Well, the big weekend news from the Anglican front was the vote by two parishes in Truro and Falls Church, Virginia - two large, historic and flourishing churches - to break from the ECUSA and associate themselves with the Nigerian province.
This is really such an interesting story for all of us, Anglican or not, to follow - especially us RC's. The very visible tensions, fracturing and now near-schism in the Anglican Communion (illustrated not only by this move, but by the statement by hundred of English evangelically-oriented Anglicans that they would not accept oversight from or support bishops they define as liberal.
One of the points to take away is this: This is what some want the RC Church to look like. No, not the schism, but the more "liberal" Episcopalian mindset. That's what people really want. That would solve our problems. Undoubtedly some do want that, and on a practical level, live out their faith and beliefs in a way that's closer to ECUSA than to traditional Roman Catholicism. But on an institutional level - it's quite instructive to study what's happened with ECUSA and the Anglican Communion and find that the "new thing that God is doing" as advocates of the "reappraising" persepctive like to put it - is not functioning as a source of unity. There seems to be something about a disengagement from traditional Christian faith and its traditional sources that doesn't exactly pack them in.
One is tempted to look at this and say, "So what?" So what if the Anglican Communion disintegrates? It's an historical entity - it's already diverse, has had its worthy offshoots. From the outside, it is sometimes difficult to see the reason for the massive outpouring of anxiety and grief, especially since the meaning of "Communion" between people who believe radically different things about Scripture and its authority is questionable.
People inside the conflict can answer that question. The reasserters, of course, don't want to see what they see as the historical identity of Anglicanism hijacked by those who, to them, seem on the edge of being barely Christian. The reappraisers - well, I wonder about them. There is a body of opinion within the ECUSA of "Let 'em go - who needs em" - but the cold hard reality is that the institutional structure of the Anglican Communion needs them. Money, property, members. If what has been happening accelerates, you have not only thorny eccesiological issues, but also the prospect of an institutional collapse because of lack of financial support and the shrinkage of the communion. Did you know that there are 50 million people in England? And that there are less less than 900,000 worshipers in Anglican churches? 34% of whom are members of evangellically-minded Anglicans, who, via their representatives, confronted Archbishop Williams last week?
A bit more Anglican-related news.
During his visit to Rome last month, Archbishop Rowan Williams celebrated an Anglican mass in Santa Sabina, the ancient, traditionally Dominican church on the Aventine Hill in Rome.
I waited (a long time, obviously) to post on this because I wanted to get some context -to try to understand what this was all about, and why it was permitted. I have some background on it now - not deep, revelatory background, but enough.
Note first, that use of Catholic churches is permitted by other non-Catholic groups, even for worship, as long as certain criterea are met. One parish I used to know in another town regularly allowed the local Lutheran church to use their church for ordinations because there was no other church big enough. However, there are two Anglican churches in Rome, and I've not read that space was ever an issue.
Whose idea was this? The only hint I've seen in print is in this post-Rome interview in the Tablet:
Those involved on both sides of the discourse have spoken of the personal chemistry between Pope Benedict and Dr Williams. While the past 40 years have been marked by several meetings between Popes and Primates of the Anglican Communion, this was the first time that each office holder was also a notable theologian. To what extent was this an encounter as much between theologians as between two leaders of two Churches?
"Almost without preliminaries we got down to talking about the lecture I had given on St Benedict [delivered at Sant'Anselmo on 21 November; an edited version appeared in The Tablet on 25 November] and the concept of obedience - about the difficulty of that in the modern world - and the conversation unfolded from there. There was a strong sense of the two of us being able to talk about what enthuses us theologically," recalls Dr Williams.
The conversation, he says, went on to the subject of the sacramental heart of the Church. The Eucharist, of course, remains a sticking point for Roman Catholic-Anglican relations, and that was apparent during the visit to Rome, with no combined Eucharist service. Yet the Catholic Church made another gesture of fellowship and recognition of its special relationship with the Anglican Communion, following the gifts of the papal ring by Paul VI and the pectoral cross by John Paul II. This time it was the suggestion by the Secretariat of State that Dr Williams celebrate the Eucharist at the papal altar of the Dominican church of Santa Sabina.
A little more perspective, from the 12/9 issue of the Spectator (UK) in an article entitled, "Anglicanism is Alive and Well in Umbria" - full text is no longer available online, but here's the gist:
On the first Sunday in Advent it is so cold in the 12th-century church of Sant'Andrea that puffs of breath hang in the air as we sing not 'O Come All Ye Faithful', nor even 'Adeste Fideles', but 'Venite Fedeli' which, in Italian, doesn't always quite scan. Cafi-style al fresco steel burners are losing the battle to waft heat over the mixed congregation of Roman Catholics and Anglicans but in the evening chill the mediaeval nave is packed.
This Advent festival of lessons and carols has proved a rival draw to Christmas shopping, a newer religion in the Umbrian hilltown of Orvieto. A charabanc of American, Latin American and African worshippers drawn from Anglican congregations in Rome has made the 90-minute trip, but plenty of local Catholics have also slipped inside under cover of darkness. Word has got around of a religious phenomenon in one of Orvieto's most important Catholic churches. The Revd Susan Skillen, sporting a blond bob, American accent, black cassock and snowy surplice, is in charge tonight and few, if any, local Catholics have ever before witnessed a female priest taking a service.
Before the cornerstone of Orvieto's magnificent Duomo was laid in 1290, Sant'Andrea was the town's most important place of worship. It was built on the site of a 6th-century church, which in turn was built on top of an Etruscan street. It was here that Innocent III proclaimed the Fourth Crusade; here that, in 1281, Charles of Anjou brought his courtiers to mark the papal coronation of Martin IV.
Tonight, elderly Italian ladies look on in wonder as the guest of honour, Giovanni Scanavino the beloved Catholic bishop of Orvieto and Todi comes scurrying in after a 6 p. m. Mass at the Duomo and is welcomed by 'Revd Susan', as she is known. 'Ma, h una donna, ' they murmur disbelievingly. And not only a woman, but a member of the Episcopal Church, which plunged Anglicanism into crisis in 2003 with the appointment of an openly homosexual bishop, and last month installed Katharine Jefferts Schori as its primate.
Women priests and gay bishops have severely tested relations between Canterbury and Rome, who admitted recently to rubbing along in an 'imperfect communion'. Even so, during the Archbishop of Canterbury's official visit to Rome last month he was invited to celebrate the Eucharist in the beautiful Santa Sabina church on the Aventine Hill, where the Pope himself preaches on Ash Wednesday each year. Across Italy, in fact, widespread co-operation between the faiths at grass-roots level is helping Anglicanism thrive. The pockets of worship may be small in Orvieto, Ms Skillen has just 17 worshippers but regular services are being held from Padua in the north to Sorrento in the south.
In Orvieto, the ecumenically minded Bishop Scanavino says he is keen to 'normalise relations', advising Ms Skillen to brush up her Italian so that he may more easily talk to this 53-year-old mother of four daughters who was ordained less than two years ago. Even so she is stunned when, at the end of the Advent service, he stands alongside her at the altar to perform a simultaneous blessing, having earlier preached a message of unity that left his Italian ladies visibly reassured.
'Our Anglican brothers are surely our closest brothers, ' the bishop told the congregation.
'We are instruments of God to create communion and unity. We have all heard the same words and we have told the same story of faith.
That's what unites us, and those things are great and important.' Other bishops are equally generous with their churches. Venice's sizeable community of Nigerians attend services in Padua. Near Naples, the Bishop of Sorrento allows the Anglican community to celebrate the Eucharist at the high altar in the town's 11thcentury cathedral between April and October.
In Macerata, in the Le Marche region, another group of Africans has been lent a 12thcentury church for Eucharists accompanied by drums and tambourines. A similar arrangement exists for Anglican expats in Citt della Pieve, in Umbria. The driving force behind both arrangements, as well as services in Assisi, Perugia and Umbertide, is Peter Hurd, a lay minister and cousin of Douglas Hurd whose affectionate nickname 'The Bishop of Umbria' reflects his priestly pester power.
'There are eight Roman Catholic bishops in Umbria and four of them give us churches.
The other four, I haven't asked, ' says Mr Hurd, a former lawyer and churchwarden who couldn't find an Anglican church when he came to live in Umbria in 1988.
In the early days he took communion in a Catholic church; when that became more difficult he would say matins in the chapel of his 16th-century palazzo. As his congregation of mainly expat friends grew out of the chapel, services moved to his frescoed salone and Mr Hurd persuaded a retired Anglican bishop from Florence to bring Holy Communion every Sunday. Still Mr Hurd wasn't satisfied:
he had his eye on a 12th-century oratory just down the road where services had last been held in the 1500s. 'I said to the bishop, "I'm sure that God's still waiting for a prayer, even if it is in English." So the bishop said, "You can have it."' The indefatigable Mr Hurd has since moved premises again, this time to a 'beautiful church dedicated to St John the Baptist' in Citt della Pieve. 'I pay for the electricity and the cleaning, and that's it. They don't charge me rent.
Well, there's no shortage of disused Catholic churches.' The Revd Dr Bill Franklin, associate director of the American Academy in Rome and fellow of the Anglican Centre in the capital, believes that the Catholic bishops are taking their lead from the Vatican.
'Ecumenism is alive and well in Italy and the bishops feel quite close to Anglicanism and have embraced it, ' says Dr Franklin, who specialises in relations between Anglicans and Catholics.
Better? No - not for me either.