Aspects of Anglican Identity, published in July, is a collection of nine accessible and knowledgeable essays written by Dr Colin Podmore, that explore some of the key questions facing the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. We asked Mary Tanner, OBE, who spent sixteen years as the General Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity and is widely recognized as one of the leading ecumenical theologians in the Church of England, to review the book.
Extracts from Mary Tanner's essay are below. To read the complete version, please click on the link to the right hand side of this page.
The Church of England and the Anglican Communion are currently faced with particularly puzzling contemporary issues: whether women should be consecrated as bishops; and what response to make to the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, a man living in an openly gay relationship.
Both of these matters raise questions of the way in which the Church responds to issues in contemporary society. Both also raise fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of the Church and how decisions are to be taken in the life of the Church: how should the churches of the Anglican Communion, living in very different cultural contexts, determine what is central to all? How should they discern and decide together, what roles bishops and synods (diocesan, provincial, national and international) should play in decision-making? And, when churches are divided, should the Church of England or the Anglican Communion have authority to decide on matters that touch the life and ministry of the universal Church?
Although the essays in Aspects of Anglican Identity were not written to address these questions directly, nevertheless they will be of great help to anyone struggling to understand how the Church of England and the churches of the Anglican Communion should respond to the pressing issues before them.
The book’s first essay offers an immensely helpful overview of the history of the Church of England from the earliest days, through the Reformation and the subsequent developments of the centuries that followed. This, together with the fascinating essay on the Declaration of Assent (which all deacons, priests and bishops are required to make) and the essay on the emergence of the Anglican Communion, bring out three of the themes that run throughout the essays and which are fundamental for understanding Anglican identity – catholicity, continuity and the nature of change. These three themes are fundamental for understanding Anglican identity and, therefore, for understanding how the Church of England might respond to the issues currently before it.
The essay on synodical government and its sequel, tracing the move to ordain women through the synodical process, ought to be required reading for members of the General Synod who need to understand the complex processes in which they take part as well as the legislation currently in place regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood, including the so often misunderstood Act of Synod. There is a particularly relevant discussion of whether the Act of Synod could bear the weight of further development should women be ordained to the episcopate.
One of the most original essays, with importance for the future moves to visible unity between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, is the one on the ministry of primacy which suggests that both Communions may have something to learn from the other about the ministry of primacy exercised at the different levels of the life of the Church.
It is impossible to get to the end of these essays without being enlightened, and with the conviction that if much of this was more widely known then the current debates would be well informed and decisions taken would be more firmly grounded. This is an excellent collection of well researched, well written and well documented essays. The Church of England is fortunate in having working for it a historian of such distinction with a concern for the Anglican tradition and for the ecumenical cause.
25 July 2005
To read the complete text of Mary Tanner's essay, please click on the link to the right hand side of this page.
Dr Colin Podmore is a church historian who has worked for the General Synod since 1988. Formerly Deputy Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity, he is currently Secretary of the House of Clergy, the Diocesan Commission and the Liturgical Commission. In this book he draws on his expertise and experience to offer personal insights.