Before Windsor,
there was Virginia

By Kit Carlson

Almost a decade ago, when the enormous threat to the fabric of the Anglican Communion was the consecration of a female bishop, the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for a way “to describe how the Anglican Communion makes authoritative decisions while maintaining unity and interdependence in the light of the many theological issues that arise from its diversity.”

A group of theologians and church leaders that eventually became the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission met several times at Virginia Theological Seminary during the early ’90s, issuing in 1997 The Virginia Report, which explored what it meant to be in communion, how that communion reflects the essential nature of God as Trinity, and what particularly Anglican approaches and instruments of unity might be helpful in maintaining that koinonia amongst the members of an increasingly diverse and divided communion.

The core of the report is that the Anglican Communion, like God in God’s very Triune nature, is an interdependent community, guided and bound together by instruments of unity (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) that are in themselves relational and interdependent. That the very authority of these instruments of unity lies in their interdependent, relational nature.

“Lambeth focuses the relation of bishops to bishops and therefore dioceses to dioceses. The Primates’ Meeting focuses the relation of Primates to Primates, and therefore Provinces to Provinces. The ACC, which is the most comprehensive gathering, represents the voice of the inner life of the Provinces, with representatives of laity, clergy and bishops. These three instruments of interdependence are presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus focusing the unity and diversity of the Communion,” the report states near its close.

And in its conclusion, the report sums it up, “A deeper understanding of the instruments of communion at a world-level, their relationship one to another and to the other levels of the Church’s life should lead to a more coherent and inclusive functioning of oversight in the service of the koinonia of the Church. When the ministry of oversight is exercised in a personal, collegial and communal way, imbued with the principles of subsidiarity, accountability and interdependence then the community is protected from authoritarianism, structures serve the personal and relational life of the Church and the diverse gift of all is encouraged in the service of all. The Church is thus opened up to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit for mission and ministry and enabled to serve more effectively the unity and community of humanity.”

I wonder why we have roared on past the thoughtful, balanced, relational and wise reflections of the Virginia Report, to make the Windsor Report a club with which to beat up on some members of the Communion. I wonder why we have abandoned discussion of koinonia and the doctrine of the Trinity to craft a Covenant that is neither interdependent nor relational. I wonder why bishops of every political bent are refusing to come to Lambeth and work in a “personal, collegial and communal way.”

How can we work through Windsor without understanding and living out the vision of Virginia? How can we craft a Covenant when we have yet to strive for koinonia?

The Rev. Kit Carlson is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world’s first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

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