Book Review: “A History of Global Anglicanism”

A History of Global Anglicanism. By Kevin Ward. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 376 pp. $66.99 (paper).

Anglicanism is inescapably English; not only does the name imply it, but the tradition originated due to specific political actions of the English monarch. Kevin Ward challenges this claim in his book A History of Global Anglicanism. Although he cedes the basic premise that Anglicanism is undeniably linked to Englishness, he asserts that global Anglicanism has escaped its Anglo-Saxon captivity through its indigenization and enculturation throughout the globe. Because of recent actions of the Church of England, the relationship between Anglicanism and England is being freshly reevaluated by all global Anglicans; this reevaluation recommends a reevaluation of Ward’s work. To the end that Ward details the specific histories of the various Anglican provinces, he succeeds in demonstrating the uniquely local manifestations of Anglicanism around the world. However, his intentionally indigenous historiography fails because it ends up portraying a perspective just as myopic as the one he sought to avoid, and unfortunately ironic given the presenting issue of this latter reevaluation.

Ward begins his globe-trotting historiography in England and then concludes by reassessing the question: has the Anglican Communion escaped the Anglo-Saxon captivity of the Church? After fourteen chapters of telling incredibly detailed stories with a fairly impartial view of doctrinal issues, Ward concludes by lamenting that the modern moment is precipitated by a very “western” doctrinal crisis (homosexuality) which imposes foreign questions upon the two-thirds world. In brief, the answer is no. Although the communion may have escaped the Anglo-Saxon captivity, it has not escaped its northern and western captivity (a view sadly reinforced by the cover photograph of the first non-western Archbishop of York rather than portraying a photograph of a truly indigenous representation of the church). The sad irony, though, is that Ward need not have concluded his history this way. His western interpretation of the crisis necessitated a western lament; however, it could be considered that the greatest testament to the indigenous churches having escaped an imperial captivity is their vocal assertion of themselves, regardless of the western genesis of the issues.

Although Ward may have missed the mark in defending his thesis; this should not negatively sway readers away from engaging with his work. A History of Global Anglicanism is an unparalleled achievement in the world of Anglican literature primarily because of its formatting, contents, and focus.

Because all other histories of Anglicanism have been chronological, and thereby miss the more ancillary details around the world, Ward corrects this problem by giving each major region of the world its own stand-alone chapter. This causes A History of Global Anglicanism to read like an anthology of encyclopedia entries. This formatting is invaluable. It opens the aperture to value the formation of Anglicanism in, for example, China, to the same extent as in the United States. As such, Ward’s work ought to be on the reference shelf of every global Anglican. After quickly consulting the table of contents, any reader could be conversationally knowledgeable with the history of a particular Anglican province within roughly thirty minutes.

The next major strength of A History of Global Anglicanism is what each chapter contains. Ward considers each region through the lens of individual countries and major figures. Although at times this can make the time-table of the discussion confusing, it allows Ward to include a multitude of details that might otherwise go unmentioned. In particular, he pays close attention to the formation of various sees within the regions and the ways that episcopal governance transferred from western (normally British) bishops to native bishops. This is complemented by the invaluable diocesan maps (320–335). However, it would have been ideal if each regional map was included at the beginning of each chapter rather than as an appendix. The level of detail in each section is immense (and sometimes overwhelming), which forces the reader to truly engage with the magnitude of the enterprise and the nuances and challenges which confronted not only each province, but each individual Christian as they sought to live out their faith in their own corner of the globe and through their own understanding of Anglicanism.

The greatest strength of Ward’s work lies in his unique focus upon the indigenization of the church. Although Ward seems at pains to acknowledge that he is aware of imperial missionary activity, his decision not to focus on it is a welcome contribution. One of the most useful aspects of this focus occurs in Ward’s chapters on the Atlantic Isles, North America, and Australia. The history of Anglicanism in these (now) predominantly white and western regions has almost always been the story of the dominant church culture. Ward considers what is often lost. For example, rather than spending his entire chapter rehashing the English reformation or the Glorious Revolution (although they are invariably recounted), Ward spends much more time surveying the impact of Anglicanism upon Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, including particularly interesting facts about how Anglicanism played a vital role in the preservation of the Welsh language (24) while playing a conversely devastating role in the suppression of the Irish language and culture (26).

Anglicanism in the two-thirds world is inevitably tied to missionary activity, but Ward reminds his readers of an important fact: “For the majority of receiving peoples, the first missionaries were, in any case, not people from the North, but evangelists from neighboring regions and culturally similar ethnic groups, who had already decisively shaped the message in accordance with their understandings and their own sense of what was demanded [by the Gospel]” (316). This fact allows the enculturation of the church, these non-English forms of Anglicanism, to make far more sense in their own contexts. It allows the francophone Anglicanism of Rwanda appear just as valid and authentic as that which occurs in Canterbury Cathedral.

In some respects, works of history are always out of date because new history is made every day; however, through their focus on the past, they have the ability to speak perennially. Inevitably, A History of Global Anglicanism fails to include the turbulent years of the Anglican Communion which immediately followed its publication in 2006. However, most of its contents will be an invaluable guide to all global Anglicans. Unfortunately, though, the concluding chapter wrests the narrative away from the incredibly valuable contributions which preceded it, and leaves the entire work feeling far more dated than necessary. Much has occurred within Anglicanism since 2006 – especially recently – yet not enough time has elapsed to truly understand and evaluate the consequences. By concluding with a sociological critique of the modern crisis, Ward allows his work to be dated by necessity. Moreover, in a sad irony, he allows his own western and English perspective to dictate his perception of the current indigenous voice of the global Anglican family, rather than letting them speak in their own tongue and dialect.

Jay Thomas

The Rev. Jay Thomas is the Rector of St. Mark's Anglican Church in Moultrie, Georgia.

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