The Episcopal News Service has a lengthy article today that follows up a lot of the questions raised at General Convention about the Church’s huge cuts to funding for the Anglican Communion Office. It also makes some grand claims about the nature of the Anglican Communion nine years after the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
Here’s the article’s lede:
The world’s 80 million Anglicans are much more aware today than they were 10 years ago that they belong to a global communion, a realization that has led to a flourishing of international relationships between the Episcopal Church and other provinces, dioceses and individuals.
Although the article claims to be concerned with Anglicans all over the world, the only evidence it musters is in the Episcopal Church. This is a hallmark of one of the most depressing of all American characteristics, namely the willingness to generalize from quite particular experience. To write an article like this merely reinforces what many people around the world already think: Americans are self-centred, solipsistic, and parochial.
The thing is, our brother and sister Anglicans around the world have known and cared about the Anglican Communion for a lot longer than many Americans have. When I traveled in the church in Nigeria (where 1 in 4 of those 80 million Anglicans live) last summer, one of the aspects of the church that was most noticeable to me was the way Nigerian Anglicans cared about being part of the Communion. The official name of the church is Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). When you leaf through a diocesan newsletter, there’s plenty of material about other Anglicans around the world. In a remote diocese in South Sudan a few years back, I was asked what I thought about Rowan Williams’ decision to deny Katharine Jefferts Schori her mitre on a visit to England. In a remote Bible college in a China, I was once asked about the Anglican Communion. It’s the Americans who have woken up and smelled the Anglican Communion coffee in the last decade. The rest of the world, at least, was already aware.
My sense of the last decade is that the American church, particularly its liberal wing, has been rushing to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of understanding itself as part of a global Communion. For a variety of reasons—including prioritizing domestic concerns, feeling unsure about how to relate to newly-independent churches, and so forth—the Episcopal Church began a fairly large retreat from its global commitments in the late 1960s all the way through the 1990s. This, in many ways, set the stage for the “crisis” of the last decade.
In 1963, Anglican lay people, priests, and bishops from around the world got together for an Anglican Congress in Toronto. One of the speakers was a man named Howard Johnson, who, a few years prior, had completed a two-year tour of every province in the Anglican Communion. At the Congress, he had this to say:
We Anglicans stumbled into universality – prodded, I believe, by Providence. But our consciousness of ourselves has not yet caught up with the reality of ourselves. In actuality we are a multiracial, multilingual, multicultural body, but in awareness we are still parochial and provincial.
My sense is that Johnson’s observation is still largely correct. It is true, however, that the election and ordination of Gene Robinson means that Episcopalians now know more than they used to about the Anglican Communion whether they like it or not. But has that had the positive impacts the article claims? On that question, I think, the jury is still out.