Sunday, 9 August 2009

Anglican Communion Who needs it?

Sermon for August 9th 2009: The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface, Siesta Key FL. Footnote (1)

Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2

25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God".



It was in about 1985 that a parishioner in Pittsfield, Massachusetts asked me a question. “Why”, she asked, “do you keep calling us Anglicans. I thought that we were Episcopalians?”

Seven years later I sat in a dental chair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My Russian hygienist said: “so, you are a Pastor?”

I fessed up. “What Church?” she asked. “The Episcopal Church” was my three word reply. (It’s hard to chat when your teeth are being cleaned).

“I do not know that Church” said the hygienist. I asked “Have you heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury?” “Niet”.

I tried again. “Have you heard of Archbishop Tutu?” She beamed. Of course she had. “Same Church” I said.

Hmm. Thirty years ago many Episcopalians were scarcely aware that they were Anglicans. But thanks to Archbishop Tutu just about the entire Christian world became somewhat aware of the Anglican Communion.


This Communion emerged more or less by historical accident.

It is rooted in The Church of England. This Church developed a sort of “reformed Catholicism” as a result of the political machinations of King Henry VII; the Protestant sensibilities of King Edward VI; and the cunning wisdom of Queen Elizabeth I.

It has sometimes seen itself to be the English Catholic Church, separated from Rome.

At other the same time its Prayer Book shows it to be a Protestant and even Calvinist Church.

Its clearest identity has been the official religion of the English state, where there is no legal separation of Church and State.

For a couple of hundred years to be Anglican was to be English.

But the dreadful history of the English with regard to the Scots, led to the formation of a Scottish Episcopal/Anglican Church, tentatively in 1720 and fully in 1792.

Then of course, that sorry business between my “peeps” and yours led to the formation of the Episcopal Church in these United States in 1789.

So it was that by the beginning of the 19th Century there existed three independent Anglican Churches with a common heritage. They were the Church of England (which then included Ireland and Wales); the Scottish Episcopal Church; and our own American Church.


As the British Empire expanded, so did the Church. “Church of England” parishes were established in place such as Australia and Canada.

Missionary Bishops were sent to other Colonies. They were agents of Empire and Missionaries of the Gospel.

It was to Natal in the colony of South Africa that in 1853 such a missionary Bishop was appointed by the crown. His name was John William Colenso.

Here were his loyalties. One to the Gospel. The other to the British Crown.


As a man of the Gospel, his reading of the Epistle to the Roman led him to the conclusion that Christ had redeemed all people, and that evangelization was a matter of awakening people to something that was already true.

Colenso believed that the Zulu people amongst who he worked were not savages to be converted, but children to be taught. (Footnote 2)

In 1863 Colenso’s superior, Bishop Gray of Capetown, deposed Colenso for the alleged heresy that "in Christ all people had been redeemed " - (whether or not they had "accepted Christ")


As a man of the Crown, Colenso challenged Bishop Gray’s authority, and appealed not to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but to the Crown, via the Privy Council in London. His appeal was upheld and he continued to be Bishop of Natal until his death.


( Bishop Gray continued to act as if his deposition of Colenso was canonically legal. Under Gray’s leadership another (“rival”) Bishop was consecrated for Natal. Until Colenso’s death there were two men claiming to be the lawful Bishop. Most Episcopalians have sung about these events without knowing it. Recall these lines from “The Church’s One Foundation” – a hymn written in reaction to the Colenso affair: “Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed”)

The furor over Colenso’s alleged heresy led to the first gathering of international Anglican Bishops in what came to be known as the Lambeth Conference. That Conference, in 1867, ducked the Colenso question, though an informal gathering of Bishops voted to excommunicate him.

I would suggest that the very notion of an Anglican Communion dates from that 1867 conference.

And we, the Episcopal Church were in it from the beginning. 19 American Bishops attended - a larger delegation than from even the Church of England.

Thus the Anglican Communion was born in controversy. For much of its history it was dominated by the “Anglo-Saxon” Churches – England, Canada, Australia, the United States etc.:- Churches well versed in English hypocrisy and understatement.

In more recent years the former colonial Churches, particularly in Africa have made sure that their voices should be heard, as well they must. They are no longer children, but adult members of the family.


Our Anglican Communion was born in controversy and we have been steeped in a more bitter controversy since the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Bishops.

That controversy has made it very clear that the Communion cannot and should not be dominated by Anglo-Saxon voices.


There are deep fissures throughout the Communion. The flash-point is our American Church and its determination to respect the dignity of every human being, epitomized by the consecrations of Barbara Harris and Gene Robinson as Bishop.

But in fact the fissures run deep because of a wealth of other historical, sociological and theological issues.

So deep is the conflict that many question the future of the Anglican Communion.

We, in the American Church, may be strongly tempted to move away from the Communion.

There are those in other Churches who wish that we would leave the Communion, or go back on our decisions regarding the ordination of women and partnered lesbian and gay persons.

The recent General Convention makes it clear that those decisions are non-negotiable. Nor should they be.


But before we rush to say “fie” on the Anglican Communion we need to be reminded that the Communion needs us.

It needs our voice.

It needs our contribution to mission.

It needs our support of progressive Anglican Churches in other parts, such as Brasil.

It needs our support of women who are barred from the Priesthood in other Churches.

It needs our voice of hope for gay and lesbian Christians who are persecuted in all too many Anglican Communion Churches.

And we need the Communion.

We need to hear voices other than our own, particularly the voices which we like least, such as from parts of Africa. Only absolute hubris would suggest otherwise.

And we need the Communion lest we Episcopalians be seduced by the old American aberrations of Nativism, “Know Nothing-ism” and isolationalism.


The “heresies” of which Bishop Colenso was accused are no longer regarded as heretical by much of the Church. He was “ahead of his time” in theology and, in his deep respect for and understanding of the peoples whom he was sent to evangelise.

Perhaps the American Church is also “ahead of its time”. Only time and God’s grace will tell.

How then shall we live together in this confusing Communion?

Running away or poking out tongues is what children do when in conflict.


Grown-ups stay together in conflict and be rooted in humility, as expressed in Holy Scripture which calls us to "Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you".


Footnotes

(1) I am entirely indebted for the informing of this sermon to the following paper which I accessed via Google: BISHOP JOHN WILLIAM COLENSO’S INTERPRETATION TO THE ZULU PEOPLE OF THE SOLA FIDE IN PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS Jonathan A. Draper University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg

(2) Colenso sided with the Zulus against a friend who was a British Colonial officer. That officer’s comment on the affair was that “he did not think the Bishop would have thrown over his old friends for the sake of a dirty Kafir"

2 comments:

  1. Good sermon, Michael. When I was growing up in fifties in America we were quite aware and also somewhat proud that the Episcopal Church (then called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA) was part of the Anglican Communion. But then my Dad was in ecumenical work, so maybe we weren't typical. Rick

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  2. Thank you for this informative sermon, Michael. A cradle Episcopalian, and yet these are some things I did not know!

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