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Rowan Williams and the Future of the Anglican Communion

Rowan Williams and the Future of the Anglican Communion

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The Archbishop of Canterbury is trying desperately to hold the Anglican Communion together.

Whether he is successful or not remains to be seen. Things and events still hang in the balance. The outcome is uncertain, but there is a sinking feeling here that the jig is all but up and a solemn pontifical requiem Mass should be held over the remains of a shattered communion.

It has been a nail-griping ride which many now believe is coming to an end.

None of the parties in the church are particularly happy.

Consider the traditionalist wing of the Church of England. They have pled for years for alternative oversight, their own third province, but they have not been successful in obtaining it. Hundreds of clergy left the Church of England between 1992 and 1994 when women were ordained to the priesthood (some returned), but now that women bishops is all but a done deal, no provision has been made for their consciences. They are in a corner with just two options – stay and allow a woman bishop to lead them or accept the Anglican ordinariate offered by the Pope. Few, to date, seem ready to cross the Tiber and accept his offer. They are trapped. I am told most will stay and for the most part be left alone to practice their faith. A Code of Practice will not do for Anglo-Catholics.

Evangelicals are beginning to chafe at the ecclesiastical bit with REFORM leader Rod Thomas opining that if Church of England leaders fail to provide adequate safeguards for future ordinands and they are discriminated against over male headship they will encourage their people to develop their ministries outside “formal structures, although hopefully still within an Anglican tradition.”

Fighting words indeed. He went on to say this: “Our congregations will inevitably start asking questions about their own place within the Church of England if they see us encouraging people into training for alternative ministries. This will come into sharp focus when the issue of succession to an incumbency arises. Since we cannot take an oath of canonical obedience to a female bishop, we are unlikely to be appointed to future incumbencies. We see nothing but difficulty facing us.”

The REFORM leaders said they will have to discuss with their congregations how to foster and protect the ministry they wish to receive. “This is likely to generate a need for the creation of new independent charitable trusts whose purpose will be to finance our future ministries, when the need arises.”

Thomas went on to say that money, some $34 million, could dry up funding Diocesan budgets.

“For those of us ordained since 1992, our understanding, in good faith, was that proper legal provision would be made for those who did not agree that women should have the overall leadership of a church. It seems to us a matter of simple integrity that Synod should now keep its word to us in this and not force us down a road none of us wish to tread.”

Reform has more than 1,300 members, of whom more than 350 are ordained clergy. Many others are known to be sympathetic to its concerns.

The Church of England’s broad church and its present women priests are not turning the tide in church attendance in any measureable sense. The latest figures look dismal and getting worse by the year.

Church of England attendance falls for fifth year in row, screamed a headline in The Guardian newspaper. Despite efforts to woo back flock, weekly and Sunday turnout fell in 2008 as did numbers attending at Christmas and Easter. The Church of England has seen a drop in attendance for the fifth consecutive year despite increasing its efforts to woo people back to the pews.

The average weekly attendance in 2008 fell to 1.145 million from 1.16 million in 2007, while the average Sunday attendance fell from 978,000 in 2007 to 960,000 in 2008. Conversely there are more Catholic attendees than CofE and there are some two million Muslims who regularly practice their faith. Altogether only 3.7 million Brits across all Christian denominations in a nation of 60 million practice their faith.

A floor presentation by a leading Methodist the Rev. David Gamble at synod had this to say regarding a covenant between Anglicans and Methodists, “We are prepared to go out of existence not because we are declining or failing in mission, but for the sake of mission. In other words we are prepared to be changed and even to cease having a separate existence as a Church if that will serve the needs of the Kingdom.”

By any standards this is an appalling state of affairs. No Synod seems capable of correcting or changing the situation or of offering a theologically or evangelistic alternative to correct the decline in the foreseeable future despite all the talk of “Fresh Expressions” to jump start the church. Movements and ministries like ALPHA and Christianity Explored are still the only two spiritually dynamic options offering the Good News in clear unalloyed terms.

As the Church of England continues to promote the rights of actively homosexual clergy, push women bishops, turns a blind eye to encroaching Sharia Law and sideline its traditionalist bishops while mocking evangelicals as little more than fundamentalists then its decline will only continue.

The new powerhouses of Anglicanism, which are evangelical, are now in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Unless the Church of England is prepared to stand up to secular humanism and encroaching Islam it will, as Barnabas leader Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo recently declared, find the candlestick removed from its presence (Rev.2:5)

Recent moves by Synod to acknowledge the new Anglican Church in North America, (ACNA) a small but significant step, the growing influence of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and its parent GAFCON, and the new North American province are encouraging signs.

There is light in the darkness albeit a flicker. If the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be persuaded that the crisis upon him is real and can only be resolved by a forceful defense and proclamation of the historic gospel then the Church of England will be little more than an antiquity, its cathedrals and churches simply tourist attractions to future generations including Britons themselves.


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