Monday, 5 March 2012

It's not Super Tuesday

As the CofE diocesan synods continue to vote on the Covenant, the entire debate is unfortunately assuming Super Tuesday characteristics.  It is, however, perhaps worth considering the voting trends in the English episcopate.  According to The No Anglican Covenant Blog, this is presently running 84.2% for and 10.5% against the Covenant.  That bears some reflection precisely because this process is not equivalent to Super Tuesday.  Bishops are not merely another demographic.  In Anglican ecclesiology - as with other churches in the catholic tradition - they have a particular vocation to promote the unity and communion of the Church.  As the TEC Catechism so finely puts it:

What is the ministry of a bishop?
The ministry of a bishop is ... to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the whole Church.

ARCIC II's The Church as Communion likewise states:

For the nurture and growth of this communion, Christ the Lord has provided a ministry of oversight, the fullness of which is entrusted to the episcopate, which has the responsibility of maintaining and expressing the unity of the churches. By shepherding, teaching and the celebration of the sacraments, especially the eucharist, this ministry holds believers together in the communion of the local church and in the wider communion of all the churches (45).

That those in England whose particular vocation it is to promote the Church's unity and communion are overwhelmingly assenting to the Covenant, requires a response more grounded in the catholic tradition than is often seen in comments on Thinking Anglicans and Episcopal Cafe.  This is not to detract from the role of the laos in synods.  It is, however, to remind ourselves - in the words of the Church of Ireland's Preamble and Declaration - that synodical government is to be "consistent with [the Church's] Episcopal Constitution".

The developing role of synods in Anglican ecclesiology over the past two centuries is grounded in the catholic tradition's understanding of vocation of the laity and the consensus fidelium.  This is precisely why synodalism is not equivalent to the political process.  The episcopate is required to prayerfully listen to the consensus fidelium as given expression in synod.  The laos are required to prayerfully listen to the episcopate when it exercises its teaching authority in service of the Church's unity and communion.

This dynamic is not meant to be conformed to the norms of the polities of this world.  Rather, as the Windsor Report stated:

This process of consultation, designed to strengthen Communion, is the very opposite of confrontation, and leads to a shared discernment of God's truth (68).

Irrespective of the outcome of the Covenant debate in the CofE, Anglicanism has failed to model how synodality serves discernment and communion.  It has, instead, become the forum for our own little culture war.

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