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Archbishop of Canterbury: Presidential Address at ACC-10

Posted on: October 30, 1996 1:32 PM
Related Categories: Abp Carey, ACC, ACC10

Looking to the Future

Welcome to ACC-10. Together with Canon Colin Craston, Chairman of ACC, I greet you all in the name of our Lord and pray that this time together will be a time of blessing as surely as it will be a time of hard work!

I want to begin this Presidential Address by thanking the Secretary General and his staff for all the preparation that has gone into this Assembly. We are most grateful to them.

But let us also acclaim the warm welcome of the Bishop of Panama, Bishop Clarence Hayes, and his wife Connie and colleagues who have already made us feel very much at home. This is a picturesque part of our common world and we are glad to be here.

We have before us a very full agenda which could keep us going for many weeks! Doctrine, ecumenism, liturgy, mission, social and political issues - to say nothing of finance which, like the weather, is always with us.

Few of us would deny that the context in which we meet is most appropriate. The Diocese of Panama is a small and somewhat isolated diocese and perhaps similar to the one you have come from. It is a tiny Anglican community in the enormous ECUSA and a tiny church in a predominantly Catholic country. The culture of the country may not seem obviously sympathetic to Anglicanism, but as in many other cultures is welcomed for the contribution it is making and is steadily growing as a Church and as a religious tradition. Central to its mission in this land is the excellent work it is doing in the field of education and I hope that we shall learn more about this during our time here. But also significant is the warm ecumenical relationships it has built up, particularly with the more dominant Roman Catholic Church.

It is, as I said, typical of many Anglican dioceses throughout the world - small, seemingly isolated, struggling to express its distinctiveness and faithfully serving our Lord where he has placed it.

Such a context as this will make it very hard for us to do our work unrelated to the real world in which we live. It provides us with the background against which we can ask: How can the ACC serve the Anglican diocese of Panama? How may the Anglicans in Panama utilise the resources which ACC, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and the Archbishop of Canterbury represent? How may we, the wider Church, hear the concerns of Panama and respond to them in the deliberations of our Councils?

The title of my Address is LOOKING TO THE FUTURE, and I want to begin with two passages. The first comes from that well known verse of W.B.Yeats:

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned."

My second passage comes from the book of Revelation where, from the reality of persecution in the early Church, the risen Christ proclaims: "Behold I make all things new".

The first passage is a bleak and vivid picture of the world we live in. Wherever we look things appear to be "falling apart". To be sure there is much in our world that is good. In many parts of the world people prosper and make plans for a better world. It would be plainly stupid and against direct experience to universalise Yeats' verse, as if Armageddon was around the corner. Nevertheless, there are enough worrying signs to make us pause if we are tempted to assume that the world is getting better and better. In brief, the world's population continues to mount steadily; the gap between rich and poor continues to widen; corruption and crime infects modern life at all levels of society. When we add to that list the confusion in all our countries about the nature of morality, and what models of human living and dignity we are offering our young, to say nothing of the damage we are doing to our fragile and enfeebled mother earth, we do well to ask whether Yeats' cry was actually quite prophetic.

Things may seem to be `falling apart' in the Church too. We are not alone as a world communion in feeling the exhaustion, strain as we seek to care for those parts of the world where our brothers and sisters suffer- in Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi, Northern Ireland, Palestine and elsewhere. Even in those parts of the world where Christianity rooted itself many centuries ago - Europe and elsewhere - the Church struggles to come to terms with modernity. If it does not face persecution, it experiences the debilitating wounds of apathy, cynicism and sometimes amused contempt. Yes, the experience of things "falling apart" may not simply be a Third World Church problem.

If that quotation from Yeats is a reminder of the context in which we live and work, my second text is a statement of the way God considers the future: "Behold I make all things new". The Christian Faith always faces the future with optimism, because the hope is Resurrection hope.

Let me attempt to relate this great Resurrection hope to our task over the next ten days.

