The Archbishop of Canterbury: Further thoughts on the Communion

Here is the address that Archbishop Rowan Williams gave to the Churchof England’s General Synod today.

A few excerpts:

When I said, as I did in my reflections, that the Communion cannot remain as it is, I was drawing attention to some unavoidable choices. Many have said, with increasing force of late, that we must contemplate or even encourage the breakup of the Communion into national churches whose autonomy is unqualified and which relate only in some sort of loose and informal federation. This has obvious attractions for some. The problem is that it is unlikely to bear any relation to reality. Many provinces are internally fragile; we cannot assume that what will naturally happen is

a neat pattern of local consensus. There are already international alliances, formal and informal, between Provinces and between groups within different Provinces. There are lines of possible fracture that have nothing to do with provincial boundaries. The disappearance of an international structure – as, again, I have observed in recent months – leaves us with the possibility of much less than a federation, indeed, of competing and fragmenting ecclesial bodies in many contexts across the world.

Historic links to Canterbury have no canonical force, and we do not have (and I hope we don’t develop) an international executive. We depend upon consent. My argument was and is that such consent may now need a more tangible form than it has hitherto had; hence the Covenant idea in the Windsor Report.

But if there is such a structure, and if we do depend on consent, the logical implication is that particular churches are free to say yes or no; and a no has consequences, not as ‘punishment’ but simply as a statement of what can and cannot be taken for granted in a relationship between two particular churches. When I spoke as I did in my reflections of ‘churches in association’, I was trying to envisage what such a relation might be if it was less than full eucharistic communion and more than mutual repudiation. It was not an attempt to muddy the waters

but to offer a vocabulary for thinking about how levels of seriously impaired or interrupted communion could be understood.

In other words, I can envisage – though I don’t in the least want to see- a situation in which there may be more divisions than at present within the churches that claim an Anglican heritage. But I want there to

be some rationale for this other than pure localism or arbitrary and ad hoc definitions of who and what is acceptable.

I believe that the vision of Catholic sacramental unity without centralisation or coercion is one that we have witnessed to at our best and still need to work at. That is why a concern for unity – for unity (I must repeat this yet again) for unity as a means to living in the truth – is not about placing the survival of an institution above the demands of conscience. God forbid. But it is a question of how we work out, faithfully, attentively,

obediently what we need to do and say in order to remain within sight and sound of each other in the fellowship to which Christ has called us.

Past Posts