AN ANGLICAN KINGDOM OR AN ANGLICAN COMMUNION?
It was an honor for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to hear Archbishop Rowan Williams speak to us on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 (and again on the following day). Archbishop Rowan spoke eloquently and incisively on Wednesday evening about economic crisis. Among his fine points was his observation that it will be small-scale enterprises, local initiatives, and local relationships which will lead the world into a new economy. He mentioned efforts like Habitat For Humanity.
I suggest that those same principles of local development, local truth-telling, and honest relationship, are the keys to the economy of our Anglican Communion of churches as well. Some claim that our church is in a crisis just as urgent as that of our world economy. (Even if one claims that we are not in true crisis, we can certainly acknowledge that elements of our communion are anxious.) Following Archbishop Rowan’s economic principles, the remedy to our anxiety (or crisis) will not be a hierarchical declaration, from the top down. Our Anglican Communion will derive strength from local communities being faithful to how God leads them in their particular circumstances and in their particular time. Indeed, I believe this is the genius of our Anglican tradition.
I enjoy references to the “UK,” the “United Kingdom.” This past week, I began to recognize some obvious historical differences between a united kingdom and a united states. Our Anglican heritage finds its historical roots in a nation that is now known as the United Kingdom. That nation’s constituent parts were once governed by royalty – by kings and queens. In shorthand, this meant top-down rule, often far-removed from genuine relationships with the population. On the other hand, The Episcopal Church finds its historical roots in a nation that is now known as the United States. Our nation’s constituent parts were once independent states, much different from “kingdoms;” and our country continues to negotiate the best ways to apply both federal and state government.
It strikes me that what we know now as the Anglican Communion of Churches might once have more accurately been called the Anglican Kingdom of Churches. After all, The Anglican Church historically spread along the very same lines as English colonialism.
Today, are we an Anglican Kingdom of Churches, or are we an Anglican Communion of Churches? A secular kingdom “lords it over” its subjects, making rules that are, at best, sincere, but, at worst, tyrannical. A old-fashioned king usually “rules” at a distance, from above. (Fairy tales fantasize about kings who disguise themselves in order to mingle with their people.) On the other hand, a communion’s authority involves dispersed leadership; a communion values idea and inspiration from even the lowest members of itself.
Kingdom is about hierarchy. Communion is about relationship. Of course, Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of God are another matter; Jesus’s description of the kingdom of God overturns the world’s understanding of “kingdom.” At any rate, The Anglican Communion of churches rarely operates well as hierarchy. The Anglican Communion of churches is at our best when we honor relationships. In doing so, we honor the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the world.