Lives of audacious, saintly Anglicans

Audacious Anglicans: Heroes of the Anglican Communion by Robert J. Moore and Gerald T. Rayner, Bluejay Publishing, 2008, $19.95.

Review by Herbert O'Driscoll

If you wish to reach for an antidote for what I would call the Anglican Blues, you have to reach no further than a copy of a magnificent new book called Audacious Anglicans: Heroes of the Anglican Communion.

These chapters about the lives of magnificent Anglican men and women first graced the pages of the international magazine Anglican World. The twenty one portraits, all vividly narrated, are the work of two Canadian Anglicans, Robert Moore and Gerald Rayner, and, for good measure there is a moving and eloquent foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is a little of what the Primate has written.

To understand any community or organization fully, you have to understand the variety of lives that it nurtures and makes possible: generalizations will tell you very little. That is why the Christian Church has a calendar of Saints. What the Body of Christ really is only appears as you tell the stories of how Christ has been real in this or that specific life.

And if you want to defend the church against the usually very comprehensible accusations of failure and hypocrisy you will do it best by saying, "It may be all the critic says, but it did make possible the life of Francis, or of Wilberforce or of Martin Luther King," to quote Archbishop Rowan Williams' foreword.

It's the kind of book you can dip into anywhere and at any time. There is William Wilberforce campaigning tirelessly for the freedom of slaves; Emily Harriet Ayckbowm founding the Sisters of the Church to work in the Victorian slums of England; Allen Gardiner dying in the wilds of Tierra del Fuega totally committed to its indigenous people; Li Tim Oi accepting ordination so that she could practice her ministry in spite of being surrounded by Japanese army posts and Chinese brigands.

There is John Stott practicing what has been called his magnificent "thoughtful allegiance" to Scripture; Janani Luwum who "walked with death for a year before he died, a martyr in Idi Amin's tyrannized Uganda; Ini Kopuria, founder of the largest religious order in the Anglican Communion, the Melanesian Brotherhood; John Polkinghorne, priest and scientist; Una Kroll and her long and difficult struggle, sometimes understandably angry, towards being ordained priest in the Church of Wales.

These men and women, and more, each unique in their ways, are one in their commitment to their often costly vision of Anglican ministry.


Nature as a wellspring of wisdom, insight

The Spirituality of Nature by Jim Kalnin, Northstone, 2008, $37.

Review by Ron Dart, St. Matthew's, Abbotsford

There has been an accelerated interest in Nature, and messages Nature sends us, if we have but the ears to hear and hearts to receive, in the last few decades. The turn to Nature for hints and clues into our souls and our relationship to Nature is not new, of course.

The Spirituality of Nature taps into this ancient and time-tried way of knowing and being. The well-crafted book is divided into eight appealing and attractive chapters: Pathways into Wilderness, Wilderness and Sanctuary, The Pond and the Universe, The Spirituality of our Kin, Dancing on the Rooftops, The Last Piece of Paradise, Tire Tracks and Footprints and Returning Home. Each chapter is amply illustrated with evocative and alluring photographs, suggestive paintings, an inviting text and some finely chosen quotes from the elders of Nature spirituality.

Jim Kalnin has spent many years in Nature, so he knows of what he writes, photographs and speaks. He uses a multidisciplinary approach to the spirituality of Nature and highlights that Nature cannot be approached in a one-dimensional way. The wisdom both of Nature and how we, as humans, integrate and learn from Nature (rather than dominating the natural world) is insightfully unpacked by this book.

That there has been a sensitive turn to Nature's bounty in the last few decades as a reaction to the abuse and misuse of Nature means that Nature is often seen in a romantic or exploitative manner. There is no doubt that a form of science and industry would see Nature as either an object to examine, or a resource to extract from. Others see Nature as a fount and wellspring of wisdom and insight. The Spirituality of Nature stands within the latter genre.

