Saturday, July 26, 2008

Common Ground in Strange Places

Yesterday was my first opportunity to choose a self-select session, as they are called. They run in the late afternoon. Typical for me - the one I went to did not make the official programme and was announced at short notice. But it pulled a crowd.

Hot off the press is a small but significant booklet (only 125 pages) The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

Yesterday it was distributed to the bishops and introduced to those of us who went to a self-select session chaired by Archbishop Barry Morgan (Wales). Among those who spoke were Canon John Rees (legal adviser to the Anglican Consultative Council) and Professor Norman Doe (Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University).

Professor Doe (and no one has done more than he has to examine the laws of the churches in the Anglican family) introduced the work done by the Anglican Communion Legal Advisers' Network.

This publication is indicative of a work in progress. It is not a book of laws or a code. It is the fruit of detailed analysis and comparison of 44 sets of laws from throughout Anglicanism. It is a description of the common principles identified and how they were formulated as common principles. It is not a project designed to give everyone the same ecclesial legal system.

There are 100 legal principles (macro principles, as Norman Doe, calls them) which show common ground that we have which fall into eight common categories throughout the Communion: Church Order, the Anglican Communion, Ecclesiastical Government, Ministry, Doctrine and Liturgy, Ecclesiastical Rites, Church Property and Ecumenical Relations. The 100 macro principles unfold further into sub-statements (650 micro principles) where there is also common ground.

Yes, friends, more common ground - and in places that don't immediately come to mind!

I celebrate this (and am hugely interested in it - no surprise there, Canon Law is my thing), however, I am among those who do not believe that law alone can hold us together. Our laws, as the examination and study of them show, manifest our shared inheritance, our common pilgrimage and are further evidence of our deep-rooted connectedness with each other as a family of churches.

As I say, law alone, cannot, I believe, hold us together. This is why I am inherently quizzical about the idea of the proposed Anglican Covenant and am determinedly opposed to the appendixed scheme for regulating (enforcing?) that Covenant.

And for those of you who hate things legal and worry about its role in the life of the Church you will be glad to know that the very first of the Common Principles address your concerns:

'Law exists to assist a church in its mission and witness to Jesus Christ.'

'Law is not an end in itself.'

'Law should reflect the revealed will of God.'

'Law is intended to express publicly the theological self-understanding and practical policies of a church.'

'Laws should reflect but cannot change Christian truths.'

Common ground - for now - in strange places indeed. Such is the importance of this legal work that 62 - almost a tenth of the bishops at the Conference - attended yesterday's self-select session.

No comments: