Anglican and Old Catholic Ecclesiologies: Towards Further Convergence
Anglican - Old Catholic Theologians' Conference, Leeds, August/September 2005
The official theological conference between the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht took place at Hinsley Hall, Leeds from 29 August to 2 September 2005. Some seventy theologians, Old Catholic and Anglican, from many countries, attended this conference which was held under the auspices of the annual Old Catholic Theological Conference and the Centre for the Study of the Christian Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Utrecht gave their support.
The conference was intended to provide some theological underpinning for the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Bonn Agreement of 1931, which brought the two families of churches into communion, and to point to a future deepening of their communion.
Papers were given by the Revd Professor Dr Urs von Arx and the Revd Dr Charlotte Methuen (on the origins of the Bonn Agreement); by the Revd Mattijs Ploeger and the Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis (on catholic, apostolic, triniatarian and eucharistic concepts of the Church); by Dr Colin Podmore and the Revd Professor Dr Günter Esser (on episcopacy, conciliarity, collegiality and primacy); and by Ms Sarah Aebersold and the Revd Canon Professor J. Robert Wright (on the Church, local and universal). The Revd Robert Frede and Preb. Dr Paul Avis chaired the conference.
Two plenary sessions (chaired by the Right Revd Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, and the Most Revd Dr Joris Vercammen, Archbishop of Utrecht) enabled the conference to engage with a panel of the speakers. The following affirmations and related questions received significant support:
1. Ecclesiological convergences and some questions that they evoke
a. Anglicans and Old Catholics affirm that the local Church, interpreted as the diocese, is the basic ecclesiological entity.
- How should we relate this common ecclesiological understanding of the local Church to the situations of parallel jurisdictions in mainland Europe? Is the Prague model, where congregations of one church come under the oversight of the bishop of the other, helpful?
- How can we find wider (national, regional and universal) structures for decision-making without violating the 'local' emphasis of our ecclesiologies.
b. Anglicans and Old Catholics affirm, with different emphases, a 'eucharistic ecclesiology'.
- How does 'mission' fit into a eucharistic-ecclesiological approach?
- What is the significance of baptism for eucharistic ecclesiology?
c. Anglicans and Old Catholics are in 'full communion' through the Bonn Agreement: this is a sufficient and definitive basis for any steps to deeper unity.
- What is the significance of the fact that many of us feel that we are already 'one Church', even though we are actually constituted as separate churches?
- How does 'full communion' relate to the goal of the 'full visible unity' of Christ's Church: does the imperative of visible unity impel us to look for further development of our relationship?
- What structural model would enable us to be 'united, not absorbed', so that the distinctive traditions, theologies and practices of our communions were preserved?
- Are our 'bonds of communion' strong enough (what about common structures for consultation and decision-making?)?
- Could the Old Catholic communion and the Anglican Communion become more fully united, perhaps in a united province of mainland Europe that would incorporate the various Anglican and Old Catholic jurisdictions?
- Is the Anglican Communion receptive to the presence of traditions that are not distinctively Anglican? Is fact that the United Churches of South Asia and the Portugese Lusitanian Church are members of the Communion a helpful precedent?
- Would a deeper structural expression of our communion be a matter of concern for our relationships with the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and episcopal Lutheran Churches?
- How can we connect a 'top down' approach (at the theological and episcopal level) to further steps , with a 'bottom up' approach that helps Anglican chaplaincies and Old Catholic parishes to work together more?
2. Convergences in mission and the practical questions they evoke
a. Anglicans and Old Catholics preach the Gospel in a pluralist and increasingly secular Europe.
- To what extent should we be prepared to let 'belonging' (community-building; exploring spirituality) precede consensus in faith and theology?
b. Anglicans and Old Catholics ought to work together more closely than they currently do.
- Anglicans and Old Catholics need to get to know each other better locally, in order to overcome ignorance or prejudice and to learn to trust one another.
- Anglicans and Old Catholics could be encouraged, when on holiday, to worship in one another's churches.
- During ordination training, finding out about about the other Church should be included in the teaching, and study exchanges should be encouraged if possible, taking account of language ability, time, and finance.
- There is scope for more exchanges of parish clergy.
- Should the election of bishops in the Old Catholic Churches become open to candidates from the Anglican Communion (Old Catholic clergy are already eligible in principle to be bishops in the churches of the Anglican Communion)?
© L. Walton, September 2005