Those of us who have spent weeks, months and years in the mountains, water and bush know that Nature can be both welcoming and destructive.

Nature can be unforgiving and brutal to the naive and unwary. Nature can also be kind and healing.

If a kindly criticism could be made of the book, it would be that it errs on the side of idealizing and romanticizing Nature's more attractive garments rather than the dark and destructive bolts and blasts. But, this is a minor quibble in a missive that cannot help but mesmerize and hold the attentive reader.


The future of the Anglican Communion

Rebuilding Communion: Who Pays the Price? Edited by Peter Francis, Monad Press, 2008, 114 pp.

Review by Neil Fernyhough, St. Hilda's, Sechelt

This brief survey offers a range of responses from thirteen eminent members of the Anglican Communion from around the world, offering their impressions of the consequences of the resolution on sexuality adopted by Anglican bishops at Lambeth in 1998.  As we find ourselves in the midst of another decennial episcopal assembly, Francis’ compendium comes as an excellent capsule analysis of the trajectory the interminable debate has taken in various parts of the Anglican world over the past ten years.  It shows in stark relief, albeit from the uniform perspective of proponents of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians, the dismal failure most provinces of the worldwide Communion have had in even addressing the pertinent issues, much less moving forward to some resolution or accommodation of competing perspectives.

Rebuilding Communion provides a ready handbook for those wading into the lions’ den of the fourteenth international gathering of the world’s Anglican episcopacy – the first Lambeth Conference marked by a competing jamboree of those prelates who have decided that they are in impaired communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primus inter pares of Anglicanism itself.

The title of the book implies a response:  Who pays the price of rebuilding Communion?  Even the most relentlessly Pollyannaish of Anglicans (of which I am one) must now admit the irreparable impairment of our beloved big tent.  Martyn Percy, principal of Ripon College, puts it best when he says (in a chapter called “Sketching Communion”) that ours is a polity of competing traditions creating a hybrid movement, one held in tension between hierarchal and democratic tendencies.  The decision by some to simply take up their ball and leave the field of theological play cuts to the core of our very self-identity as this hybrid movement.  In that sense, it is Anglicanism itself, and all for whom this quality is essential to our identity, who pay the price of rebuilding Communion.  Can we recover or restore the via media, or middle path, in a church in which other parallel paths which have provided us with our boundaries are disappearing?

Although largely confined to Martyn’s chapter, this is the nub of the answer to the question “who pays the price of rebuilding Communion?”  For the most part, however, the various authors, all eminent in their regions and within Anglicanism itself, chronicle the price paid by the unravelling of Communion, rather than its rebuilding.  The latter project has not yet fully begun, and hence we cannot yet fully know what price will need to be paid.  We in the Diocese of New Westminster know all too well the price paid for the unravelling of the bonds in our own corner of the church; and Bishop Michael Ingham recounts them succinctly in his chapter, “A Pastoral Imperative.”  He notes that, when eight parishes of our diocese walked out of the 2002 Synod,

They took with them, almost overnight, 18% of our diocesan income, forcing us to cut programmes and ministries such as hospital chaplains, and our mission support throughout the world.  The real victims in this battle were the innocent, such as bedridden patients, missionaries, and theological students in developing countries, and rural and isolated congregations in northern Canada. (pp. 98-99)

In a Communion unravelling and rebuilding, we all pay the price – queer Anglicans seeking a place of spiritual community and safety to fulfill their walk with God; other Anglicans, passionate about being a church which is comprehensive and includes all.  But above all the price is paid by those for whom we are called to offer ministry:  The poor, the lonely, the sick, the isolated, the marginalized; all those in need of seeing the Christ-light recognised in them, to be kindled and nurtured, so that they might have help and hope and love.  We can’t put our shoulder to the wheel of practical ministry if we continue to be consumed with the clubby parlour game of who’s in and who’s out.  Such debates, while a necessary part of self-definition, run the risk of becoming the raison d’être of Anglicanism – a way of insulating ourselves against the harder consequences of our baptismal vows.  God forbid we should act, it might interrupt our conversation.

