According to the preface, this book aims to be a reference book on the Anglican Communion. It is not a historical survey nor is it focussed on the current problems of the Communion but it does seek to reflect the global reach of Anglicanism. Although it is the joint project of two American seminaries, Virginia and Trinity School for Ministry, one which is traditionally ‘low church’ but which sees itself at the centre of the Episcopal Church, the other more definitely evangelical, it includes a large range of contributors from around the communion.
One of the book’s strengths is that it does try to reflect the theological and cultural diversity of Anglicanism although many in the Episcopal Church will probably see it as reflecting a conservative bias.
Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore College and a rising star of the Sydney Diocese, contributes an article on GAFCON and many of the African contributors express their dismay at developments on the issue of sexuality in the Communion.
That said there are many contributors who reflect a more centrist or even liberal position: Mark Chapman writes on the Church of England, Sam van Culin on ACC, and Robert Wright on the Prayer Book. The quality of the articles varies enormously. Michael Nazir-Ali on Ecumenism, Norman Doe on the Instruments of Communion, Andrew Goddard on the Covenant, and Robert Tong on the Anglican Church in Australia are all very good. There is little to be learnt from the article on the Archbishops of Canterbury and it is puzzling that, while Brian Smith mentions the Scottish liturgy, he never refers to the place in it of the ‘epiclesis’ and the influence this has had on the American church.
The opening chapters of the book deal with history and structures and the concluding chapters with such themes as theology, liturgy and inter-religious relations but more than half the book is taken up with surveys on all the provinces. These vary a great deal, so much so that it would be interesting to know if the editors actually gave the contributors any guidelines. The entry on the Philippine Episcopal Church amounts to just over two pages and includes no reference to relations with the Philippine Independent Church. The entries on Papua New Guinea and Melanesia by one of the editors are virtually useless. The author appears to be unfamiliar with the standard histories by Wetherell and Hilliard.
Taken together, however, the chapters on the provinces present an illuminating and at times moving picture. Violence from civil strife and conflict with Islamic militants are problems in many provinces. Although he does not tell us this himself, we learn that one of the contributors, Archbishop Kwashi of Nigeria, had his home invaded by militants who knocked his son unconscious and blinded his wife.
Many contributors draw attention to tribalism and problems in electing bishops. Francophone provinces think the church is too Anglo-Saxon and even people in Anglophone provinces think the Communion is dominated by the older provinces. Colonialism may have ended but ‘soft power’ remains.
The legacy of colonialism means that Anglicans in places like Burma still have an establishment mentality but in some provinces the end of colonialism has given the church greater freedom. Colonial governors were often anxious not to give offence to Muslims and restricted the churches for this reason.
Although sexuality is blamed for many of the Communion’s woes it is easy to see from this volume that the roots of Anglican discord go much deeper. Evangelical missionaries were not greatly interested in ecclesiology.
We are told, for example, that “while Anglicans in Congo are proud of their identity as Anglicans, they have little doctrinal understanding of what is meant by ‘church’: and it becomes very difficult to decide with whom to be in communion and with whom to exchange ministers and sacraments within the Anglican Communion”.
Liturgical differences are another source of division. This is not so much because of liturgical inculturation (of which there has probably been too little) but because in many provinces a Pentecostal style of worship has taken over in many parishes.
Crucial questions about Anglican identity are raised by Bishop Nazir-Ali at the end of his article. Questions about autonomy and instruments of communion are important but fostering a sense of identity needs to start at the grassroots.