The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury to the meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church which has been meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, between Wednesday 19 September and Tuesday 25 September.
We gathered at the invitation of presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and of the House of Bishops in order to converse with them about the current tensions encountered in the life of the communion.
On Monday 24 September, the Joint Standing Committee met in formal session to reflect on the conversations, both formal and informal, in which they had participated over the previous four days.
The Committee would like to express their profound thanks to the Presiding Bishop and to the House of Bishops for the generosity and graciousness of the welcome that they have received.
They had also been invited by Bishop Charles Jenkins and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana to witness something of the ministry of the Church, as it plays its part in the healing and renewal of the City of New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina. So, after two days of engagement and listening on the Thursday and Friday, members of the Joint Standing Committee joined members of the House of Bishops and their spouses in participating in active mission projects in the city of New Orleans so grievously affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The past few days have been a time of enormous learning and growth in mutual understanding. At the same time, the conversation has been honest, direct and even painful at times. The Committee is conscious that some of its members, in reflecting the very real concerns of the wider Communion, have spoken in a way which could be seen as challenging or even offensive to the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, it has been important that each side has been honest, and free to speak the message which has been laid on their hearts. The words of the members of the Archbishop and of the Joint Standing Committee were met with patience, generosity and an intensity of debate on the Monday and Tuesday which illustrates how seriously the concerns of the wider Communion are taken by the Episcopal House of Bishops.
The Joint Standing Committee is also conscious that the very life of the Communion is standing at a crossroads at present. The Anglican Communion is a family of 44 autonomous churches. There is no central body which can pass judgement or issue directions for the life of the Communion. At the same time, however, it is the responsibility of the Instruments of Communion to enable conversation and discernment between the provinces and churches, and it was in this spirit that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the members of the Joint Standing Committee have approached this meeting.
A central focus of the discussions has been the requests of the Windsor Report to the Episcopal Church, as amplified by the Primates most recently at Dar es Salaam in February 2007. At that meeting, the primates specifically addressed three questions arising from the Windsor Report to the Episcopal House of Bishops.
The primates had requested clarification on the status of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention, and whether this did in fact reflect the request of the Windsor Report for a moratorium on the election and consecration of candidates for the episcopate who were living in a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage.
Secondly, the primates had asked that the Bishops, as the chief liturgical officers in their dioceses, should mutually undertake not to offer public liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions.
Thirdly, the primates had offered suggestions for the sort of pastoral care which could be offered in a way which enabled interventions from other provinces to cease.
While the Joint Standing Committee met in formal session on the Monday, the House of Bishops began their consideration of the concerns expressed to them by the wider Communion.
Although their response was not available to the Joint Standing Committee as they concluded their meeting on Tuesday evening, they were briefed before departure by the Presiding Bishop. The formal response of the House of Bishops is now available, and it is the intention of the Joint Standing Committee to consult with one another in the preparation of a report to be submitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the end of the week offering an early response to the statement that the House of Bishops have developed.
The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council are grateful that the Archbishop of Canterbury has indicated that he intends to consult widely with all the Primates and with all members of the Anglican Consultative Council as the Communion discerns the way ahead. We call upon all Christian people to remember the Churches and faithful of the Anglican Communion in their prayers, trusting in the Holy Spirit will guide us into the wholeness of truth and life which is Christ’s will for his Church.
Thursday, 27 September, 2007