Skip to comments.MERE ANGLICANISM OPENS
Posted on 01/27/2007 9:06:47 PM PST by Huber
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor 15:58 RSV)
"These are words for us and for our time. Paul was in a life and death fight, and so are we." Thus Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, began his sermon that led off the 2007 Mere Anglicanism Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. He noted the irony of the Conference opening on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, referring to that conversion as "one of Scripture's great stories," suggesting that Paul's story is also ours.
If the Bishop's rhetoric was sober, it was also inspiring. There were no maudlin cries of victimization at the hands of any enemy, real or imagined. The understanding throughout this first day was a consciousness of living out the gospel in history, from primal history of the New Testament martyrs, to the martyrs of the English Reformation, to today's Anglican martyrs scattered around the world.
Setting the tone of Mere Anglicanism were illustrations, not about the struggles of beleaguered orthodox Christians in the United States in recent decades, but about the life and death struggle that marks authentic Christianity in any age. If there was a sober reminder for the 250 registrants gathered in historic St. Philip's Episcopal Church, it did not have to do with the ECUSA Culture Wars, but with "merest Christianity", as Bishop Duncan repeatedly called it.
In a moment of morbid humor Duncan paraphrased author Philip Jenkins ("The Next Christendom") asking, "When was the last Archbishop of Canterbury worth killing? 1645!" The congregation erupted with laughter. Then Duncan repeated Jenkins' original punch line: "Today there are many archbishops and bishops in Africa worth killing."
Duncan cited his text in 1 Corinthians 15 as Paul's example of "what it means as you go to live this exquisite gospel of Jesus Christ, this 'merest Christianity'."
The Conference's first major presentation followed the opening service of Choral Evensong. The opening lecture on "The Nature and the Calling of the Anglican Communion" was presented by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, England. Bishop Nazir-Ali, recently an outspoken advocate for rights of Christians in Christian England, is no stranger to controversy. A native of Pakistan, and an Anglican scholar sought by the Vatican to review papal writings, he is perhaps unmatched in his qualification to speak as an Anglican world leader aware of his place on the stage of history.
Bishop Nazir-Ali stated right away his preference not to focus on a polemical analysis of the present state of the church. "Many of the situations that we face have to do with the local and the universal aspects of the church," he began. He then detailed a New Testament typology of the church, culminating in "that last manifestation of the church, the universal church, which is not just made up out of the assemblies of Christian believers throughout the world, but it has a greater reality than just the collection of local churches."
By the time the church got to the Reformation it had learned to retain its New Testament moorings through a threefold appeal to Scripture, antiquity, and general councils. "Those are the ways in which the universal dimension survived. But the question is, what now?"
"We need to learn again how to be a worldwide church." He opined that the Anglican churches will need more than just the relatively recent "instruments of unity" espoused by upper echelons of the Mother Church in England.
"In the question that we are facing at this time there is the need to attend to both the local and the universal."
The Bishop offered several other dichotomies for understanding the church as a global mission: such as cultural "translatability" and "captivity", the more familiar "unity and diversity", and others, such as "dialog and dissent", "mission and movement", "accommodation and enculturation".
Bishop Nazir-Ali maintained the same impressive level of erudition, sharing numerous examples from his worldwide travels as a church administrator and advocate. While he unapologetically stretched the minds of his listeners, he put on no airs of intellectualism, but rather suggested that nothing less than a thorough analysis would be suitable for the Communion to reorient itself and to reconnect as a universal society with its New Testament foundation.
During the question and answer period that followed, the pressure of the Episcopal Culture Wars was more evident. The Rt. Rev. James M. Adams Jr., Bishop of Western Kansas, restated the church's missionary vocation reflecting on a contemporary church alienated from its own roots. "We lose our vision when our mission becomes what we do. The church only has one thing to do outside of itself, and that is to proclaim the story of Jesus Christ. If we lose that and make our mission what you do with (no harm intended) Millennium Goals - if that becomes your whole mission, then the mission you've been given by Christ himself is lost -- because you no longer tell the story; you do what you do."
Others participants were anticipating something like a public statement or commentary on the present crisis in the Episcopal church. John Rodgers, a retired AMiA bishop, commented with some disappointment, "We won't make a statement" at the conference. Then in reference to the upcoming Primates' Meeting he added, "I would love somebody to say that delay is a tactic to make that which is unacceptable acceptable. The right thing to do is [for the Primates] to make a decision" to break with the American church.
Some were philosophical, but the air of heaviness persisted. When asked why he was attending Mere Anglicanism, the Rev. Gregg Brewer, rector the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania, said thoughtfully, "It's time to reformulate Anglican ecclesiology." He was clearly apprehensive as he said it, and yet the presentations so far seemed to touch his concern, both theoretically and practically.
Day one drew to a close with an impressive, enthusiastic turnout. It was met with substantive and very relevant presentations set in a classically Anglican meeting space. The next two days promise much more of the same, with opportunities for participants to interact with each other in "connections" groups and to respond to lectures in a give and take with panels of experts.
This diverse group of Anglicans, from various North American jurisdictions, is setting out to reconnect "merest Christianity" with its own Anglican roots. The objective is straight forward and simple. To quote Sarah Hey, one of the conference organizers and panel moderators, it is simply "the education and formation of Anglicans."
---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, Florida. He is a regular VOL columnist.
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