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The Compass Rose and Koinonia

Adapted from an essay by the Rev. Canon John Gibaut distributed by Anglican Communion News Service.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

Would the Anglican Communion — and our Compass Rose — smell as sweet if we were a “Federation” or “Association”? What is in the name “Communion” that shapes who we are, and informs our mission as a global church?

First, it lies deep within the biblical vision of the Church as koinonia, the Greek for communion. Since koinonia is translated by several words, its significance is easy to miss.

When Paul speaks of “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:13), the Greek says koinonia. The sign of reconciliation, the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:7-10) is also koinonia. Paul’s “collection” for the poor in Jerusalem is a koinonia (1 Cor. 16:1). The Lord’s Supper as a “sharing” in the body and the blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17) is again koinonia.

Anglicans around the world are studying the World Council of Churches’ report, The Church: Towards a Common Vision, a fresh expression of the Church as koinonia. It begins, “Communion, whose source is the very life of the Holy Trinity, is both the gift by which the Church lives and, at the same time, the gift that God calls the Church to offer to a wounded and divided humanity in hope of reconciliation and healing.”

Overflowing from the communion of love within the Trinity, this communion is irreversibly restored in the paschal mystery of Christ. The sign and the servant of communion is the Church, as we engage together in mission, reconciliation, justice and peace, and mutual accountability, and as we pray for one another, support one another in times of need, and receive Holy Communion together.

Most of us are drawn to communities of similar language, culture, politics, or education. In the Church those similarities can be theological conviction, the last word liturgical practice, piety, or moral discernment.

The Church, however, is to be more than a community of similarity; in the New Testament it is a koinonia, a communion in unity, diversity and even disagreement.

Whenever Christians are unable to agree with one another, yet choose communion, refusing to say “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21), we proclaim that what binds us together is unshakeable.

Costly communion witnesses to the One through whom God was pleased to reconcile all things by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20).

Canon John Gibaut is Director for Unity, Faith and Order of the Anglican Communion. The Church: Towards a Common Vision is available online.

This reflection first appeared in the August Issue of Anglican World, the Anglican Communion’s quarterly magazine. Subscribe to Anglican World for more reflections and stories from the global Anglican Communion.


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