Broken Communion story rolls on -- in England

Here we go again. There have been times, during recent decades, when plot developments in the Anglican Communion drama have become so complicated that I have been tempted to open columns with a written cue for a swirl of organ music under the caption "As Canterbury Turns."

We are at such a stage right now, as you can probably tell by this rare, multicontinent Anglican double-header here at GetReligion. I did not know that Doug was planning an Episcopal Church update and I was not able to alert him that I was planning a post about a symbolic event in England.

(A personal note: I have been unplugged for a week during business hours at my office, due to an attack of the new backdoor virus on the computer network at Palm Beach Atlantic University. You can imagine how this affects blogging and my Scripps Howard column work.)

I will try to make this brief. At the moment, the real news in the Anglican wars exists at the level of symbols and sacraments, not at the level of bishop ballots and press releases. At least that is what I think.

It is also easy to think of this merely as a story pitting armies of angry Third World traditionalists against a pack of trust fund-wielding Episcopalians who want to evolve into Unitarians with nice Christmas hymns and pretty vestments. But over in England, reporters Jonathan Petre and Jonathan Wynne-Jones of The Telegraph have spotted a sign that the broken Communion story from the recent primates meetings in Ireland may have legs. Here's the news from London:

A group of clergy has broken sacramental ties with the diocesan bishop in an unprecedented revolt against his liberal views on homosexuality, The Telegraph has learnt.

In what could be the start of an escalating conflict, at least eight conservative clerics have told the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, that they will refuse to share Holy Communion with him. They are furious that the bishop and five of his colleagues sent a letter to a national newspaper earlier this week announcing their determined support for liberal Anglicans in North America.

The Telegraph notes that this flare-up could be more serious than it looks at first glance, because 100 or so priests in that diocese signed a statement last fall protesting trends in the Church of England.

Well, 100 priests is way less than a majority. But it is a mighty big photo opportunity at a diocesan convention. This may produce some media-friendly tensions when the bishop comes to town for confirmations and ordination rites.

The big question is whether this will spread to other altars in England, thus putting even more pressure on (cue: swirl of pipe-organ music) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

While American newspapers (hello cable networks!) continue to emphasize the formal documents, it is this emotional story of bread and wine that best symbolizes what is happening at Anglican altars around the world.

This is a battle over sacraments, beginning with the sacrament of marriage. There is no way to avoid this angle. The lawyers are important, but that's not the real story.

By the way, to read the actual protest statement, click here.

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