Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A New Province?

There has been a lot of talk in Anglican circles about the creation of a "new province" of the Anglican Communion with the formation of the Anglican Church in North America. I have very little to say about this new religious body. People who once belonged to the Episcopal Church (TEC) or the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) are free to form a new denomination and to choose for it whatever name they like. I am not even much concerned that people will mistake congregations of the new denomination for ones of TEC or ACC, although I admit that may be more of a problem in Canada than in the US. There are already lots of other denominations that have attached Anglican to themselves and it hasn't created too much confusion. I am not even much concerned that this new denomination will become a member of the Anglican Communion. I think that that is highly unlikely, but even if it does happen, I will find a way to deal with that new reality with some grace.

What does concern me is the continued use of provinces when referring to the member churches of the Anglican Communion. I believe that it is a fallacy - and a dangerous one - to think that the churches of the Anglican Communion are provinces. To call them that leaves unanswered the question - provinces of what? Surely not the Church of England. Some might argue, that they are provinces of the Anglican Church. I would argue there is no such thing as the Anglican Church, except in those churches of the Communion, like the Anglican Church of Canada, that have chosen that as their name. There is a Roman Catholic Church with what I would call provinces, i.e., administrative units, throughout the world, but the Anglican Communion is not the same sort of creature that the Roman Catholic Church is.

The member churches of the Anglican Communion are not administrative units of a world-wide church. They are autonomous churches within a family of churches that have historical connections to the Church of England. They do not all govern themselves in the same way. In some of the churches, e.g., bishops are elected; in others, they are appointed. Although the worship of all these churches has its origins in the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, there is great variety as each church has adopted liturgies that are appropriate for its own context.

I think that it is well past time for us to stop referring to the member churches of the Anglican Communion as provinces. Continuing to do so only reinforces a misunderstanding of what the Anglican Communion really is. Far from being held together by a centralized administrative structure, an Anglican Vatican, the Communion is sustained and enlivened by missional relationships. You can find monks from the Episcopal Church teaching in a theological college of the Anglican Church of Kenya. You can find a priest from the Episcopal Church and his wife serving on the staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. And you can find an Episcopalian from the diocese where I was raised and ordained (Western Massachusetts) serving as a Young Adult Service Corps missionary at Itipini Medical Clinic in Mthatha, South Africa.

It is not at all surprising that the Anglican Communion is at its heart relational. A dominant emphasis of Anglican theology is the Incarnation. The God whose very nature is relational - Father, Son and Holy Spirit in an eternal relationship of love - has chosen to be in intimate relationship with humankind and all creation by sharing human life. I have often said, and will continue to say, that in the Incarnation God has said unequivocally that God wants to be God only in relationship with us.


Christine McIntosh said...

Is the USA the only church other than the Scottish Episcopal Church (known in Scotland as "the Episcopal Church") which has "Episcopal" in its title?
Actually, in Scotland we know ourselves as "Piskies". But I still can't get used to the new name for ECUSA.

Daniel Weir said...

There a few others: Philippines, Sudan, Brazil (they use both Episcopal and Anglican), Jerusalem & the Middle East, Rwanda and Cuba.

James said...

I agree wholeheartedly. We are autonomous churches.