Anglican Mission in England is a game-changer

Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden

The ordinations of three young Englishmen by the Archbishop of Kenya in June and the launch of the Anglican Mission in England was a “game-changer”. It marked a turning point after four and a half years of discussions with and proposals to Lambeth Palace. These discussions were to seek a way of providing effective Episcopal oversight to those for whom this had become problematic in the Church of England.

The launch of AMIE and the establishment of its panel of bishops indicated that we would no longer play the game of Church of England politics as defined by the Church of England Establishment.

The rules of the Establishment are premised on the fact that they have the luxury of time. They hold all the cards. All they have to do is to sit where they are. Their main tactic is to weaken the orthodox ranks in two ways: by co-opting some of the orthodox into their number and second by suggesting that there is such a significant divergence of views among the orthodox that they have neither coherence nor cohesion. This divergence is provoked in the same way that TV News reports on a major event, and gives equal space to the small number of people protesting at the event “in order to provide a balanced report.”

Our response to this wall of silence from the Establishment often starts by being fragmentary. We take on matters issue by issue – homosexual practice, women bishops, heterodox bishops, the need for freedom to church plant, difficulty in securing ordinations. The problems are disaggregated and our response is therefore fragmented.

We can learn here from the Arab Spring for there are many parallels. The Arab Spring was started by few people, as few as seven in Egypt, who were provoked by the suicide of a market trader in Tunisia and by the murder by police of a blogger in Cairo. In the CofE, following years of similar problems, a bishop refused to say he would teach that homosexual practice was a sin and thus young men were unable to accept ordination from him.

In the Arab Spring, those seeking change made straight for the central square, the focus of national life and identity and occupied it. They were claiming it belonged to them, not to the tyrant who had usurped their nation for himself. They did not say that they were forming another nation. They did not say that they would emigrate. They went to the central public space and occupied it in order to state clearly that the square and what it stands for was theirs. They stood together in a way that the authorities could not control to claim their heritage.

In the same way AMIE is a standing together that demonstrates a different way of doing things. It has a different view of mission through planting churches and organizing for growth rather than seeking power and influence in the present system. It has a different view of being Anglican which embraces a global Anglican identity based on the Bible rather than a technical institutional identity. It has a different view of episcopacy that is not prelatical or monarchical but missional, accountable and focused on service. It has a different view of women in ministry that does not seek to compete as though it is a matter of power and status. It has a different view of marriage and sexuality which is not based on the interchangeability of the genders. AMIE resists the disaggregation of the issues as though they are all separate. It analyses the current malaise as a gradual process of destabilizing biblically faithful Anglican witness and ministry.

AMIE is first about enabling orthodox biblical mission through the Church of England which has been frustrated in a number of ways. This includes recovering a biblical view of episcopacy that enhances mission through its panel of bishops particularly for those who find the current system has excluded, ignored, marginalized or compromised them.

Oversight is to be seen not primarily as a legal requirement of an accountability to an appointing authority but as supporting the ministry and calling which both presbyter and bishop share. It is about episcope not primarily as exercising power in a territory but about collaborative ministry in expressing and serving the calling to mission wherever God leads.

AMIE also resists the playbook of senior civil servants who always respond to challenges by pointing out questions to which answers have not yet been given. AMIE is about collective action that all support whether or not all are particularly involved; it is about a refusal to be fragmented or to deal with the issues in a fragmented way. AMIE and its action has been welcomed by Anglo-Catholics as having done what they would like to have done. It has also crucially been supported and encouraged by the GAFCON Primates Council in its actions.

The summer ordinations in Kenya were part of the process of saying that we will remain Anglican but not on the current terms of the CofE establishment. The process of welcoming the ordinands, launching the AMIE and now expanding its membership is a process of moving to the public square of Church of England life and saying: “We will not be robbed of our Anglican identity. We will not be marginalized. You are the usurpers. We will not allow you to deprive us of our Anglican heritage of faithfulness to the Bible. We will find a way of being faithfully Anglican in being true to the Bible which does not depend on you.”

Responses welcome to Vinay and Chris on sugdenmainstream@gmail.com

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