2022 in Review: The Anglican Communion

Bishops of the Anglican Communion prepare for their group portrait on July 29. (Richard Washbrooke/Lambeth Conference photo)

The year in review for the Episcopal Church was published yesterday.

By Mark Michael

For the first time in 14 years, 2022 brought a Lambeth Conference, with more than two-thirds of the Anglican Communion’s bishops gathering for sessions focused on “Being God’s Church for God’s World.” Longstanding divisions over human sexuality, which also flared up in England and Australia’s Anglican churches, left their mark on the gathering. But the world’s most famous Anglican, Queen Elizabeth II, brought us together, first to celebrate her unprecedented platinum jubilee, and then to mourn her death.

Lambeth Conference: Mission and Tension

The twice-delayed Lambeth Conference was preceded by months of digital gatherings. A March Primates’ Meeting, partly focused on setting its agenda, was marked by a “positive and encouraging” spirit, according to one Global South archbishop. Three provinces — Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda — announced that they would boycott the gathering, as they had in 2018. Other Global South conservatives committed to participating, though speaking as the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, they insisted that the conference reaffirm Lambeth 1.10, a 1998 resolution that condemns same-sex marriage and defines homosexual activity as sinful.

Lengthy draft texts of 10 Lambeth Calls, which outlined common theological commitments and agendas for action, were released just over a week before bishops arrived at the University of Kent. Most were focused on “faith and life” issues that had dominated pre-conference publicity, including ecology, evangelism, and faith and science.

A firestorm of controversy surrounded the Lambeth Call on Human Dignity, which contained a brief reference to Lambeth 1.10 as the “mind of the Communion as a whole.” The call was revised shortly after the conference began, with an acknowledgment of divergent, theologically formed views among Anglicans. The change was welcomed by progressives, but scorned by the GSFA, which announced that bishops from their member provinces would abstain from receiving Communion at the conference’s opening service.

Opacity about call revisions, and several different methods of voting on the calls, left many bishops uncertain and frustrated. In the end, bishops did not vote on the contested Call on Human Dignity at all. Instead, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made a dramatic floor speech during the session devoted to the call, stating that he would not discipline any province for its teaching and practice on marriage. Some bishops described the speech as “pastorally masterful,” while others were frustrated, and the GSFA promptly announced a way for bishops to register their support for Lambeth 1.10.

With tensions reduced, the bishops proceeded to consider a wide-ranging series of initiatives focused on witness in the world. They endorsed calls that expanded church planting, renewal in discipleship, and ecumenical dialogue, as well as closer networking on safeguarding issues, and more intense efforts at reconciliation with the estranged African provinces. They also laid the groundwork for an Anglican Congress focused on mission in the Global South, a communion-wide faith and science network, and a grassroots tree-planting initiative, the Anglican Communion Forest, which was initiated during a garden party at Lambeth Palace in London.

In his closing address, the Archbishop of Canterbury described the conference as “a time of intense ecclesiological development, and thinking and reflection for the Anglican Communion,” allowing for fuller exploration of what it means for Anglicans to be interdependent, yet autonomous.”

Many bishops said they left the conference with a sense of renewed fellowship and common purpose, and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell quipped that “now we are no longer threatening to leave, we are threatening to stay.”

The GSFA, too, affirmed a continuing commitment to participation in the communion, despite disappointment over its failure to issue a clear affirmation of traditional teaching on sexual ethics. GSFA urged the primates to take the lead on disciplining provinces that have adopted revisionist teaching, noting that Anglicanism “cannot be a true Communion if some provinces insist on their own autonomy and disregard the necessity of being an interdependent body. What affects all should be decided by all. … The current situation warrants us to adopt suitable forms of visible differentiation, but we will seek not to be schismatic.”

An extended time of digital engagement is to follow the conference, as bishops seek to implement its calls in their local contexts. The Rt. Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, who was named the Communion’s Bishop for Episcopal Ministry in October, will oversee the multi-year discussion.

Remembering the Queen

For the first time in many decades, the Lambeth Conference did not include a visit to Buckingham Palace, a decision partly related to 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth’s declining health. Two months earlier, Anglicans had joined in celebrating her platinum jubilee, as she marked 70 years on the throne. The Archbishop of York paid tribute to her life of service marked by “a staunch constancy and a steadfast consistency; a faithfulness to God; an obedience to a vocation that is the bedrock of her life” at a service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In mid-September, attention shifted across the city to Westminster Abbey, as the world mourned her death in the first state funeral held in decades. News outlets estimate that 4.1 billion people watched the service, which would make it the most viewed event in human history. Tens of thousands of people queued for hours to pay their respects during four days in which the queen lay in state.

The services at the Abbey and at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where she was laid to rest, were marked by stunning choral music, military ceremonial, and the traditional texts of the Book of Common Prayer. Many, including Archbishop Rowan Williams, paid tribute to her quiet yet firm commitment to Christ and his Church. Memorial services were held for her in many parts of the communion, including in Kenya and Australia.

