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A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003

Autonomy in the Anglican Communion

Autonomy in the Anglican Communion

By The Rev. Tobias Haller>

The word autonomy has recently gotten a bad name. A number of primates speak against it, without apparently considering its meaning, or its historic significance in communions, such as the Anglican and Orthodox, where individual national churches, each of which is autonomous, autocephalous, or to use a less threatening English phrase, "self-governing," work together as equals rather than in submission to a higher authority. It is in this context a term describing the legal authority of the various national churches to frame their own governance without appeal to any higher synod.

The Anglican Communion's member churches are and long have been described, in this sense, as "self-governing" in Anglican Communion literature. The Orthodox are quite insistent on using the older words autonomous and autocephalous and would be quite sensitive to any bishop of one Orthodox church treading into the territory governed by another (in violation of the ancient canons, I might add!).

Appeals to actions of Lambeth or the Anglican Consultative Council, as if either of these bodies had legal authority over the member churches, is not a helpful way to proceed. Neither of them qualifies as a "superior synod" in any legal sense of the word, since that is neither how they were conceived nor constituted. (The absence of a lay and clerical order at Lambeth is a serious flaw from an Anglican perspective.)

I am not saying that there should not be such a body, merely that at present no such body exists. Those who founded the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consulatative Council were quite clear what they were about, and it wasn't governance but, as their names specify, conferring and consultation. Recent history shows that these bodies often become rather forums for disagreement and rancor. If we cannot even consult and confer in peace, I do not think we are ready to form a government.

More importantly, until we are able to confer and consult in peace, and work together in spite of our differences, I do not for a moment imagine that the world will take at all seriously our calls for peace in the political arena.

Tobias S Haller, BSG
c6 New York

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