I believe that our Lord is calling us towards a threefold calling:

1. TO BE A PEOPLE COMMITTED TO GOD'S MISSION TO THE WORLD

How does Anglicanism fit into this ever-changing kaleidoscope of human community and experience? We know about the disparity between rich and poor, powerful and weak, the educated and the uneducated, the corporate and the individual. We know from our own experience about the disruption of family life, of traditional structures of community. We know that many individuals are on the one hand bewildered by the speed of change, bewildered by the many competing demands and seductions which appear to point the way to success and happiness. We know that many are seeking security and affirmation that they count, and that there is meaning in their lives.

We know too - and this is one more challenge to us - that there are a multiplicity of religious traditions and communities that are seeking to offer some of the answers. With the mass migration of people - both forced and by choice - the reality of other faith traditions has been opened up for many people in an unexpected way.

How does Anglicanism meet this challenge?

We cannot ignore the reality of people's experience. Evangelism which fails to address the physical situation which people are in borders on escapism. True evangelism is always holistic and addresses the whole of life.

We must, therefore, begin with the basic assumption that "Christ has called each of us by name to follow his way". We are not in the business of institutionalising mission; we are in the business of liberating the people of God for mission.

That is where our understanding of authority must begin as well - with the whole people of God. As Lumen Gentium says so splendidly of the work of the Spirit: He "Allots his gifts at will to each individual and also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank" (Lumen Gentium 12). "All women and men are called to belong to the new people of God." (Lumen Gentium 13)

Any authority structure which we develop - whether at local, national, regional or international level must always hold at its centre the sense of the people of God, the Body of Christ. I'm glad that the Porvoo Common Statement recognises that very clearly, and develops its view of authority from these. It states: "We believe that all members of the Church are called to participate in its apostolic mission ... This is the corporate priesthood of the whole people of God and the calling to ministry and service." (Porvoo Common Statement, para 32i)

All structures are there to serve the mission of the people of God.

This, in turn, is a reassurance as well as a challenge to Anglican structures. The reassurance is that we are on the right lines! We gather together as members of the one body with different gifts and different offices. We are called together to serve the Gospel. As soon as we recognise the need to work together we begin to see the need for structures, which run the risk of creating bureaucracy and institutionalising mission. The image of the body in Paul is central. Each part of the body is vital and valued, under Christ as head. But each part must be free to carry out its task. It is no good asking a hand to do a foot's job, or an ear to do a nose's job. Each of us is called to a particular task, and to utilise our God-given gifts and skills in the pursuit of that task - but to do it in harmony with others.

The challenge however comes from the temptation - sometimes unwittingly encouraged by our tradition - to give greater value and importance to particular callings, especially the ordained ministry and the episcopate. Even worse to see this as a career structure! The gift of leadership may indeed be a particular charism, but it does not imply total authority in all fields.

The sometimes uneasy tension between synodical government and episcopal leadership which is peculiar to Anglicanism is a significant attempt to express this, and ACC derives from that tradition. If we are still some way from perfecting it, the idea is not to be sneezed at! The danger is over-heavy bureaucracy. Synods become weighed down with minutiae of legislation and fail in their primary task of liberating the people of God for mission.

Individuals engaged in innovative mission work often feel just that - individuals, isolated from the mainstream of Church life, because they feel unable to claim the name of the Church for their work, and the Church appears unwilling to authenticate their activity.

We need a model of the Church which is missionary in essence. "You are a chosen people ... that you may declare the wonderful deeds ..." (1 Peter 2:9)

It is my great hope that the Decade of Evangelism, which we as a Communion have taken up as a central `leitmotiv' of the 90's, will infuse our structures so that everything we do is permeated by a sense of being "called to mission". I believe we are capturing a sense of David Bosch's statement that "Mission is not a fringe activity of a strongly established Church, a pious cause that may be attended to when the home fires are first brightly burning ... Missionary work is not so much the work of the Church as simply the Church at work". (quoted in D. Bosch: Transforming Mission, p.372)

Thus, time will be given during this Council to review the progress we are making and how to develop our structures so that this missionary task is at the heart of what we are. In turn, these will give new direction, new substance to everything else in which we are engaged as the Body of Christ - worship, ecumenism and pastoral care. Indeed, we shall receive the results of an Important liturgical consultation, Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, which we will examine closely. It is a detailed examination of the theology and the liturgy, but also includes a reminder that the Eucharist is, or should be, in itself a missionary event. "The missionary power of the sacrament lies in this demonstration of the free grace of God offered to all people." (p.18)

This being called to be engaged in Mission is to engage in God's future. The `One who makes all things new' is not the Lord of dying congregations. He gives us courage to believe that all things are possible; that with vigorous leadership and committed lay people the Body of Christ will continue to grow and develop in unexpected and God-given ways.

