Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Notes from a Montreal meeting

For the record, Sheena Gourlay has provided these notes on the discussion at the March 18th meeting, at Christ Church Cathedral

The meeting that was held on Sunday, March 18th, at Christ Church Cathedral brought together people from many different parishes and positions to discuss the questions that had been highlighted at the previous meeting. This is a summary of their discussion.

Immediate tasks

Do we need to respond to the communiqué of the Primates meeting? How?
What is the most effective way of getting our message out?
Do we believe a covenant is necessary?

Of all the issues raised, the one that which received the most discussion and strongest response was the proposed Anglican covenant. The criticism of this proposal centred on two aspects, its implications for the Anglican Church as an institution, and what it means theologically and spiritually. Much of the opposition to the idea of a covenant was due to the overtly political nature of such a project. A covenant would install another layer of authority in the church, creating a hierarchy that is foreign to Anglican tradition, a ‘little Vatican’ as some said. As such it would take decision-making power from local bishops and laity. Lay people having a voice and power within the church through their participation in synods is particularly important to the way that the Anglican Church works. It also raises some serious questions such as what happens if one member of the communion does not sign on, would there be an opt-out clause? What would be the lines of authority in this new structure? And who is it supposed to serve? Given the current ‘aura of inevitability’ that currently surrounds the concept, and the resulting lack of discussion of whether it is even needed or what the consequences of such a structure would be, many felt that we should simply say ‘no’ to the concept of an Anglican covenant.

On another level, many recognized that the notion of a covenant is an attempt to control theology, to limit the intellectual rigor and openness to challenges that theological work entails, and to determine what people are allowed to think. On a cultural level it risks setting up a situation where others make decisions about our culture in light of their own, and using scripture to back up their ideas. As one person commented, irrespective of the decision that is made, no covenant can enforce compliance on the part of a church or an individual. More importantly, we already have a covenant, the covenant that we make with God at our baptism. Our baptismal covenant should be the centre of our relation with God and with each other.

Finally, it is to be remembered that what is at stake is the question of power versus openness and inclusiveness, so while our national church explores the issue of homosexuality and the blessing of same-sex unions, we have to place this within the larger issues that face the church. And as one person asked, quoting Charles Taylor, how can spirituality have a place in society?

Medium term possibilities

What do individuals, small groups want to do?
How can we organize to have numbers and resistance?
How can we deal with undue taking of authority by the Primates?
How much power will we allow the structures to have over us?
Are we witnessing a stealthy take-over by well organized, well funded right wing groups?
How can we become an effective cross-Canada network?

The first response was that we should refuse to be bullied, and that we should refuse to sign a covenant.

The second response was that we need more communication, both on a local level within the diocese and on a larger level, including the national church and the Anglican Communion as a whole. Within this diocese there are places where it is hard to state one’s views and to argue for an open and inclusive church. At the moment conservatives have the upper hand, claiming to speak from scripture, and enforcing a limited and self-serving definition of the church. This can lead to a feeling of isolation and the silencing of those who do not agree. Parishes need to speak to each other, through ministers preaching in different parishes and through articles in our local Anglican Journal and the Montreal Gazette.

On another level, it was felt that we need to respond to the move by the primates to take power from local bishops and lay people, as well as those who are pushing so-called traditional values, whether well-organized or not. We need to write to our own bishop, to other bishops within Canada, to our Primate, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Our national church must respond to this situation. We also need to argue for an inclusive church through the use of the Web, blogs, Via Media http://viamediausa.org/start.html, the Episcopal Majority http://episcopalmajority.blogspot.com/, the national Anglican Journal, and other newspapers and media.

Finally it was suggested that parishes here should communicate with parishes in Africa, to create community and foster understanding directly. Given the experience and success of the women’s movement, it was also suggested that women should communicate and work together both nationally and internationally, sidestepping the usual male dominated church structure.

Longer term goals

Do we have a shared vision?
What should our vision be?
What do we want our church to look like in five years time?

What are we defined by? Liturgy? By shared worship? Do we want to be a place that brings people together or a place where things are simply stored, do we want to be a tent or a parking lot, as one person poetically stated the question. It must be remembered that the Anglican Church began through exclusion, defined by political borders and loyalty to the Monarch. However, out of this grew an ethos and praxis of worship, spirituality and piety, and where scripture is integral but not exclusive. Scripture takes its place beside reason and tradition in guiding our thinking. For this reason Anglicanism has always been able to handle nuances or ‘grey areas’.

What do we want the Canadian church and the Anglican Communion as a whole to look like in five years time? History has shown that a single vision is neither possible nor necessary. Rather we should vision ourselves as a community of communities in dialogue.

Scripture, authority and interpretation

What is the authority of Scripture?
What is the role of modern scriptural scholarship in reconciling extreme positions?
How can we be honest in Scriptural interpretation?
How do we promote better biblical Scholarship?

Our understanding of the authority of scripture and its place within the Anglican tradition goes beyond placing it beside reason and tradition in guiding our thinking. Christ’s summary of the law was both liberating and challenging. This understanding of scripture is embodied in the idea of a church-based witnessing to the living Gospel. If this means that there will always be differences, and that conflict is inevitable, it does not mean that we can go back to an earlier view of scripture or an exclusive view of the church. (For more discussion on the authority of scripture, scriptural interpretation and biblical scholarship, see Michael Pitts postings on March 19th and 21st.)

Is the reconciliation of extreme positions possible or even desirable? Given that any extreme position entails rigidity and a refusal to change, where would such a conversation begin?

At the close of the meeting one of the participants concluded with a call to focus on, not what we are against, but on what we are for and the values that we want to embody.

No comments: