I had the very great pleasure of knowing Bishop Walter D. Dennis, Suffragan of New York, in his capacity as Visitor to the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. He also had a keen eye for trends in the church, and often wrote about his prognostications. In the process of browsing through my library I came across the following from twenty years ago, which I think should rank him among the prophets. Archbishop Runcie, quoted herein, also has some apposite words for us, in light of the strained efforts towards an Anglican Covenant. Bishop Dennis writes:
If it turns out that unity with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is a high priority for the new Archbishop of Canterbury [George Carey], then ECUSA, as part of the Anglican Communion, may feel obliged to sell out on some of the commitments it has already made, namely, on the ordination of women, on the issue of abortion, on the issue of theological dissent and liberation theologies, and on gay rights. Clearly, many would revolt, feeling that the price of unity is too high if it requires Episcopalians to forfeit these commitments.
In the next decade, there will be much talk about authority—jurisdiction—collegiality, and ecclesiology. In using such terms, we had better be certain that in our discussions there is common definition of each term. The Anglican Church says that the four marks of Anglican authority are: The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, The Archbishops and Primates of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Consultative Council. As I understand it, such authority from any and all of these are consultative, but there will be heavy discussion about whether or not this consultation is for advice or for approval or, at the very least, for consensus. Also, many people will be discussing whether the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates as well as the Anglican Consultative Council are on the same footing with the other two, and if so, how did this authority come to be? Did autonomous churches participating in all this give approval for those two additional bodies from their National Synods and/or Conventions? Speaking of his own authority and that of Lambeth, Archbishop Robert Runcie made the following statement in his opening address at Lambeth 1988:
One of the characteristics of Anglicanism is our Reformation inheritance of national or provincial autonomy. The Anglican tradition is thus opposed to centralism and encourages the thriving of variety. This is a great good. There is an important principle to be borne witness to here: that nothing should be done at a higher level than is absolutely necessary. So Anglicans have become accustomed to speak of a dispersed authority. And we are traditionally suspicious of the Lambeth Conference becoming anything other than a Conference. We may indeed wish to discuss the development of more solid structures of unity and coherence. But I for one would want their provisional character made absolutely clear; like tents in the desert, they should be capable of being easily dismantled when it is time for the Pilgrim People to move on. We have no intention of developing an alternative Papacy. We would rather continue to deal with the structures of the existing Petrine Ministry, and hopefully help in its continuing development and reform as a ministry of unity for all Christians. [The Lambeth Conference, 1988, The Truth Shall Make You Free (London: Church House Publishers, 1988).]
“A Personal Prospectus On The Episcopal Church In The 1990s,” Walter D. Dennis, in The St Luke’s Journal of Theology, December 1990, Volume XXXIV Number 1, pages 11-12
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