2. TO BE A PEOPLE COMMITTED TO RECONCILIATION

When "things fall apart" there is the tendency to huddle together with like-minded people for warmth. It is the instinct for survival and self preservation. When things fall apart the last thing we want to do is to open our hearts to others. But this is not true of authentic Christianity or Anglicanism at its best. I truly believe that the openness of Anglicanism is a great gift to world-wide Christianity. The tolerance and breadth that has characterised our tradition has nothing to do with vagueness, wishy-washy faith or lack of commitment. It is characteristic of a faith which welcomes others and wishes there to be as few barriers to Eucharistic sharing as possible.

As I look back over the last seven or so years I realise with great joy that the prophesied demise of the Communion over the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood and Episcopate has not happened. This is due in no small measure to the Eames Commission, chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames, but also to the determination of so many of us to stay together in spite of strongly held views and theologies. No doubt we shall be faced with many more difficult issues in the future, which will threaten to split asunder our fellowship and destroy the Communion. I am confident, however, that that will not happen so long as we carry on listening to others and maintaining the bonds of fellowship with all the generosity we see in the Gospel.

The same applies to our ecumenical relationships too. I believe our Communion has a special ecumenical vocation. Our historic claim is that we are both "Catholic" and "Reformed" and we attempt to give equal weight to those terms. "Catholic" in our conformity with the faith of the Church, expressed quintessentially in the Four Ecumenical Councils. "Reformed" because of our commitment to scripture as our primary authority.

If, then, we are partners with God in his task of "making all things new", we should unite in challenging phrases like "this is the winter of ecumenism". They do not reflect today's reality. The presence of ecumenical guests during this conference demonstrates the continuing commitment to unity. We have seen real achievements. Let us be unwavering in our commitment to build on them.

But here again mission must fuel that desire for unity. Our ecumenical endeavours, too, can be transformed if mission is given a central place. During our time together we shall be considering a number of extremely hopeful reports on dialogue with our sister churches. I want to applaud these, all who have participated in them, and the progress which has been made.

But let me also be clear about one thing. Real unity among Christians will only come when people at local level see the urgency of engaging together in our common mission. Of course it is happening in some parts of the world, where the crisis facing humanity is so severe that a divided Christian witness and ministry really would be a scandal. Talk to brothers and sisters from Southern Sudan. There you will find Christian unity in action. We see it in very concrete terms in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where, despite many institutional difficulties, Christians are determined to witness together, and have been a shining example to the rest of us. Now, all the possibilities of Porv”o and the Concordat in the USA are opening up - if the theological and structural agreements can be turned into real enthusiasm at local level for common witness.

Once again, the primary concern must be to enable the mission of the people of God and in all our ecumenical negotiation that must be the heart of it. We must ensure a symmetry between the great conversations which continue to make progress on ecclesiastical unity and the vital task of encouraging and resourcing united Christian Witness among local congregations.

3. TO BE A PEOPLE COMMITTED TO RENEWAL

At this point it would be easy for a sense of complacency to invade our Council. It may seem as if I am saying that, as we are heading in the right direction, all is well.

No. Yeats' poem talks about the "centre cannot hold". Yeats, of course, did not have the centre of the Anglican Communion in mind. But that is where my concern is. We are here for these ten days to pay attention to our structures and the way they either serve or hinder our common mission.

I detect with some joy that there is a growing perception that to enable the Communion to develop further, and to meet both the needs of the Church and the profound challenges of the world, we must review how the instruments of unity are operating, and whether there are ways in which we can make them more effective. The Virginia Report raises some significant questions which we here at ACC and the Lambeth Conference - now less than two years away - must seriously address.