Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Church as Puppy Class - A Model for Unity?

A very good piece by Madpriest this week on church unity, and how to get along with those you disagree violently with but who (like it or not) are still part of the body of Christ:

The experience of the Church of England since the days of Elizabeth I has shown that people of, what amounts to, different faiths can exist together in the same church. Of course, there will be squabbling. There is squabbling in the dog club I belong to but this doesn't mean its members don't all love dogs (we may hate each other at times but we never stop loving our canine companions and if that is not a perfect metaphor for the Anglican Communion I don't know what is) and the arguments rarely lead to people storming off in a huff to set up their own dog club somewhere else. Different dog clubs have different constitutions, different priorities, different ways of doing things. But this doesn't mean that we are not all united by our affiliation to the Kennel Club. It doesn't stop us all competing at the same dog shows run under the auspices of the Kennel Club.

The same can be true for different congregations and provinces affiliated to the Anglican Communion. The same has been true for many years. There is no need to mend something that isn't broken, especially when such tinkering will lead to more damage not less.

There is a lot of energy being spent on what actually constitutes 'affiliation to the Kennel Club', because many Anglicans think that there has to be more to it than adherence to the Nicene Creed, recognition of your diocesan bishop, and a tradition of worship. But how much do we add to the basics before it becomes almost impossible for everyone to stay affiliated, or even to keep up with all the rules and regulations?

There's also a difference between organic and institutional unity. I'm part of the institution of the CofE, but in reality, on a day to day basis, work just as closely (if not more so) with non-Anglican churches who share the same values of worship, community, mission and discipleship. However, there are 'economies of scale' in an institution, but with those come the small print. Is it even possible to have one without the other?


  1. There is a huge difference between the affiliation of dog clubs to the Kennel Club and affiliation of Anglican congregations to their national church (although the affiliation of Anglican provinces to their Communion may be less different).

    "Different dog clubs have different constitutions", and this means that they are formally independent and can do what they want. They choose their own officers. If they break the Kennel Club's rules they can presumably be expelled, but they cannot be forced to toe the line.

    But Anglican congregations are in a quite different situation. Their rules are centrally mandated, their leaders are centrally appointed, and their assets including their buildings are centrally owned. So the centre can force them to toe the line. As experience in the USA and Canada has shown, while individuals can leave they cannot take any of the church property with them.

    Should Anglican congregations be more like dog clubs, and their national churches and dioceses more like the Kennel Club? Should congregations be free to go independent, taking their buildings with them, and select a bishop to relate to or join another denomination? I would suggest that they should - but then some would say that that is to abandon the essence of Anglicanism.

  2. And which Kennel Club founder said, "By this everyone will know that you are members of the Kennel Club - that you have love for one another?"

  3. I think that MP's comparison of the Anglican Communion has some elements of truth, but surely the Communion means more than a loose affiliation of like minds.

    I'm not for the covenant, as it smacks of centralisation and foreign bishops dictating how individual churches are organise and run. To much like Rome for my taste.

    I am for a communion of love and friendship, of shared heritage, but different culture, where each is free to express it's identity, within a family of friends. Where disputes are resolved by shared prayer and discussion. Where the voice of the smallest is as loud as that of the greatest.

    Just thinking about the UK ceding many powers to the European Union, which now externally directs how our legislation works, passes judgements that are unpopular and is about foreign powers interfering in our affairs, because we signed away our independence in pursuit of a mutual society for the benefit of all, but where the inequalities are obvious, and which is destabilising the whole community.

    Do we really want this type of communion.