The Anglican Communion is on the verge of institutional collapse, the Archbishop of Canterbury has told The Times.
In an interview published on 6 Dec 2014 the Most Rev. Justin Welby conceded the divisions were all but irreconcilable. The fabric of the communion torn by the consecration of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson in 2003 had unraveled, he said, two days after he returned from his 37th and final overseas visit to the communion’s church.
“I think, realistically, we’ve got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together, or not hold together for a while,” the archbishop told The Times. “I could see circumstances in which there could be people moving apart and then coming back together, depending on what else happens.”
However, the archbishop was optimistic that in time the divisions in doctrine and discipline could be overcome by letting go of the stridency and rage that characterized many of the disputes of the last ten years.
“What you can ask is for people to engage with those with whom they disagree, not expecting to be convinced, or even to convince, but to understand the other person’s humanity and why they come to such a different view,” the archbishop said.
While he disagreed “profoundly” with some of the actions taken by local, unnamed, churches, the archbishop said his travels had given him a view as to the way forward. Much of the communion valued its symbolic links to the See of Canterbury, he said and it “would take a long time for the latent underlying link to Canterbury to cease to be an important factor in the way people looked at life and the Communion.”
He had no doubt the communion would survive in some form, but he did not know what would look like. “If you ask, will the Communion as it was in the 1980s be here in 30 years, I would say ‘Certainly not.’ Will there be an Anglican Communion? Very, very likely indeed. But it will look very different. And I don’t quite know what it will look like.”
The archbishop entered office holding the view that the Anglican Communion should become a loose federation of churches. However, “I’m beginning to row back” on the idea the Anglican Communion would evolve along the same lines as the British Empire evolved into the Commonwealth.
“I went out thinking the Archbishop of Canterbury must no longer lead the Communion. And I said it everywhere we went, and virtually everywhere we went, people said ‘No, no, no, that’s completely wrong.’ So there’s going to be something in which the Archbishop of Canterbury is still the first among equals. Exactly how the links work is yet to be decided.”
While the church was fractured on the international level, on the national and local level many churches were doing quite well. “Almost every province is imaginative, flexible, dealing with rapidly changing contexts rather well.”
While not commenting on the actions taken by the Episcopal Church of the USA, Archbishop Welby said his visit to America was “a real gift in terms of communication. At least there was understanding why we disagreed with each other when we disagreed, rather than simply disagreeing and not understanding each other.” But he added: “The situation there is complicated, to put it mildly.”
The next step, he believed was embodying “good disagreement”, however, this was not unity for the sake of unity.
“I’m absolutely not saying ‘Unity at all costs’ — quite the reverse. Truth and integrity matter hugely,” he said.
“It’s all very well making declarations. The difficult bit is living together and working it out in practice. And we’re absolutely determined to do that. It’s very tough. But it’s a prize that is so absolutely worth going for.”