What on earth were the Primates up to, and why we should be worried.

‘Baton passes to ACC over Episcopalian’s status.’

I found this article in the Church Times (4th March) intriguing; extremely so.

It is not so much the issue itself that is exercising me for it appears that come what may the Episcopalian Church will end up finding itself on the naughty step, for where power has a will it tends to find a way, but rather what what we might learn about the exercise of leadership, and church governance, from this article.

My intrigue derives from my former life in business and then as a lecturer in Business Ethics (which is not an oxymoron!)

Now it may well be true that the Primates Conference did have the power and authority to ‘sanction’ (whatever this means, the Episcopal Church of the USA). I don’t know enough about the legal structures of the Anglican Communion to pass a definitive judgement, but let’s assume that there is some real legal and ecclesiastical merit to the Bishop of Connecticut’s comments that:

‘The primates had spiritual and pastoral significance and not constitutional authority.’ 

If the Bishop of Connecticut is correct several questions follow:

  • Were the Primates aware that they possessed no real ‘constitutional authority?’
  • In setting the agenda for the meeting was the scope of the primate’s authority to act, or advise other bodies within the communion to act, laid clearly before the primates? There should be some form of source document that precisely defines the Primate’s remit.
  • What  model of collective episcopal leadership did the majority of primates bring to the decision making process?

These are all leadership questions and they lead to some bleak conclusions about how leadership has been exercised.

If the Primates thought that their leadership was of  ‘spiritual and pastoral significance’ and that they possessed ‘constitutional authority,’ when in fact they didn’t then the Communion faces a ‘crisis of governance.’

The Communion and its individual churches have a right to expect the highest standards of governance with decisions being made where decisions should be made (subsidiarity in other words).

In the world of corporate governance it is well known that various groups (executives) are prone to claim supererogatory powers and, this is one of the ‘moral hazards’ that governance structures seek to mitigate.

Primates, just like ‘executives’ in any field of endeavor should not simply assume powers that are not rightfully, or constitutionally, theirs even if they think (hence their mental model) they are the people best equipped to make a given decision. Perhaps Psalm 131 verse 1 should be burned onto the heart of every aspiring leader, whether ordained or lay, whether dressed in purple or otherwise: ‘O Lord my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high, I do not occupy myself wit things too great and marvellous for me.’ 

If the Bishop of Connecticut is correct in his analysis there can only be two explanations:

Either, they acted out of ignorance,

Or, they chose to override the communion’s formal structures and mechanisms.

Acting out of ignorance would be the lesser sin, choosing to assume powers which may not be theirs to assume would be a catastrophic example of the abuse of position, status and rank, acting as a stark reminder to all of us of the simple fact that power has a terrible tendency to seek even greater power.

The decision to impose sanctions on the Episcopalian Church may or may not be without merit. But could it be that the process through which the decision was taken is completely without merit, and is therefore indicative of a crisis not only in governance, but dare I say it, in episcopal leadership?










One thought on “What on earth were the Primates up to, and why we should be worried.

  1. This analysis and the questions it poses assume that the Anglican Communion is an established cohesive organisation with well established parameters.
    This is just not the case.
    It’s important to recall that even the Archbishop of York refused to attend the first Lambeth Conference because he saw did not like the attempt to establish a governance beyond that of Catholic Order, King and Parliament.
    The ACC was a step too far for many ….
    If you follow the meetings in the three decades before 2003 the questions were around how to bring a greater sense of cohesiveness to the Communion, particularly as The Prayer Book was no longer the shared experience of all Anglicans. The last major attempt at that was sponsored by the Primares group and it was the extraordinary piece of work by Professor Norman Doe of Cardiff laying out common Communion Law. Archbishop Carey saw this as the Fifth Instrument of Communion.
    The Primares Group simply saw a gap and filled it.
    The dispersed and vague authority that had been thrown together since that First Lambeth Conference had deliberately avoided creating strong power structures, many saw this as a vacuum and the Primates Group moved to fill it.
    But it was Professor Doe himself who very significantly pointed out, also in the Church Times, that the meeting recently held between Primates had NO authority to do what it claimed to do.
    But he also said that if they got away with it …. Well then they had assumed that authority and if it’s acknowledged by all …them it’s real and it’s happened!
    That’s how things develop.

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