Daily Archives: July 28, 2008
Watching the press conference today it was clear that the organizers of Lambeth think that they can solve the Communion’s problems by creating yet another of their Little Englands (despite the fact they’ve been warned that the Colonial Days Are Over) – an England where everyone is polite, every one remembers their manners, everyone remembers what Nanny taught them in the Nursery, everyone remembers their station and the rules and are gentlemen and ladies and quite accommodating to English sensibilities, and everyone remembers the British are in charge. After all, what is the sense of being Anglican if one doesn’t want to emulate the English! All will be well, all will be solved, let us create a safe space, a Little England and shut out all that dreadful unpleasantness that causes the Locals to riot.
It’s almost endearing. Almost. The problem is – we Americans are revolutionaries. We can’t help it. It’s in our blood – we were never disappointed by despots storming the Bastille and chopping heads off aristocrats and their flunkies. We manage to retain elements of our English forebears who reminded us that manners are helpful and order is necessary, but that is more to be tolerated than embraced. We put cowboys in the Oval. We do stuff and ask questions later.
Watching the Press Conference today was like watching the Old Guard trying to contain a revolution. But revolutions are like tornadoes – and this is an ecclesiastical tornado. Tornadoes are neither contained nor controlled. You learn to watch for them, to learn the signs of their approach – and when they come, you either you find shelter quickly or you run fast.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Sunday for most of us was a lovely day of worship at Canterbury Cathedral, at which the Dean preached, and Archbishop Rowan celebrated. That was followed by a superb barbecue on the lawn (lamb, chicken, sausage; actually, the best meal in our time here!) In the afternoon there was a Civic Reception in the ruins of the Abbey that was build by St. Augustine (he didn’t lay the stones, himself, but he oversaw its construction) in the early years of the seventh century. The Dean told us in his sermon that some of the pages of the Bible given to Augustine by Gregory the Great in 597 are still intact! I would love to have seen them, but I believe they are in the archives at Cambridge University.
Today’s Indaba subject was “The Bishop, Christian Witness, and Other Faiths.” During the session a DRAFT of the Statement to be issued at the end of the Conference was handed out. Though we still have a week to go, it gives us a much better sense of how it is envisioned that everything will “fit” together.
Perhaps a comparison with Lambeth 1998 would be helpful. Ten years ago we were given a reading list, along with scholarly papers prepared for us to study before coming to the Conference. Most of the Bishops were then divided into four main sub-sections, where we worked on Reports on broad major subjects. The only thing from that Conference that is much remembered is “Resolution 1:10,” which declared homosexuality to be “incompatible with holy scripture.” It was, and ever has been, the most controversial thing to come out of any Lambeth Conference.
But, interestingly enough, the REPORT from the sub-section on Human Sexuality, composed by Bishops from across the entire spectrum of opinion, and from every sector of the globe, was UNANIMOUSLY agreed to by all the members of the sub-section that worked on it. It outlined four major positions that faithful Christians take (or took, as of that moment) regarding their understanding of sexuality, and it was very carefully balanced and nuanced.
Archbishop George Carey invested a great deal of personal effort to keep sexuality from being the defining issue of the Conference (“If it becomes that,” he said, “we will have failed.”) We failed.
The “Global South” largely felt that the “Progressive West” was demanding a new understanding of sexuality, and it struck back with a vengeance. The Resolution was amended and amended, each time becoming more strident, and when the vote was taken it was 526 in favor, 70 against, with 45 abstentions. I think it is fair to say that each “side” believed it had been ambushed by the other.
To a significant extent, the American and Canadian churches have ignored the Resolution (it was five years to the day after passing it that our General Convention confirmed the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire!), and we have been trying to figure out how to resolve the contradictions involved in all of this ever since.
This time around, the Bible Study discussions flow into the Indaba groups, and they are somewhat related to the various Plenary sessions, as well. But, rather than scholarly and/or committee reports, what we will issue as a Statement of the Conference will be largely composed of a kind of composite “snapshot” of what the world’s Anglican Bishops believe regarding a wide variety of topics and issues as of summer 2008.
If an opinion is voiced once or twice in an Indaba group it probably will not make it into the “snapshot.” But if it comes up half a dozen or more times, in as many different groups, it almost certainly will.
As I reported earlier, all of this is in the category of “building relationships,” and getting to know each other in prayer, Bible Study, and “sharing.” It is also, clearly, laying a foundation for addressing (again!) the major remaining issues of the Conference: sexuality and the development of an Anglican Covenant.
