By John Martin

So where does Entebbe 2010 leave relationships in the Anglican Communion?

The CAPA Primates Communiqué makes it clear that Anglican churches in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom will continue to be closely scrutinized on issues like sexuality and faithfulness to the gospel and the Scriptures. Even though the conference included bishops from provinces which are more “softly softly” on the sexuality issue, the prevailing position has not changed.

The presence of Archbishop Robert Duncan and other bishops of the Anglican Church in North America is significant. It suggests that at least some African provinces will continue to recognize and seek relationships outside what used to be the regarded as the boundaries of Anglicanism.

The majority of African provinces are financially self-supporting. There were strong signals that Africa wants to break reliance on Western churches. Expect that trend to continue.

A large and growing African-Christian diaspora will have a growing effect. African churches have more international connections than ever before, many of them non-institutional. Expect African churches to acquire increasingly nuanced understandings of the West, without compromising their cultural identity or key principles.

Now the Communion is in a painful process of remaking itself. The fragility and isolation of a substantial number of Anglican dioceses and provinces represented at Entebbe (such as Congo, Madagascar, and Sudan) call for international support and solidarity. The question is what is needed to deliver this support. Entebbe will reinforce views that there are alternatives to the established patterns, including regional gatherings.

Anglicanism has always been intrinsically unstable, in an uneasy standoff between Catholic and Protestant tendencies. With the end of the British colonial era and in the endeavor to be a global Communion, Anglicans adopted a pattern of territorial Christianity resembling Roman Catholicism but without a strong centralizing jurisdiction. Territorial Anglicanism has died a death, but vestiges of it persist.

The “instruments” of international Anglican consultation evolved piecemeal and there has always been a lack of clarity about their standing and fitness for purpose. This was always true of Lambeth conferences. When the newly constituted Anglican Consultative Council declared in 1970 that there were no theological objections to the ordination of women, critics asked, “By what authority does it say so?”

At a hurriedly prepared and under-resourced 1978 Lambeth Conference, primates sought to assert an influence. Even at the first Primates’ Meeting in 1979, however, it was clear that this body was unwilling and unable to act as an Anglican supreme court. Unfortunately many activists, vested interests and lobbyists have expected the primates to act in that manner. The Communion may be better served with fewer meetings of the primates.

So is a split now imminent? Talk of splits and schism is sensationalist and largely misses the point. Aside from the recognized international “instruments,” there are numerous networks of international connection that operate: between cathedrals, liturgists, publishers, universities and colleges, school partnerships, youth and women’s organizations, mission agencies, diocesan partnerships, and diaspora networks, to name a few. These will continue regardless. They will extend and adapt and won’t necessarily be exclusively Anglican (many never have been).

The Anglican Covenant remains the best laboratory for the reshaping of Anglicanism, but it may take a generation or more.