Friday, October 08, 2010

Space

I've had a lot of conversations and encounters this week that have left me reflecting on space. There was a conversation about Lectio Divina, reflecting on how being strict with the method of doing this enabled participation. There was a question with a confirmation group about the rules for consumption of the elements after communion allowed Anglicans to remain united despite differences in theology. There was a meeting of the Standing Committee of the local Children's Centre, which provided a means by which all the different sub-committees could report and all the work be co-ordinated.

None of this is rocket science, but in each situation there is a space created by means of which other activity or reflection is made possible. The space is created by means of something (rules, a meeting, or whatever) that provides boundaries and thus creates the space.

The question therefore arises about these boundaries. They are clearly determinative of the nature of the space created. Attention to them is crucially important. They create a frame that excludes as well as includes. Much of the attention we give to the boundaries must be to this dynamic. It is not that exclusion is bad, indeed excluding things is part of what creates the space in the first place (no-one at the Children's Centre meeting wanted to talk about consuming the elements after the Eucharist, for example). But over-determinative boundaries can actually change then nature of the space that is created.

This can be seen in some of the current Anglican proposals for a Covenant. Take an existing boundary like the Declaration of Assent, the declaration made by all Church of England ministers on ordination and on taking up a new post. The Declaration is designed to include all sorts of interpretations, but there are some things that it must exclude. Being Anglican, what is and isn't excluded is itself a matter for debate. The crucial thing here is that it creates the space, and within that space we recognise there are differences of stance. But all are contained. The proposed Anglican Covenant could be seen as a sort of 'international Anglican Declaration of Assent', but the section on how to remove people from the covenant does seem to over-determine the boundaries. It pre-determines the nature of the space, thus making the space (at least potentially) an odd shape. All of this is an attempt to control who can enter the space. There are many suspicions that the design of the Covenant is such as to exclude certain groups (TEC, Sidney, or whomever) prior to any conversations.

The question then is this: do we want a Covenant that creates a space for all Anglicans to meet within? If we do, then a Covenant that allows for this may indeed be a helpful way of framing the space for our encounters as fellow members of the Anglican Communion. If we don't then the Covenant will simply be a piece of power politics, skewing the space created and predetermining the outcomes of any conversations that may be conducted in that space.

The Anglican dilemma over the proposed Covenant is encapsulated in this basic question - do we want to be in the same space as one another, or not? Until and unless we answer this question, no Covenant can help us.

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