Reading the tea leaves, what the Bishop of Rochester’s surprise retirement signifies

I’ve tried to avoid talking about the internal politics of the Anglican Communion for the last year or so. My doing so wasn’t helping resolve things at all, and it wasn’t good for the people that I serve in ministry. When I have commented on such things, it’s been over on Episcopal Café, a site that is more focused on all things Episcopal/Anglican and where we do careful reporting on what’s going on.

But the news last this past week of the surprising retirement of Bishop Nazir-Ali from the see of Rochester in England is worth me returning for a moment to the Anglican Opera.

If you’re not familiar with Bishop Nazir-Ali, let me point out to you that he has been a rallying point figure for theologically conservative (and Calvinistic) Anglicans around the world. He was at one time a serious possibility to be named the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He has been very involved in the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) planning and its subsequent work. He was part of the leadership of bishops who decided to boycott the Lambeth Conference this past summer, protesting actions taken by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada.

George Pitcher, writing in the Telegraph, puts some perspective on what this sudden removal of a figurehead from the conservative constellation portends. In a nutshell, he believes that the conservative movement within Anglicanism’s attempt to “take over” the Communion has passed its high-water mark:

“[Bishop Nazir-Ali] must be pondering how quickly the optimism of last year’s rebel schismatics has turned to dust. Then there was talk of an end to neo-colonialist rule in the Anglican Church, with a new biblical hegemony that would isolate homosexual bishops and build a new Communion out of Africa.

Where is it now? Some 230 bishops, including Dr Nazir-Ali, boycotted the decennial Lambeth Conference at Canterbury last summer, many of them expecting the old order to fall. Yet at last month’s Anglican Primates’ meeting in Alexandria, not one primate was absent for doctrinal reasons. Importantly, the Archbishops of Uganda and Nigeria were present and correct.

The traditionalist schism has fizzled out. Today, type Gafcon into Google News and practically the only items are from Virtue Online, the website run by the alternative Communion’s cheerleader, David Virtue. The Anglican Church has returned to what it is best at, accommodating the richest diversity of Christian witness without any one faction imposing its authority on those who demur. [emp. added] It’s a reformed talent that distinguishes it, inter alia, from Roman Catholicism.”

Read the full article here.

God willing, the last bolded statement will come true. Mind you that there’s a danger of the rise of another group within the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion that would hope to do the same sort of take-over but from the other side of the aisle. I’d oppose that just as much as I’ve opposed the take-over attempt from the right.

The fundamental characteristic of Anglicanism in my mind is our insistence that “we pray together“. That sure seems easy to do at first glance. But looking at the history of schisms in our denomination, clearly it’s not been. Finding ways to preserve what is valuable in the idea of common prayer, whilst allowing people of passionate beliefs the freedom to hold their beliefs with integrity, even when they are in the minority, is to my mind the hardest part of being an Anglican.

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

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