Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Our Reformed Anglican tradition in need of reform at the top?

The Vatican
Jorge Bergolio, the Argentine cardinal who was elected as the 266th pope in the Roman Catholic Church, will be inaugurated today as Francis I. By all reports, the ceremony will be amid less pomp than when the previous pope ascended the throne of St. Peter, and will have a few more nods to the branches of Christianity beyond the Vatican. All of this is good news.

I have posted here a number of commentaries in the last few days about the life story and style of the new pope. He has already brought much needed humility to the Vatican, and has shown a preference to the poor and a refreshing pastoral presence. Whether he will be a good pope, time will tell, and I leave that analysis to those better qualified than myself to comment on the Roman Catholic Church.

I would bid that all of us keep Francis in our prayers. Like it as not, Pope Francis is the most visible face not just of Catholicism but of all Christianity in the world. His success can only benefit the full Body of Christ in all places; his failure will hurt all of us.

That brings me to our particular branch of the Body of Christ, the Anglican Communion, which is the second largest communion of Christians in the world next to the Catholics. The Anglican Communion – that’s us – will be represented today at the pope’s inauguration by a delegation appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who as it happens will also be inaugurated this week on Thursday. Let's also keep him in our prayers this week, for he is the most visible face of Anglicanism in the world.

Our Anglican Communion is officially represented today at the inauguration of the new Pope. But makeup of our delegation says a great deal about what is wrong with the governance of our communion.

We are an enormously diverse Communion worldwide, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the delegation Archbishop Justin has appointed to represent us at the Vatican today. The 12-person delegation is nearly all men and mostly British (there is a Canadian, a New Zealander, an Irish canon and at least one American). There are two women, one who is a layperson. The delegation is top-heavy with bishops, but there are no women bishops. It is even being called a “fraternal delegation” by Lambeth Palace (our vatican).

To read the list of those on the delegation representing us, click HERE (and this is from the Archbishop's official website).

Canterbury Cathedral
There is a great deal that is wrong with this picture. You could argue that the delegation represents the major offices of the Anglican Communion, but that begs the question of who is in those offices and how they get there. It is at least as obtuse and inside-baseball as the Roman Catholic curia.

All of this ought to raise our hackles about reforming our Reformed tradition.

The previous archbishop, Rowan Williams, pushed very hard for an “Anglican Covenant” which contained a disciplinary proposal for keeping the 30-plus Anglican national provinces in line. His efforts failed largely because few wanted a top down worldwide system for discipline. We don’t want a pope.

Yet we should not let ourselves off the hook about the governance in our Communion. We ought to be embarrassed that primarily English men are representing our Communion, which has its center-of-gravity far outside Europe. The average Anglican is a poor African, not a vicar from Downton Abbey. There are probably more practicing Anglicans in Central and South America than there are in England.

While many critics point out that men dominate the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals, at least they come from many countries. Not so with the electors of the Archbishop of Canterbury. All come from one country: Great Britain. And the only eligible bishops for the head of our communion are British. And since women are still (inexcusably and inexplicably) ineligible to become bishops in Great Britain, only men are eligible to become Archbishop of Canterbury

We should be very wary about casting stones at the all-male College of Cardinals. Physicians, heal thy selves.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux


Alla Renée Bozarth said...

Thank you for this. It had to be said. England, take heed. Our beloved Communion may be the Church of England historically and organizationally, but it is the Church of Christ in the Wide World for All People now, structured after the democratic and egalitarian principles of the Magna Carta, with voice and vote for all, though all are not yet globally represented in all Houses and Orders of ministry.

Religious tradition is a living thing, organic and changing as human conscience and consciousness are awakened. All your points cast a clear light on the places where our tradition needs to catch up with itself.

What a shame that we have lost an opportunity to be represented by a woman bishop of African heritage and a woman bishop of Latin American origin at the Vatican, celebrating the investiture of a humble Argentine holy man blessed by the name and spirit of Francis of Assisi as the most visible leader in Christendom.

Alla Renée Bozarth said...

Post Script: As an American woman in priestly ministry, I'm joining our delegation in spirit, cheering this good man and praying for his wisdom and the Light of Christ to keep shining as brightly through the integrity and warmth of his loving humanity as it has in his decades of service to others, and this week, for all the world to experience. My spirit won't take up much room. Your challenge to the powers at Lambeth Palace feels like an invitation to me, to all of us, really, to claim our place in the Body of Christ more fully. Thank you so much, Jim!