At the start of his 3 October 2014 interview with the Church of Ireland Gazette Archbishop Welby noted that he was surprised to learn that “virtually everywhere I have gone the analysis is that the definition of being part of the Anglican Communion is being in Communion with Canterbury … I haven’t faulted that [view],” he said adding that “most provinces of the Anglican Communion valued their relationship with Canterbury … [And that] there remains in the overwhelming parts of the Communion an attachment to Canterbury.”
I don’t think it’s much of a news flash that being in Communion with the see of Canterbury is the most important piece of the puzzle in being in the Anglican Communion. What Welby is doing is strengthening that relationship at the expense of the other pieces, i.e., the ACC and Lambeth (which has, for the moment at least, been cancelled). That’s something one would expect a business executive like Welby to do: set up clear lines of authority. And, if you’re at the centre of the spokes, all the better.
As far as churches such as the Lutheran “Porvoo Agreement” churches, Canterbury has a long history of being in communion with churches which it does not regard as part of the Anglican Communion because they are not Anglican in doctrine or worship. (For a slightly dated summary of that situation, click here).
The real “slap in the face” here is at the ACNA. Canterbury could extend communion in the same way it does with the Porvoo Agreement churches, but it won’t for two reasons. The first is that the ACNA, as its name indicates, regards itself as Anglican, and thus would want to be in the Anglican Communion. The second is not to antagonise TEC.
The whole idea of the ACNA being a formal part of the Anglican Communion has been a pipe dream from the very start, but one that has driven many North American Anglicans to put it together in the first place. As I’ve said before, it’s time to cultivate the relationships with the Global South and forget about Canterbury.
In addition to centralising what it means to be in the Communion, Welby, for his part, is probably stalling for time until TEC elects a new Presiding Bishop to replace Katharine Jefferts-Schori next year. While it’s unlikely that TEC will choose a less heterodox leader than KJS, their new choice may revert to a more traditionally Episcopalian mealy-mouth style and not KJS’s smash-mouth style. If they do that, Welby may try to achieve a reconciliation while “holding the keys” to the communion.
In addition to the doctrinal chasm that’s been ongoing in the AC, there’s another looming problem: the years of liberalism have run down the Global North churches (and that includes the CoE) to the point where their unfavourable demographics and financial woes will make communion with them progressively less valuable. The ACNA, for example, has already surpassed the ACoC in ASA; if they repeat this process with TEC, it will be clear to everyone (including Welby himself) that Canterbury has backed the wrong horse in the “colonies”.