This is a bit of an "in passing" comment rather than a detailed analysis, (well perahaps a bit more detailed than originally intended) ....
This morning, I caught alongside my cereal a package on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in relation to the meeting of the Crown Nominations Committee that has just begun to decide on the successor to Archbishop Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. A BBC report of the meeting, and of the possible candidates for the said See, can be found here: New Archbishop of Canterbury to be chosen.
It is intriguing to me that the video clip on the BBC website ends with a reference to the idea that a Bishop is a sign of unity and that, as far as the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury is concerned, that involves reaching out to Christians of other Churches. I think that one of the key features of the way in which Archbishop Williams approached his role was precisely one in which he saw himself as a minister to the unity of the Church of England itself. He therefore tried to promote compromises, compromises with a certain solidity, to maintain that unity. With hindsight, the extent of his success would appear to have been limited, something evidenced by the failure to achieve unity within the Church of England over matters of sexuality and Church order, and the coming of the Roman Catholic Ordinariates. I have felt for some time that, despite this failure in what one might call human terms, the fact that Archbishop Williams viewed his office in this way and thereby indicated that the Church of England had need of an office in favour of a universal unity, was something rich in ecclesial and ecumenical signficance.
One of the speakers in the discussion on the Today programme this morning was Christina Rees, a prominent member of the Synod of the Church of England who is, if I understand rightly, on the "liberal wing" of the Church of England. The discussion made reference to Archbishop Williams attempts to maintain the unity of the Church of England, but it was Christina Rees' particular contribution that she felt that it was now time to be making decisions in regards to matters like same sex relationships and women bishops, even if that did cause division, since it is not going to be possible to get everyone to agree about them.
On the Today programme this might present as being just a discussion of a politcal nature, albeit the politics being Church politics rather than the politics of secular government. But it does have a tremendous ecclesial import. In effect, Christina Rees was arguing that the next Archbishop of Canterbury should be someone who does not hold to the idea that unity, oneness, is a characteristic essential to the nature of the Christian Church. Whatever one might feel about the merits or effectiveness of Archbishop Williams particular attempts to maintain such a unity, he clearly did offer a clear witness to the idea that unity does matter for the Church of England and therefore for Christian Churches in general, and the ecclesial significance of that witness should perhaps be valued more by Roman Catholics than it has been. [Subject, of course, to the intrinsic difficulty presented by the idea of what "unity" means in an Anglican context.] The loss of such a witness in the Church of England would be very sad indeed.
As far as ecumenical dialogue is concerned, the Roman Catholic Church has always faced the problem that, in talking to the Church of England, she is talking to a range of different sections, and that it is not possible for any one section to speak for the whole. This is why I believe Roman Catholic-Anglican covenants at parish or diocesan level make such little sense, representing at face value a relation to an Anglican whole that does not really exist. The position advocated by Christina Rees on Radio 4 this morning is one that, though it was articulated internally to the Church of England, in effect abandons completely any last semblance of seriousness about ecumencial dialogue with other Christian denominations (because of its abandonment of any idea that unity is of the nature of Christianity), and it needs to be recognised as such.