This afternoon we had the second major “Hearing” on what is being envisioned by the “Windsor Continuation Group” as to “how we get from here to there” (“there” being the restoration of trust, fellowship, and communion). I need to quote to you at length from what we were given.
PLEASE NOTE: whether this survives at all, let alone in anything recognizably like what I am about to type, is anything but certain. There remains a great deal of objection to even having a Covenant, let alone to some of the specifics.
Nevertheless, here is what was handed out:
* The Windsor Report sets out requests for three moratoria in relation to the public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions, the consecration to the episcopate of those living in partnered gay relationships and the cessation of cross border interventions.
* There have been different interpretations of the sense in which “moratorium” was used in the Windsor Report. Our understanding is that moratorium refers to both future actions and is also retrospective: that is that it requires the cessation of activity. This necessarily applies to practices that may have already been authorized as well as proposed for authorization in the future.
* The request for moratorium applies in this way to the complete cessation of (a) the celebration of blessings for same-sex unions, (b) consecrations of those living in openly gay relationships, and (c) all cross border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction.
* The three moratoria have been requested several times: Windsor (2004); Dromantine (2005); Dar es Salaam (2007) and the requests have been less than wholeheartedly embraced on all sides.
* The failure to respond presents us with a situation where if the three moratoria are not observed, the communion is likely to fracture. The patterns of action currently embraced with the continued blessings of same-sex unions and of interventions could lead to irreparable damage.
* The call for the three moratoria on these issues relates to their controversial nature. This poses the serious question of what response should be made to those who act contrary to the moratorium during the Covenant process and who should make a response.
The WCG goes on to propose the swift formation of a “Pastoral Forum” – noting that it is essentially the same thing as a number of previously proposed bodies, a “Council of Advice” (Windsor), a “Panel of Reference” (Dromantine), a “Pastoral Council” (Dar es Salaam), and the Statement from the American House of Bishops (September 2007) acknowledging a “useful role for communion wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight.”
The WCG proposes that the President of the Forum should be the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would also appoint its episcopal chair, and its members, including members of the Instruments of Communion and a constituency “representative of the breadth of the life of the Communion as a whole.”
It says the Forum should be empowered to act quickly and decisively, especially through the ministry of its Chair, who would work closely with the ABC in the exercise of his ministry.
“The Forum would be responsible for addressing those anomalies of pastoral care arising in the communion against the recommendations of the Windsor Report. It could also offer guidance on what response and any diminishment of standing within the communion might be appropriate where any of the three moratoria are broken.”
I found this sentence particularly heartening: “We are encouraged by the planned setting up of the Communion Partners initiative in The Episcopal Church as a means of sustaining those who feel at odds with developments taking place in their own Province but who wish to be loyal to, and to maintain, their fellowship within TEC and within the Anglican Communion.”
And, finally: “The proliferation of ad hoc episcopal and archepiscopal ministries cannot be maintained within a global Communion. We recommend that the Pastoral Forum develop a scheme in which existing ad hoc jurisdictions could be held ‘in trust’ in preparation for their reconciliation within their proper Provinces.”
Will any of this actually be put into place? Will any of it matter? Only time will tell. But, two weeks into our time in England, things are becoming interesting.
With warmest regards in our Lord,
–(The Right Rev.) John W. Howe is Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida
My initial take on the report is cautiously positive, understanding four principles of note.
First, we have been here before. We have been here with Windsor and with Dar. And those two documents recommendations were simply not fulfilled ultimately.
Second, documents are different from action. We can be even ecstatic over a document, but that does not mean that any action will be taken. I suppose it all depends on whether the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing for those words to be implemented.
A new pastoral forum is to be set up to bring rebel provinces into line in the Anglican Communion.
The 650 bishops meeting at the Lambeth Conference in Kent debated proposals today for a body headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that would prevent any more consecrations of gay bishops or same-sex blessings.
The forum will also clamp down on “cross-border interventions” such as those where conservative bishops from Africa have consecrated bishops to pastor congregations in the United States.
The document says the forum is needed because repeated requests for moratoria on gay consecrations, same-sex blessings and cross-border interventions have not been heeded.
CT: Some conservatives were anxious in coming to Lambeth and some here have actually said they don’t feel any hope towards the future of the Anglican Communion. Do you share those feelings?
TW: I always tell my staff at home to distinguish between feelings and thinking because your feelings will come and go if you are tired or in a meeting perhaps and then you will feel like all hope is lost. You have to go back and pray and think.
The situation is still extremely complex. The Archbishop of Canterbury said when he invited us all that if you accept this invitation you are accepting to work with the Windsor Report and the Covenant process. The Archbishop reiterated that on Sunday afternoon and has reiterated it publicly several times.
