Saturday, 14 May 2016

Pulling Together

Every morning at General Synod, at about sunrise, I went for a walk, with my camera, along the beautiful Napier foreshore. 

Our church, the Anglican Church, is peculiarly English, and that is a good thing, even for someone like me born as far from England as it's possible to get.

England, when the Reformation came knocking at the door, had a long history of accommodating difference and combining constituent parts into a greater whole. England itself was an amalgam of many smaller kingdoms, cobbled together for pragmatism's sake. And consider, also,  the English language: that hotchpotch of Norman French, and Viking, and Germanic, and Latin, and goodness knows what else, that has been brewed together over the years, and been stirred and sifted by Cranmer and Shakespeare, to result in one of the world's great treasures, the official language of 60 different nations and the unofficial Lingua Franca of the world.

So there are no surprises then that the English, faced with the debilitating conflict of competing religious ideologies, should follow the path of practical accommodation. During a long process which began in the reign of Henry VIII, but was accomplished mostly by his brilliant daughter, Elizabeth I, England produced a variant of Christianity which could claim to be both Catholic and Protestant, both  reformed and episcopal. This very English combining of diverse factions into one more or less coherent whole was done primarily for practical and political reasons, of course, but it also, providentially, embodied deep spiritual truth.

Jesus of Nazareth  is the best picture any of us are ever going to get, this side of the grave anyway, of God. That is, he shows us what is the nature of reality. He shows us how the universe is made. He shows this in those few little snippets of his teaching that remain to us, but mostly in the life and actions of which we have, considering their antiquity, pretty decent records. And what we see there is a man who ignores, even at peril of his own life, contemporary divisions of gender and race and social strata and religious purity. He lived out a radical acceptance of all people. He lived, died, rose and ascended to reconcile ALL people to God, and he has committed to us this message of reconciliation. It is the drawing of all people to God in Jesus Christ that I would consider "first order."

So, acceptance of difference is at the heart of Anglicanism. In fact, it IS Anglicanism. The happy accident of English pragmatism has delivered us a church in which a wide diversity of people can find safety and acceptance, and therefore one which, partially at least, expresses a central tenet of the Gospel: the radical equality, the complete forgiveness, the total acceptance of all people. This is why I became, and why I remain an Anglican.

So we are now faced with a paradox. One part of our church sees a limit to that inclusiveness and would feel the need to depart if their limit is breached. So for the rest of us, to follow our instincts towards inclusion - the very heart of Anglicanism and, in fact, the Gospel -would see some others of us feel excluded to the point of departure.

During General synod I found myself, several times, muttering into my morning coffee: let them go. It would mean yet one more division in the body of Christ. According to figures from The Centre For Study of Global Christianity at Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary there were 1600 Christian denominations in the year 1900, 34,000 in the year 2000 and an estimated 43,000 now. We Christians do have an escalating penchant for ignoring the example of Jesus and marching off in a snit when others don't live up to the high expectations we have of them. So what would be  the impact of yet one more new denomination? It would compete for customers in an already crowded part of Evangelical Protestantism. Without a central ethos of inclusion its version of Anglicanism would be sadly depleted. But  with the absence of the ones who, as I understand it, have been anticipating departure for some time now, so would ours. It's a problem and one which we have only limited time to address.

The aim of the A Way Forward report had been to give us a mechanism in which all could live with integrity. It's an ideal I haven't given up on.

6 comments:

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kelvin,
May I ask (because I have no reports to indicate) whether the inclusiveness of our church at this time extended to recognition of Methodist presbyters as able to be included in our church as licensed priests?

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Kelvin; yet more episcopal wisdom on the reality of our situation in ACANZP.

On the Feast of Pentecost, we pray; "Come Holy Spirit, re-kindle in the hearts of your Faithful the fire of God's Love; through the grace of Jesus Christ our Ascended Lord. Amen".

Kelvin Wright said...

No we didn't approve that Peter and for the most shameful of reasons. The appropriate ecumenical group had not discussed the matter and was unable to report.

Mark Murphy said...
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Mark Murphy said...

What is "unity"? What is the deeper meaning of Jesus' teaching on unity / being one / oneness? Was Jesus talking about shared buildings and formularies? I used to think of unity in this more institutional, ecclesiological sense, the meaning that is currently dominant in debates on SSB. My father was Roman Catholic, my mother a member of the (Protestant) Church of North India. They longed for their churches to marry too. They had my brother and me baptised simultaneously by an Indian Catholic priest and a North American Presbyterian minister. We would go back and forward each weekend between churches. It was rich. But over the years my understanding of unity has changed, especially after becoming more seriously engaged in contemplative practice. I believe Jesus' teachings on unity are more about consciousness - or, if you like, spirit - than they are about formularies, common buildings and prayers. Rethinking the meaning of unity - taking it out of the field of ecclesiology - may give everyone a bit of a break and open new possibilities in the current, torturous debate on SSB.

Mark Reynolds said...

Bishop Kelvin, Your phrase "practical accommodation" brings to mind the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). In common with them we have two very different cultural views of the issue at hand and much discussion without resolution. The Council reached a position of agreement when they focused on both the work that God was doing AND what was key to the new mission out of the OT principles. E.g. abstaining from eating the blood of animals - which was offensive to the Jewish party - would also keep the Gentiles from food offered to idols. I think we should be looking for a similar outcome of mutual respect here, and the result of GS says that we haven't reached that point yet. Two integrities will not do, we need ONE integrity that holds us all.