The 39 Archbishops from around the world meeting in Canterbury this week in an attempt to resolve schismatic differences over homosexuality are doomed never to agree, according to an academic specialising in the Anglican Communion at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Dr Abby Day, reader in race, faith and culture in the university’s Department of Sociology, said the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion will never find a common way forward over homosexuality.
“The Primates should kick back, have fun, call it a family party and go back and do their stuff. They are not going to agree and if that means some people turn their back on each other, that’s fine. The institution is well past its sell-by date. People have moved on and away from the issues that are splitting the Communion apart. It is unconscionable that people in the UK or the USA would demonise gays or support a state that said it was illegal. It is therefore impossible to compromise.”
In her recent book, Contemporary Issues in the Worldwide Anglican Communion, Dr Day warned that Church of England women in their 70s, 80s and 90s who she called “Generation A” are dying out. She said that these mothers and grandmothers of the Baby Boomers and the so-called generations X and Y, often described as the “backbone” of the Church, are the final active generation and unlikely to be replaced. Her warnings were made more credible by the release yesterday of the latest figures from the Church of England, which showed weekly attendance had fallen below one million for the first time.
She wrote: “The specific desires, skills and practices necessary to keep churches open and growing are unique to generation and laywomen. A main reason they have maintained their loyalty is the dense, interwoven relationship between home, family, church and religion.” As a generation, they had sustained the spiritual, social, emotional, physical and economic life of the church and its immediate community.
These women were strong on socialising. “Social events during my period of fieldwork ranged from spring and autumn lunches in churches and village halls; the Queen’s Jubilee parties, Christmas parties and private events at people’s homes. The types of food prepared or, increasingly, bought as the women’s energy faltered, were mainly resonant of that generation: prawn cocktails, coronation chicken, cheese on sticks, trifle.”
The “quiet, frequently invisible work of generation A in keeping churches open and breathing” was critical to sustaining both them and the church, said Dr Damy.
“Generation A is unique and its passing signals an inevitable acceleration of the decline of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of the global north. This is due to Generation A not being able – amidst widespread cultural revolutions – to transmit specific skills, beliefs and practices to their Baby Boomer children and churches.”
She said in an interview that the decline in the Communion’s fortunes reflects the decline of the British Empire. About three-quarters of the 38 Anglican provinces are in former colonies. The Communion maps roughly onto the Commonwealth. It is still seen as a colonial-era institution in many parts of the world.
She did not think it had to be the end for the Communion however.
She predicted that those who want to move towards getting a consensus on homosexuality will fail. “They will then have to decide whether to accommodate it or force the issue that everyone has to sign up to the same doctrine. If they try to force that issue, I would expect some Primates would leave the meeting and seek to leave the Communion. But that’s not a big deal.”
More important, she said, was the power of the local. “Places where I have been in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, United States and Canada remind me of the power of the local. Even in the UK the local is important. Churches reflect a great deal from their local surroundings. The make-up of their local congregations in terms of class structure and ethnicity. When I visited some churches in Sri Lanka it was really apparent they had a very ecumenical outlook towards other religions. One church incorporated Buddhist children in their nursery. Another church used to welcome the local Tamil tea pickers to their lunches.”