March 17, 2007

The web of possible relationships

Over at the daily episcopalian Jim Naughton has posted a short reflection on the impact of same-sex blessings in the Church of Sweden (now officially authorized and put in practice) on the fact that the Churches of England and Sweden are in full communion, though the Church of Sweden is not thereby a member of the Anglican Communion. Communion is not, to use the mathematical term, transitive. [Note, never having been very good at maths I used "commutative" here in the original post. A number of charitable folks have pointed out the error of my ways. I was always good at geometry, but numbers are not my friends...]

It strikes me once again that this might be a possible way forward for the Anglican Communion. It seems that one way or another, come the end of this year the Anglican Communion will in all likelihood be different from what it has been in the past. Either it will have begun to transform itself into a more tightly structured quasi-global church (or global quasi-church, take your pick) and hence be less "Anglican," or loosen its ties (the "bonds" of affection having grown tenuous) into a web of bilateral relationships, and hence be less of a "communion." In the interest of a possible later coming-back-together, I would counsel the latter course. It is no secret I have long opposed the almost Babel-like drive towards building a stronger, higher, bigger structure in order to ensure unity.

In this model, TEC might remain in communion with, say, the Church of Southern Africa, and CSA in communion with the Church of Nigeria, but TEC not in communion with CoN. Just like we have now with ELCA, TEC, the C of E, and the Church of Sweden. Would this not be a better, and simpler, way forward than the rush towards a covenant from which it appears some wish to see others excluded -- for if the covenant is "weak" enough to allow all the present parties to remain, what is the point?

As to Lambeth, to which in the past all of the bishops have been invited, there are two options that recommend themselves. Invite them all, including the Lutherans from our part of the world and the Scandinavian and Baltic regions, for a true time of fellowship; or perhaps give it a rest for a decade, as a number of people have suggested. Lambeth didn't meet in wartime -- perhaps our current troubles might also warrant a time apart? One thinks how many families might get along better were it not for enforced holiday parties...

—Tobias Haller BSG


Allen said...


Communion is indeed commutative (a is in communion with b implies b is in communion with a.) The property it lacks is transitivity.

That said, I for one think you have identified a promising way forward.

June Butler said...

Tobias, much food for thought here.

You say: Would this not be a better, and simpler, way forward than the rush towards a covenant from which it appears some wish to see others excluded -- for if the covenant is "weak" enough to allow all the present parties to remain, what is the point?

I say, what's the point of a covenant at all, strong or weak? What's wrong with the New Covenant given us by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? What am I missing? Will sinful human beings come up with a better covenant than that given us by Our Lord?

As you say, a strong covenant will be divisive, and a weak covenant will be pointless.

Your idea to suspend the Lambeth gathering is excellent. We are in a time of war within the Communion, so let's take a rest or else make the gathering widely inclusive.

A strengthening of a top-down type of structure for the Communion is not something I want to see become a reality.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Oops. Well, math was never my strong suit! That should be "transitive" not "commutative" -- as Allen and Thomas Bushnell have pointed out.

I wonder, though if there are circumstances where communion might not even be commutative? For instance, I would welcome ++Akinola to my altar, though he might not come. As far as I'm concerned, we're still in communion with CoN -- but they don't feel the same way. Additional food for thought....

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you G.M., you've got it spot on, as MadPriest would say. I'm always suspicious of rigid solutions to squiggily problems -- and the Anglican Communion is about as squiggily as Jell-O scuplture, cat choreography, or spaghetti macrame.

Paul Bagshaw said...

The other side of this coin is that if the Anglican Communion moves towards a more monolithic structure it will have to review all existing ecumenical agreements according to its new tests of membership.

I have seen no hint that ecumenical partners were included in the Covenant process. The only reference in the Draft Covenant, I think, is in Section 4 (which reads like a mini-Covenant embedded in the larger one) - 'mission shared with other churches and traditions' - and this ignores the formal nature of many ecumenical relationships.

But perhaps the whole thing should not be regarded as a Covenant. It is more of an initial, tentative, cease-fire agreement: further talks are scheduled but no-one has yet laid down their weapons.

Anonymous said...

I think you describe our emerging reality when you talk of the web of relationships. As you devop the thought the idea of inviting local partners to the Lambeth ball is an intriging possibility, but am am puzzled that you only mention the chiurch of Sweden and ELCA. Why not the Bible Church of Africa? Why only white, western churches?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Obadiahslope,

I mention these because I'm aware of them. TEC is in full communion with ELCA, and the C of E is in full communion with the various Scandinavian and Baltic Lutheran Churches. There are also the Old Catholics. Then, of course, in India (N and S) there is already a good deal of wider fellowship via the United Churches there. As a matter of fact, bishops from the "wider fellowship" have been in attendance at Lambeth gatherings in the past, at least as honored guests or observers. Expanding this seems a good idea.

I'm not aware of the full communion relationships of the various other Churches of the Communion -- and I don't know even if this information is collated anywhere. Is the "Bible Church of Africa" in full communion with one of the Anglican Provinces there?

Anonymous said...

At this point I need to declare that my ignorance of African christianity outweighs yours. (The Bible Church of Africa BTW is one of the larger non-pentecostal churches on the continent.)
But the whiteness of the churches you mention stood out.
While on the subject I have wondered often whether the AME churches and TEC have a relationship?
We need to define full communion, too. The old catholic churches have an agreement with the anglican communion I believe in a way that the Scandanavian churches and ELCA do not. So is communion with the Communion is different to communion with a province? Probaby not the most urgent issue though.

beyondimensions said...

Thanks for this blog!