On Tilley hats and the Anglican Communion

4405hats_hdLast year, my father was going on a lengthy trip and asked to borrow my broad-brimmed hat. This is a Tilley hat so it was with some reluctance that I let him have it. It is “made with real Canadian persnicketiness,” after all.

My reluctance was justified. He lost it. Some months later for my birthday, my gift from him was… a new Tilley hat.

What a great idea! Take something away from someone, then get them a replacement but call it a gift. My Christmas shopping woes are solved!

I thought of that when I read the news this week that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church approved an increase in the amount of money that the church gives to the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), the central coordinating body for the Communion in London.

I’ve written about this before but a brief recap: at General Convention in 2012, the budget for the church allotted far less to the ACO than the church was asked to give. Since then, given what is apparently an improving budget picture, Executive Council has gradually added some of that money back. As it is, however, the amount the Episcopal Church will give the ACO in this three-year budget cycle is still far less than the ACO asked for. (How much less is not quite clear.)

When I read the news about Executive Council this week, I felt about the same as I did when I opened up my replacement Tilley hat—wait, shouldn’t I already have this? It’s made worse by the fact that the presiding bishop apparently framed the move as being “in recognition of greatly improved relations with the Communion, but also as a gesture of support for some very beneficial work, such as the continuing Indaba project and reconciliation work.” (At least my father had the good grace to apologize to me.) Many dioceses of the Episcopal Church have argued something similar, only in the negative: they won’t give money to the national church because they don’t support its projects. To be meaningful, financial support can’t be contingent.

I should note that our news for this move comes from indefatigable executive council member Susan Snook. And her report of the presiding bishop’s framing has sparked an interesting interpretation from several conservative Anglicans—interesting for being totally wrong. Kendall Harmon claims that these are “large sums” of money (hardly) that the Episcopal Church is using to buy influence. (The presiding bishop’s framing of this as a contingent decision does—with a real long stretch—lend itself to this interpretation.) Commenters compare this to Judas’ 30 pieces of silver. Another blogger speculates that this is why Justin Welby praised the presiding bishop when she was recently granted a honorary doctorate from Oxford: a quid pro quo.

Hardly. The sad, sorry truth is that the Episcopal Church is behind in its payments to the ACO. By attempting to put a positive spin on this debt, the presiding bishop gave conservative bloggers—who will twist any piece of information to suit their purposes—further ammunition to attack the church.

And in all this, the importance of the work of the ACO is lost. At least since the late 1950s, Anglicans have believed that they need some sort of central body to coordinate their life together. This is not some giant bureaucratic apparatus. The ACO and its predecessors has never been much more than a smallish group of people led by a secretary-general, who bring us things like the Continuing Indaba Project, the Bible in the Life of the Church, companion diocese relationships, the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, and much, much more. They are a good and important group of people and I believe their work is significant for the Communion as a whole.

It sets a poor example when the church fails to adequately fund this work. Parishes give a portion of their money to their diocese. Dioceses give a portion of their money to the national church. For a church that takes as central to its identity its membership in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, I can’t see why this flow of small amounts of money should stop “at the water’s edge,” as it were.

But at least I can conclude by noting that I am very happy with my replacement hat!

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