Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Commission's Comments to the ACC

Last October, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, announced the appointment of the Lambeth Commission on Communion.

The mandate of the Commission is as follows;

The Archbishop of Canterbury requests the Commission:

1. To examine and report to him by 30th September 2004, in preparation for the ensuing meetings of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, on the legal and theological implications flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church (USA) to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops, and of the Diocese of New Westminster to authorise services for use in connection with same sex unions, and specifically on the canonical understandings of communion, impaired and broken communion, and the ways in which provinces of the Anglican Communion may relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion.

2. Within their report, to include practical recommendations (including reflection on emerging patterns of provision for episcopal oversight for those Anglicans within a particular jurisdiction, where full communion within a province is under threat) for maintaining the highest degree of communion that may be possible in the circumstances resulting from these decisions, both within and between the churches of the Anglican Communion.

3. Thereafter, as soon as practicable, and with particular reference to the issues raised in Section IV of the Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, to make recommendations to the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, as to the exceptional circumstances and conditions under which, and the means by which, it would be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight), support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province other than his own for the sake of maintaining communion with the said province and between the said province and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

4. In its deliberations, to take due account of the work already undertaken on issues of communion by the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998, as well as the views expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in the communiqu├ęs and pastoral letters arising from their meetings since 2000.
Here are a few excerpts from the recent address to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada by the Secretary to the Lambeth Commission on Communion, the Revd Canon Gregory Cameron, given as the ACC prepared to vote on approving the blessing of same-sex unions:

Within our own Communion, the leaders of twenty-two of the thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion, representing about forty-four million Anglicans, have pronounced that they reject the moves in New Hampshire and in New Westminster as incompatible with the Gospel and with the Christian fellowship of which they are part. They have said that these developments tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level, and a state of broken Communion now exists between ECUSA and some twelve to eighteen provinces of the Communion...
The number 22 is being batted around, but I have no idea where it comes from. Simon Sarmiento identifies 18, but I think he is being generous. I see no more than 15 out of 38. The claim that they represent 44 million Anglicans cannot be understood to mean they speak for 44 million. This group has a history of making misleading statements regarding the actual number of Anglicans who support their stance. All we know for certain is that 15 Primates reject the actions of New Hampshire and New Westminster.

...I really would that this was not so, but I cannot pretend that this is not the reality across the Anglican and ecumenical world at the moment. All of this has become a distraction from the wider mission and ministry of the Church, and innumerable bishops speak of how they are frustrated by the seeming inability of the Church to move beyond this topic...
It does seem as if we are being held hostage by these issues for much too long. As has been said before, we have better things to do.

...The Lambeth Commission, for its part, is painfully, carefully listening to all who will talk to it to discover whether there is a way to hold this great family of ours together - and it has been given a mere twelve months by the primates in which all provinces have been urged not to take precipitate action in order to allow space for the Communion to find a way to heal itself...
With the irregular confirmations in Ohio and the threat of forming a separate Church, it appears the AAC figures this urging "not to take precipitate action" does not apply to them. The big mistake, in my opinion, was in the Lambeth Commission agreeing to even sit down and talk with the AAC, as this legitimized this orgainization that has no official status within the Episcopal Church.

...This week, the eyes of all those other provinces will turn to you, to watch how you decide. It is your decision, and you must bring your collective wisdom to bear upon it, but I'm afraid to say that the context of this decision is so fraught at the moment that the fear must be that no matter what the careful wording of your resolutions this week, the Anglican Church of Canada will be seen to be debating, as I think your Acting Primate recognised last night, the place of gay and lesbian lifestyles in your Church. Fairly or unfairly, the Anglican and ecumenical worlds are likely to react to your decisions on whether they perceive you to support or to reject the possibility of public rites of blessings of same sex unions as elements of your lived-out faith in Canada.

If you say "no" to the motions before you, then you will be in danger of letting down the thousands of gay people in your midst, who are part of your Canadian family, as well as all those others who are looking towards the Anglican Church of Canada to set a new standard in dealing with this issue;

But if you say "yes", the work of the Lambeth Commission becomes horribly complicated, because we will be told that the Anglican Church of Canada refuses to hear the voice, or to heed the concerns of your fellow Anglicans in the growing provinces of the Global South, who are your international family. The reaction to such a decision, without very careful explanation and liaison by the Church of Canada, is likely to be on a par with that currently being experienced by your neighbours to the South...
For the record, they said no. Of course, this did not satisfy the AAC, who had already tried and convicted the ACC as being apostate. The next day, they were busy chewing up the Canadians and spitting them out. I think they backed down for nothing. The last thing the AAC wants is peace or compromise; they want those who do not march lock-step with them punished.

...Now that may be a price worth paying if you conclude that that is where Christ leads. You must do what you believe God is calling you to do - as your Acting Primate said - to do what will expand the realm of God; but I think I would be unfaithful to the task I have been set if I did not say that the implications of your decision for the unity of the Anglican Communion, perhaps even its very survival in its current form, are just about as serious as it could get.
If we consider the possible worst-case scenarios, it is indeed serious. Bishop Whalon has outlined some of these scenarios for us:

The Episcopal Church is declared to be 'an observer' of the Anglican Communion. We would be allowed no representatives on the various inter-Anglican boards, and as with the Churches of India, there would some limitation on inter-communion.

Our ecumenical partners are informed that dialogue with American Anglicans should now include the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of America as well as the Episcopal Church.

Dissident Episcopalians belonging to the Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes are recognized by the majority of Provinces as speaking for the American church.

The concept of diocesan boundaries, in effect among Anglicans since the Council of Nicea in 325 AD (yes, that council), is declared to be temporarily lifted in the United States, allowing all manner of Anglican missions to be founded from offshore provinces. Some primates think this is already their prerogative.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, under pressure, decides that the 53 bishops who participated in the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire will not be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The Episcopal Church House of Bishops decides to boycott the Conference (except for the Network bishops, who de facto end up representing us).

The Archbishop refuses to impose the more stringent measures called for by the Primates, and the Anglican Communion splits along North / South lines.
None of the above are pleasant possibilities. I think we need to face them, however, and not bury our heads in the sand.

What can we do at this point? It seems to me that it is in the hands of the bishops. We must continue to carry on with the ministry and mission of the Church. That includes informing our people of what is going on, and correcting the misinformation when we encounter it. And we must continue to pray for the Church.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.
J.

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