Communion under a ‘Chatham House Rule’

CanterburyNukeIt’s a mantra that I have used with my students for years now. Repeat after me: The most important words in journalism are “comma, space, said, space, name, period.”

In other words, mainstream journalism is not supposed to focus on what the writer says, but on clearly attributed information from other people — people willing to be quoted by name, if at all possible. The goal is for the reader to be able to make his or her own evaluation of the quality of the source and the information. That’s the goal, anyway, and it’s a good target at which to shoot.

This brings us to the latest Anglican warfare report from London by Ruth Gledhill in The Times. This is a big one, and the controversial nature of the report goes all the way to the headline, which states: “Archbishop to celebrate ‘secret’ communion for gay clergy.”

Note the quote marks. Now, here is the top of this short story:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is to celebrate a “secret” communion service for gay clergy and their partners in London.

Dr Williams will celebrate the eucharist at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, the Church of England parish known as a home to the country’s liberal and wealthy Anglican elite. Dr Williams will also give an address titled: “Present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the Church.”

The event has been organised under the “Chatham House Rule” which prevents any disclosure of the discussions there or even when and where it is taking place. It takes place at 10 am on 29 November. Dr Williams has asked to know who will be present. Names will be on a list which will be shown to the Archbishop only and the list will be shredded once seen by Dr Williams.

Once again, note the lack of attribution for any of these facts — including the material inside direct quotation marks.

It appears to me that Gledhill has a document about the service or, at least, a forwarded email, yet really can’t talk about it without giving some sense of the source. That’s well and good, but it would still be nice to be told that right up front. It makes it easier for readers to judge the degree to which they want to trust the quality of the info.

This all looks like lobbying and counter-lobbying in the last hours before the archbishop visits the colonies to help the Episcopal Church’s leadership find a way to stay legally in Communion with Canterbury, which could end up being important in American courtrooms sooner rather than later.

But is the Times document from the left or the right? Who is trying to pressure Canterbury the most? A tossup? Lots of people will be reading between the lines of Gledhill’s longer blog post on the topic. Here is a key chunk of speculation, which includes lots of other URLs to provide a cyber paper trail:

The Archbishop’s fundamental liberal sympathies are well-known, thanks to his essay The Body’s Grace. Recently it seemed as if he had changed sides for the sake of Church unity. This has been a cause of great distress and anger within the liberal and LGBT community, who had looked to his appointment to bring about the changes in the Church’s culture on sexuality that they had longed for. They felt hurt and betrayed. The fact that he’s agreed to celebrate the sacrament for leading members of the LGBT community, however, is a good indication of where the Archbishop’s true sympathies still lie. It has to be a possibility now that he’s given up on trying to prevent schism, and after this week will go back to pastoring the liberal catholic community that is his natural home. The welcome back of the prodigal archbishop might not be all that he hopes however. The LGBT community is furious at the secrecy conditions attached to the whole thing.

Where this leaves the unity of the Church of England remains to be seen.

EpiscopalChalice 01And this brings up the main point, one that I have been trying to make in a number of settings lately. This story — local, regional, national and global — ultimately turns on what happens in England. It is the Church of England, after all. At least it is right now.

Here is how I put it the other day in the Orthodox magazine Again, in an interview that bothered some of my Anglican and Episcopal friends:

… (Like) Orthodoxy, Anglicanism does not have a pope. There is no one person who can settle this issue. Yet they also need to understand that it is the Church of England. This whole crisis is ultimately going to come down to the fact that England — and by that I mean the archbishop of Canterbury and the whole structure of the English church — is going to have to decide whether it will accept the liberal American establishment or the Third World traditionalists.

I don’t think the Third World traditionalists are going to compromise. And I don’t think the American left is going to compromise now on issues of the sexual revolution. They are not going to be willing to offend the New York Times editorial board and other sources of doctrinal power and authority.

So at some point, England is going to have to figure out which way it wants to go. And the Church of England is just as divided as the American church on these issues.

How long can the Archbishop of Canterbury make that old saying — The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions — work?

Will Williams betray his class? It’s hard to imagine that, and the Holy Eucharist described by Gledhill’s source — whoever that is — suggests that he may have made up his mind. Or maybe not. It is the Church of England, after all.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    I don’t think the Third World traditionalists are going to compromise. And I don’t think the American left is going to compromise now on issues of the sexual revolution. They are not going to be willing to offend the New York Times editorial board and other sources of doctrinal power and authority.

    A bit snarky, that. How about being ‘fair and balanced’ in your snarkyness about not being willing to offend the government of Nigeria who pressured one of their affiliated churches in the US to recind an invitation from someone they disliked?

