There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether the Church of England is on the verge of schism. Given the deep disagreements between ‘revisionists’ and ‘traditionalists’ (to use two ugly terms), then if those disagreements turn out to be fundamental, it seems that there are, logically, four possible outcomes:
- A genuine split of the Church of England into two new entities. I can’t see this as remotely plausible. Would the assets be split equally? How would that be decided? Would there be a vote in each parish, to decide which ‘Church of England’ to belong to? Would each ‘Church of England’ then accept the fact that its coverage of the country is patchy and piecemeal? Would the cathedrals be sawn in two? And the bishops too? What about the Church of England’s schools? Over which church would the Queen be the Supreme Governor? Both of them? Would each church crown the new monarch? Would bishops from both churches sit in the House of Lords? Which would get to keep the name ‘Church of England’? Who would decide? What about Lambeth Palace and Church House, let alone the Anglican Communion (what’s left of it)? It’s too absurd even to think about.
- A bland institutional husk containing two churches. There would be an administrative bureaucracy, but the ‘real’ spiritual life would operate on a different plane, with informal or formal networks of churches, conferences, festivals, training colleges, and the like. To a certain extent, we’re already there (and have been for centuries). But, to a large extent, we are not (and maybe never shall be).
- A ‘revisionist’ church. The ‘traditionalists’ all leave, and the Church of England embraces the ‘revisionist’ agenda wholeheartedly.
- A ‘traditionalist’ church. The ‘revisionists’ all leave, and the Church of England embraces the ‘traditionalist’ agenda wholeheartedly.
The important thing to note is that, depending on which outcome you are aiming for, you will behave differently. To take an example, if you are a ‘traditionalist’, then this is how you would behave in each case above:
- Try to answer all those impossible questions. Rapidly go insane.
- Ignore the structures of the church, except for administrative support, and invest all your spiritual energy in informal networks, conferences, and the like. (You could even call one of those networks a ‘synod’, to make it really clear that you don’t think the current structures of the church have any spiritual value.)
- Leave the Church of England, and say, ‘I told you so!’ when it moves in a more ‘revisionist’ direction. D’oh!
- Invest your energy in renewing the existing structures of the Church of England. Get involved in (existing!) synods and committees, offer to help, get to know people from other parish churches, help to organise events and training courses aimed at the whole deanery, or the whole diocese, and try to be winsome in leading others gently back towards your way of understanding the faith.
So which ‘Anglican future’ are we aiming for?