Francis has divided the book into three sections.  In the first, we are provided a helpful, if not somewhat depressing chronology of events since Lambeth 1998.  This provides the groundwork for the second section, called “Paying the Price.”  Here, six authors representing diverse geographical regions of the Anglican Communion, recount the effect the Lambeth resolution had (if any) on their particular context.  These essays range from the personal and local (Davis Mac-Iyalla’s chilling account of his life as an openly gay Anglican in Akinola’s Nigeria) to a more dispassionate regional overview (Muriel Porter, in particular, does a fine job of unpacking the relative complexities of the Australian scene).  For the most part, those who have followed the debate with any care will learn little new here, but it is helpful to compare and contrast the comparatively abysmal state of full inclusion in even relatively progressive cultures such as England and Australia with that in our part of the world.

The final section is titled “Envisioning a New Future for Anglicanism.”  Here, I would have preferred a little more meat and potatoes.  We can’t really envision a new future for Anglicanism if we don’t explicitly ask the question of why our ecclesiology and polity has failed to avert schism – not only in this instance, but in countless instances past, from the Puritans to the anti-Ritualists to those opposed to the ordination of women.  Instead, what the reader is confronted with at first are restatements of the obvious.  We hear again (via Andrew Village) that the average Briton in the pew still harbours negative feelings towards gays and lesbians.  We learn once more (via Martyn Percy, channelling Stephen Sykes circa 1975) that we are a hybrid church, but the specifics on whether this is good, bad, helpful, workable, or should be given a decent burial are largely avoided.  Donn Mitchell solemnly reminds us that the very human rights legislation and statements that both provincial and international Anglican bodies have sworn to uphold are undermined by antigay resolutions, like Lambeth ’98.  We know all this, scandalous as it is, and while the authors do a wonderful job of once more unpacking the theological bags for us, we have come to know the items therein by heart.

It is with the last three chapters that we are provided a glimmer of what the tools for rebuilding our Communion might look like.  It begins, appropriately enough, with our own bishop, who is right now doing it locally.  Michael Ingham reminds us again that the “don’t ask—don’t tell” double standard is dead like the proverbial parrot, now that queer Anglicans and their allies around the globe are shouting from the rooftops.  We can no longer avoid asking the tough questions, but must squarely face the age-old tensions between the pastoral and the theological.  The church, as I think we all intuit, can only survive when we integrate the pastoral imperative with the doctrinal one.  Edwin Arrison picks up this theme in his chapter, “Ubuntu: A Communal Pilgrimage.”  Here the author introduces us to the South African concept of ubuntu – the principle by which we recognise that one’s own humanity is defined by and derived from the humanity of others.  This fundamentally Christian principle of radical identification with the other is to see the face of Christ in all whom we meet.  As ministers of reconciliation, this is nothing less than the ministry to which our baptism calls us.  And finally, Donald Reeves offers a practical example from his work as a mediator in Bosnia.  He suggests that our Communion has done as much as we can do internally, and perhaps we need to look at outside mediators to achieve the truth and reconciliation that will result in a clear recognition of our shared ubuntu.

All in all, at 114 pages, Francis’ book provides an excellent primer for Lambeth 2008 and its aftermath.  It reminds us that our Communion is changing, and that each of us need to be conscious of the price we cannot avoid paying in rebuilding it.  But unlike the price we have paid in a generation of unravelling, this price is an investment.  If we do it right, it is an investment in rebuilding an Anglicanism true to the ideals of our forebears; one ready and equipped for Gospel action, fully alive to the social, economic, and environmental challenges of our generation, and ready to include all our sisters and brothers everywhere – from Nigeria to Singapore to Melbourne to Montreal – in building the realm of God in our time and place as one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.