  • bob

    Oh dear, where to begin? I thought Anglicans didn’t have Indulgences, and here the ++Rowan is indulging one particular subset of Anglicans, not another. Does this make it a Partial Anglican Indulgence, rather than a Plenary Anglican Indulgence? That Anglo Catholic spikiness is showing! They always seem to get it *just* a little wrong, though.
    The idea of a secret eucharist is clearly meant to convince others that Anglicans in 2007 have a special devotion to the ancient christians who had to meet in the Catacombs. The devotion to tradition brings a tear to the eye. Do the people attending the service have to meet stealthily in the street, perhaps scratching part of a rainbow on the ground and having the other person complete the sign, as recognition?
    You know, so a Muslim won’t spot them?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    I’m going to ditto Jerry and flag that passage. Is it not, even in principle, possible that ECUSA leaders have, after prayerful reflection, deterimined where they truly believe the Holy Spirit is leading them? Whether or not you agree with their putative discernment?

  • Will

    I suppose “secret communion” makes a juicier headline than
    “invitational communion service followed by confidential
    discussions”. But does that excuse one which suggests that
    Cantuar is giving in to The Abominations of the Secret
    Mass, or something even sillier?

  • bob

    Another big chasm between Canterbury and the US Anglicans. In the States, you can almost always find the local ECUSA parish welcomes everyone to communion, usually baptized or not. In England it may require proof of same sex attraction to attend the eucharist. The British are so conservative.
    Years ago, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that the worst thing about being editor of Punch was that you had to make up things funnier than the real things people did to write satire. It’s significant that he noted especially that the things the Archbishop of Canterbury did and said were so bizarre that it made him despair. This would kill him if he weren’t dead.

  • John

    I agree with Jerry and Jeffrey about that passage. Aren’t most members of the Episcopal Church are generally left-leaning on social matters (economic might be different)? Are they trying not to offend anyone beyond themselves? Haven’t most Episcopalians always enjoyed the New York Times? As far as power and authority, don’t they claim the most U.S. presidents and still control the National Cathedral? I was a little confused by that line — maybe I just don’t get Episcopalians.

    I agree, though, with your overall point: what the Church of England decides will be the most important factor for the Communion. What is the Anglican Communion without its physical birthplace?

    A side question: can the Communion afford to get rid of the Episcopal church? I think articles have been written about this before. But don’t they contribute vast amounts of money to keep the Communion running?

  • Dana Sutton

    You write ” This story — local, regional, national and global — ultimately turns on what happens in England. It is the Church of England, after all.” This manages to overlook the minor matter of the American Revolution. As the result of which, the American Episcopal Church, has no legal requirement to follow the direction of the Church of England and its hierarchy, and as much or as little moral obligation to follow its moral and doctrinal leadership as it chooses. Some American Episcopalians will fell free to go their own way without reference to the C. of E. or the worldwide Anglican communion. Others will feel equally free to look elsewhere (to Nigeria, for example) for their leadership, if they find C. of E. leadership uncongenial.

  • http://TheByzantineAnglo-Catholic Joe Rawls

    So is the reception after the Secret Gay Eucharist to be catered by Jewish 33rd degree Freemasons fronting for the Illuminati? Or will they just have some quiche and a wheel of brie?

  • boB

    Members of the press then asked the Lambeth Palace representative if the Archbishop would celebrate a Mass for attendance only by Heterosexual clergy and their wives. The representative replied this would not occur, as the Prayerbook rubrics do not make provision for Private Mass. OK, I made that part up…

  • Raspberry Rabbit

    The topic of the ABC’s address is timely. Those invited to hear it – partnered gay clergy in the C of E – might well find themselves compromised by the publication of their names and the listing of their pastorates. While not the usual state of affairs one might understand why this might be a sotto voce affair. That a Communion service would be celebrated in the context of the day’s activities is to be expected. The departure from normal here is the placing of such information in the hands of a journalist who has consistently taken it upon herself (due either to her personal convictions or the honour she feels at being courted by Calvinists) to be the mouthpiece for one particular group of belligerents at a difficult time in the life of the Anglican Church. The event has now been recast as a ‘secret’ Communion service hosted by a church which caters to the ‘liberal elite’. I cannot believe that these colours were added to the story unintentionally. I hope that the editorial board of The Times will ultimately come to realize that its pages are being ill-used by such a partisan slant.

  • bob

    Joe, I think attendance was restricted to those who have a special Anglican Eucharist Recommend, issued by Rowan Williams himself. There are special undergarments involved as well, but we’re not supposed to talk about it.

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  • Dana Sutton

    The essential problem with Anglicanism is that many of its members, including even the higher clergy, feel free to use a scissors and a pot of paste to extract those passages of Scripture they find congenial, and omit the bits they don’t like, so that each individual pastes together his or her personal Bible. This is a highly divisive exercise of self-indulgent personal choice, and it is worth bearing in mind that the Greek word for “choose,” haereo, supplies the etymology for the word “heresy”. If we are indeed Christian soldiers, it is worth bearing in mind that one of the cardinal virtues of a good soldier is to do as he’s bloody well told.