Tensions in England, Australia, Canada

The Church of England’s life in 2022 was overshadowed by decisions planned for early 2023 about altering its current teaching on human sexuality to allow same-sex blessings or marriages. Elections for the five-year General Synod terms held in the spring were described as the most contentious in decades. The church’s bishops have already begun gathering for private talks about next steps as the Living in Love and Faith process, which has charted churchwide discernment about the issues, concludes.

In November, Bishop Stephen Croft of Oxford, a former conservative, issued an essay calling on the church to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages, along with a generous pastoral provision, including some structural differentiation, for clergy who object. In October, Ben Bradshaw, a senior Labour MP, warned that disestablishment may be likely if the Church of England refuses to change its teaching.

Global South leaders have warned more recently that changing its teaching would disqualify the church from its traditional leadership role within the communion. GAFCON Europe consecrated four bishops for ministry in the U.K. in the fall, expecting that significant numbers of parishes will seek to realign if the Church of England allows same-sex marriage.

In July, the church’s General Synod significantly increased the wider communion’s representation on the panel that will select the next Archbishop of Canterbury, a move encouraged by Archbishop Welby as a reflection of ways the role has changed over time.

The church also continued to grapple with the legacy of racism. Lord Boateng, a prominent Black political leader, addressed the synod in February about failures uncovered in a churchwide investigation conducted by the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice. However, a church court ruled in April that a monument to an 18th-century cleric associated with the slave trade would not be removed from a Cambridge College, noting that the case made against it as a racist relic was unhistorical and that the forgiveness at the heart of Christian life “encompasses the whole of humankind, past and present, for we are all sinners; and it extends even to slave traders.”

The Anglican Church in Australia also grappled with expanding divisions over human sexuality, in the aftermath of a 2021 church court decision that allowed the use of local rites for same-sex blessings, even as the church’s official teaching remains conservative. At its May synod, a resolution that would have invalidated the permission for local rites passed widely in the houses of clergy and laity, but was defeated by two votes in the House of Bishops. In response, GAFCON Australia launched a parallel jurisdiction, the Diocese of the Southern Cross, led by a former Archbishop of Sydney to serve parishes that may seek to disaffiliate from the church, should the local rites become more widespread.

Archbishop Welby made a high-profile visit to the Anglican Church of Canada in April, apologizing for the church’s history of abuse at Indigenous boarding schools. The visit closely followed the release of founding documents for the church’s autonomous Indigenous province. The Sacred Circle gathering that would receive and adopt the text was ultimately delayed by the resignation of the church’s first Indigenous archbishop, Mark McDonald, amid accusations of sexual misconduct. A new Indigenous archbishop, Christopher Harper, was named in December.

Canadian Anglicans also grappled with the #ACCToo scandal in February, as three survivors of sexual violence by members of the clergy claimed that the church’s senior leaders had failed to safeguard their confidentiality, a breach that also led to the resignations of the editor and senior reporter of the church’s national newspaper. Primate Linda Nicholls issued a formal apology to the survivors, and said that the Council of General Synod, the church’s governing body, had spent several hours discussing the issues raised by the accusations.

Responding to Political Shifts and Human Need

Across the communion, Anglican leaders played significant roles as major political changes unfolded in their regions. The Rev. Peter Koon, the provincial secretary of Hong Kong’s Anglican Church, assumed a seat on the Legislative Council after a controversial “patriots only” election, which signified Beijing’s expanding control of the formerly autonomous region.

Sri Lanka’s Anglican bishops lent their voice to widespread protests against ineffective measures taken by the government to control an economic crisis. Pakistani Anglicans mourned the death of the Rev. William Siraj, a 75-year old priest killed in an attack by Islamic insurgents in Peshawar, part of escalated violence in the region after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Kenya’s Anglican leaders worked to dampen tensions in advance of a deeply contested national election, and then pushed for widespread acceptance of its verdict after a largely peaceful polling process. Anglicans around the world also prayed for peace, issued statements against unjust violence, and welcomed refugees from the war between Russia and the Ukraine.

Alongside such high-profile efforts, Anglicans continued to serve those most harmed by disaster and social crisis. TLC stories in 2022 highlighted efforts in reopening schools in rural Uganda, providing opportunities for the disabled in Kenya and the deaf in Jordan, assisting Australians affected by severe flooding, and expanding access to theological resources for seminaries in the Global South.

New Leaders

New primates were elected in the provinces of New Zealand (ANZP), Central America, West Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. The new Brazilian presiding bishop, Marinez Rosa dos Santos Bassotto, is the first female primate from outside North America. The Holy Catholic Church of Japan elected its first female bishop, Maria Grace Tazu Sasamori; while the Church of North India deposed its primate, Prem Chandh Singh, after his arrest on corruption charges.

Bishop Antony Poggo, who had been a refugee in war-torn Sudan as a child, became the Anglican Communion’s secretary general in June, replacing Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who had held the post since 2015. He was joined in November by TLC’s Christopher Wells, who was chosen as head of Faith and Order for the Anglican Communion.

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