If the Windsor Report is properly followed through and if the Covenant process actually gets somewhere where it is designed to get then things can happen which will give hope to a lot of people who are at present in danger of losing hope. I say that in general terms because I am not in charge of the process, I’m not on the group for taking forward either of those things. So I am not entirely sure what will happen with either of them and to put it devoutly I am not sure how the Holy Spirit will lead those who are working on those things.
CT: So you are open to the Covenant?
TW: Yes, sure. We have to be. In the last few Lambeths, many people believed they were working in a parliamentary style process with big sessions and big debates that would polarise people instantly and that isn’t necessarily the right way of doing Christian decision making. So the Archbishop has taken the risk ”“ and it is a risk – of abandoning that model and saying let’s pray together, work together and be together in all sorts of contexts and we will see what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in the midst of that.
A new Pastoral Forum is to be set up to bring rebel provinces into line in the Anglican Communion. The bishops at Lambeth are presently discussing the third ‘observations’ document of the Windsor Continuation Group that sets out why the forum is needed. It says this is necessary because repeated requests for moratoria on gay consecrations, same-sex blessings and cross-border interventions have not been heeded. I’ve been given an advance copy of the document. It says: ‘The failure to respond presents us with a situation where if the three moratoria are not observed, the Communion is likely to fracture.’
The document proposes the forum as a “key mechanism to achieve reconciliation”.
At the AAC, we learned long ago that since the media can help or hurt you, treat them humanely, the way you would wish to be treated. When an event occurs, certainly those present take away their own impressions, but for the vast majority who will only read about it or see it on the TV, the media interprets the event. Why would anyone go out of their way to make life miserable for the media? Although GAFCON in Jerusalem wasn’t perfect from a media standpoint, there was a sincere attempt to get the media what they needed: access inside during plenary sessions, interviews with bishops, press conferences, etc. In retrospect, could it have been done better? Absolutely, but there was a genuine attempt to do the right thing for the media.
Contrasted with that philosophy is the view that the media is your enemy and you must a) keep them out, b) choose between good and bad media for access, and c) have everyone so disciplined that their talking points are recited no matter what the question. One has to pity the media, seeing how they are being treated at Lambeth, but then again, it doesn’t sound like the bishops themselves are being all that well taken care of, either. The secrecy thing is either hilarious or pathetic: is not everyone there under godly authority? Are some there in defiance of their House of Bishops or their Primate? Are they making a “prophetic statement” by being there anyway? Yet their “prophetic statement” must be kept secret.
We enter now into the final and crucial week. The Bible Study and Indaba Groups have begun to peel away layers of caution and hesitation therein laying bare many difficult issues. This has been painful at times as we’ve faced the chasm that divides us. Like many of you, particularly those who have been to General Convention or provincial gatherings of one kind or another, I have lived with this chasm for so many years that it is easy to forget that for Christians elsewhere it is hardly the most pressing issue they face. For some of them it is the need for food, shelter, clean water, coping as refugees or holding firm to the gospel in the midst of persecution that dominates their ministries. Yet the crisis that The Episcopal Church threw the Anglican Communion into in 2003 has not only complicated our lives as Episcopalians but has made it increasingly difficult for them to do their ministries in what were already demanding cultural contexts. A conference such as Lambeth must address many concerns and these are often interconnected and multilayered. Perhaps I can share some of our discussions with you later, but for now there is a verse in the Mosaic Law that comes to mind as I write about these two seminal groups of the conference: “You shall not uncover your sister’s nakedness.” That is, it would be inappropriate in my mind to discuss in any detail what is transpiring in the Bible Study and Indaba Groups. Beyond saying it is the striving of people from diverse cultures to engage one another respectfully yet honestly in order to understand what the challenges are that dominate the lives of our people.
The last two meetings of the Self-Select Session, The Bible and Human Sexuality, I attended (Wednesday and Friday) were much improved over the first. We looked at certain Old Testament passages regarding human sexuality in the second session and New Testament passages in the third session. Some of each session was spent in a lecture format, some in small group work and some in larger group discussion. The time was hardly sufficient for the subject at hand. At the end of our final meeting an Australian bishop made a statement that was in a way a question, but there was hardly any answer that seemed sufficient with which the presenter could reply””“Surely a loving Heavenly Father would not leave his children confused about something so fundamental as human sexuality”¦if so, I’ve been wasting my time for forty-three years!” I suppose some were put off by the force of his words, but it seemed to me a necessary and poignant pause with which to end our time.