Monday, April 30, 2018

John Fenwick on When Unity Efforts Fail

A number of papers from the aforementioned Anglican Patrimony Conference have been posted.  The one most intriguing to me is by John Fenwick, Primus of the Free Church of England and a key player in attempting to coordinate orthodox Anglican efforts in the U. K.

He reveals some very interesting history from the inside of the Canterbury-Rome unity push in the 70’s:

It was in the heady days of ARCIC 1. The Final Report had been sent around the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Most of the responses were positive. It was expected to be officially endorsed at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. The Vatican response was expected imminently. There was a feeling that something momentous was about to happen.

Prior to my appointment to Lambeth I had been lecturer in Christian worship at Trinity College, Bristol. Shortly after my arrival in the Ecumenical Affairs office, Christopher asked me to do some preliminary thinking about a liturgical project. (As Christopher put it, there’s no point in having a dog and barking yourself.) The project was what liturgical form the restoration of communion between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church might take. That was a heady request for a junior staff member! The most recent unity scheme around was the Covenant for Unity based on the Ten Propositions. That had proposed a day of liturgical events including the consecration of bishops. I remember working with that model and envisaging a service where the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury might jointly consecrate the first of a new generation of bishops whose Orders would be recognised by both Churches.

We were that close! Or at least so it seemed to some of those closely involved.

In retrospect that moment was a high water mark. The tide has been going out ever since.

As some may remember, the Vatican’s response not only did not come before the next Lambeth Conference as hoped; it did not come until 1991.  And not only the timing, but also its content was disappointing.

Even more disillusioning has been the Church of England’s liberal drift since then.  That leads Bishop Fenwick to make an interesting hypothesis:

I want to suggest that the Vatican’s 1991 response fits a pattern that has characterised ecumenical endeavour in the past half century – namely that unity initiatives have been halted by the refusal of what one might call the more conservative partner to act, and that as a result, the other partner has felt itself free to move further away from the historic Christian consensus.

I do not claim that what I am going to say has been rigorously historically tested, nor am I able to do so here, but I think the possibility of a pattern is worth considering.

And that pattern is simply that there seem to have been several occasions when the more conservative partner in a dialogue, by failing to take bold action, allowed the less conservative partner to move further away from traditional faith and practice.

And he gives other examples of this occurring, including failed efforts between Old Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

This pattern indeed merits consideration.  When jurisdictions are in the midst of unity efforts, their focus is often on how would merger/intercommunion affect us.  And that is certainly important.  But how it would affect the other party and the whole church, the Body of Christ, should not be overlooked.  And Fenwick does not let us ignore that, often for the disappointed party, a “move further away from traditional faith and practice” occurs after unity efforts fail.

Of course, in such cases we do not know what would have happened if unity efforts succeed.  For example, in the case of the Church of England and Roman Catholics, would Rome had been importing more liberalism to its harm? Would more Protestant-minded Anglicans feel pushed out of the Church of England?  I personally suspect the failure of ARCIC did more harm that what might have happened if it succeeded, and Fenwick seems to think that as well.  But we do not know.  And, yes, jurisdictions have to consider the stresses and pressures greater organizational unity may cause.  I sometimes wonder if the Anglican Church in North America, in its well meaning haste to bring Anglicans together, has not given such issues enough consideration.  If not done right, organizational unity can beget more disunity.

Nonetheless, Bishop Fenwick well reminds us that the good of the other party should be considered.  (And the bishops of the Reformed Episcopal Church have done just that in joining and remaining in ACNA.)  We should avoid causing sister churches to stumble by turning them away without very good reason.

Care should also be taken in missionary efforts where there are existing Anglican jurisdictions.  Accordingly, Fenwick, in his conclusion, let it be known he still has mixed feelings about the consecration of orthodox bishops in the U. K. outside of existing jurisdictions.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Fenwick’s paper (I agree, at least for the most part.), it contains most interesting insight not often presented.  Read it all.

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