By Mark Michael
The Anglican Consultative Council authorized the communion’s doctrine commission to undertake a five-year study of “good differentiation,” exploring “theological questions regarding structure and decision-making to help address our differences in the Anglican Communion.”
The ACC approved resolution February 14 by a show of hands in what appeared to be a fairly close vote. It followed a series of comments from the floor by ACC members, many expressing exasperation about protracted divisions and concern that the project would normalize the current state or revert to patriarchal models from the past.
The Rt. Rev. Graham Tomlin, chairman of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order (IAFUSCO), which proposed the resolution and will undertake the project, said it developed out of an initial meeting of the body in December in Nairobi.
The resolution was revised during the ACC meeting to include a mandate for exploring the communion’s structures in the aftermath of the Church of England’s decision to bless same-sex unions, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s proposal that the Instruments of Communion be reformed.
The good differentiation project, Tomlin said, “is not aiming to take sides in our disputes. It’s not trying to resolve them in that sense. It’s working out how we manage our differences, how we do that structurally in the meantime.”
“This is founded in a trust in the Holy Spirit, who makes all things new, and who may reveal to us through theological, ecumenical, historical work some new solutions that we haven’t considered before.
“We already have a level of differentiation within our communion, with the emergence of GAFCON, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, and maybe more differentiation in the future,” Tomlin said. “And so often in the past such differentiation has happened in an ad-hoc manner, without much careful thought, and this has sometimes led to acrimonious relations.
“If we need to walk together at a distance sometimes, to respect each other’s conscience, how can we do this in as theologically responsible, charitable, and Christian a way as possible? Can we do ‘good differentiation,’ as opposed to ‘bad differentiation’?”
Christopher Wells, the communion’s director of faith and order, said that tools developed out of ecumenical dialogue could be helpful in addressing internal divisions. “Sometimes when we have trouble getting along with one another as Anglicans, we nonetheless are continuing with ecumenical discussions with other Christians. … We realize as Anglicans that we have a tradition of speaking about our own faith and order with each other as well. I think, in that sense, the life and call and work of the Anglican Communion today is really ecumenical,” he said.
ACC members were offered the opportunity to comment on the proposal twice during the day’s sessions. Some, like Episcopal Church delegate Canon Ranjit Mathews, expressed support for allowing the project to proceed. “There’s no binding language, right?” he said. “It’s talking about exploring ways to walk together. … It’s an invitation to move into this process that we have already been moving into.”
The Rev. Andrew Atherstone, a delegate from the Church of England, said he warmly welcomed the proposal, and that he hoped the group would consider the place of his church in the communion’s life at a time of increasing division.
“We need to think about the dominance of England [in the Anglican Communion]. What will that look like going forward? England always likes to think of itself as first among equals. … Is that really appropriate in the new communion?”
But the Rev. Joseph Bilal, an ACC member from South Sudan, expressed deep skepticism: “I wonder if we actually listen very carefully to each other. It seems to me that in the Anglican Communion, the degree of our listening to one another in making decisions is completely impaired in one way or another. If we listen to one another and take decisions that affect the other simply because of ‘my autonomy,’ it means that we are actually even breaking down the communion rather than making it united and walking together.”
“We have known for many years that we have differences,” said Carlos Romero, an ACC member from Chile. “What’s the point of reviewing what we already know? It will be an endless circle.”
The Ven. Arthur Copeman of Australia said his table group had “explored the idea of times in family conflicts where people are given space. And we recognized that — particularly in marriage situations — that there is always a huge risk. Once there is a separation, there is no guaranteeing that people will come back.”
Archbishop Maimbo Mndolwa of Tanzania said he wasn’t “keen and clear on what ‘differentiation’ means,” and added that “the proposal seems as if ACC is trying to go back into the kind of paternalistic model. Traditionally, decisions that touch provinces have to be made by the provinces. … Is this taking part of the authority from the provinces?
Liturgy and Holistic Mission
Earlier in the day, ACC members received and responded to a series of reports from the communion’s networks and commissions responsible for liturgy, canon law, and Anglican colleges and universities. Representatives from the Anglican Alliance, which coordinates development and disaster relief across the communion, spoke about its recent work, as did networks associated with healthcare and ministry to families.
The Rev. Simon Jones, a member of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC), discussed Liturgical Formation of All the Baptized, a resource developed by the group that seeks to address a “loss of confidence in liturgical worship and low expectations for it” that he said is being experienced across liturgical churches.
“Christians are formed through their participation in worship,” he said, “but the Church also has to form Christians for worship, recognizing that liturgy is a privileged place of encounter with Christ.” The resources offer suggestions for liturgical formation of lay people and clergy in all three orders of ministry.
The IALC also prepared a response to the phenomenon of ‘virtual Communion’ that developed in some churches during COVID-19 lockdowns. A resolution prepared by the group that will be considered by the ACC “endorses the view that any sort of ‘virtual consecration’ is not consistent with Anglican theology and practice of the celebration of the Eucharist, and is therefore to be discouraged.”
The report encourages Services of the Word during future pandemic situations and invites further reflection on “how spiritual practices of fasting and abstinence, including from participation in the Eucharist, may offer positive ways for aligning in solidarity with those who suffer deprivation of any sort.”
The IALC proposes the development of a communion-wide calendar for the commemoration of saints, and plans to undertake a major study of eucharistic teaching and practice, as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Dublin Statement on the Eucharist, which deeply influenced liturgical revision across the communion in recent decades.
The Anglican Alliance’s executive director, the Rev. Rachel Carnegie, said that across the communion “we see churches acting as midwives of hope,” engaging in “integral, holistic mission.”
ACC member Clifton Nedd from the West Indies reported on the alliance’s cooperation with the World Health Organization’s new faith network to share information about COVID vaccine reliability, and to provide food and other resources to those most affected by financial stresses caused by the pandemic.
Joel Kelling, an ACC member from the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Kofi de Graf-Johnson of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) discussed a multi-year collaborative effort to support safe migration and limit human trafficking. Many young people, de Graf-Johnson said, are leaving East Africa in search of economic opportunity in the Middle East, and many of them fall into the hands of traffickers.
CAPA has been sharing information through its networks to help prospective African migrants be better informed about what to expect, and is encouraging the use of Just Good Work, a mobile application form that allows safe transmission of personal information and clarifies workers’ employment rights.
In the Middle East, church members are being trained to recognize signs of human trafficking. Kelling and de Graf-Johnson said they hoped the effort might eventually develop into a communion-wide Safe Migration Network.