy said...

You got that right! "Christians have only one thing that we can give to others—Christ."