Monday, October 18, 2004

The Windsor Report

The Windsor Report, the long awaited report from The Lambeth Commission on Communion (also known as the Eames Commission) has been released this morning. The traffic might be heavy on that site, so you may want to view it here. It lays out the way forward for an Anglican Communion on the verge of fracturing. The whole report needs to be studied, but here's some excerpts that will most likely be batted around for the next few months, if not years;

More authority for the Archbishop of Canterbury;
The Commission believes therefore that the historic position of the Archbishopric of Canterbury must not be regarded as a figurehead, but as the central focus of both unity and mission within the Communion. This office has a very significant teaching role. As the significant focus of unity, mission and teaching, the Communion looks to the office of the Archbishop to articulate the mind of the Communion especially in areas of controversy. The Communion should be able to look to the holder of this office to speak directly to any provincial situation on behalf of the Communion where this is deemed advisable. Such action should not be viewed as outside interference in the exercise of autonomy by any province. It is, in the view of the Commission, important to accept that the Archbishop of Canterbury is acting within the historic significance of his position when he speaks as a brother to the members of all member churches of the Anglican Communion, and as one who participates fully in their life and witness.
The appointment of A Council of Advice (referred to elsewhere in the media as "The Star Chamber");
In order to perform the role which we have set out for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop should be supported by appropriate mechanisms to ensure that he does not feel exposed and left to act entirely alone, but in a way which is informed by suitable persons, who would possess a knowledge of the life of the Communion, and of the theological, ecclesiological and canonical considerations which might apply to any given situation. We therefore recommend the establishment of a Council of Advice to the Archbishop to assist him in discerning when and how it might be appropriate for him to exercise a ministry of unity on behalf of the whole Communion. Such a body might be formed from any existing council of the Communion, possibly the Joint Standing Committees of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting, or a smaller advisory council drawn from the membership of these bodies. However, it will need to be constituted with specific reference to the sorts of expertise upon which the Archbishop of Canterbury may wish to draw in the development of this particular ministry. This may mean that it is preferable to consider a small group of advisers brought together to fulfil this specific role, drawing on the primates of the Communion, and also on the specific expertise understood to be required.
The Anglican Covenant, which one would assume everyone must sign, promising that we will stop misbehaving;
This Commission recommends, therefore, and urges the primates to consider, the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes).
The Right Reverend Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, officially becomes an untouchable;
We accept and respect the position taken up by the Archbishop of Canterbury in relation to the current incumbent of the See of New Hampshire In view of the widespread unacceptability of his ministry in other provinces of the Communion, we urge the proposed Council of Advice to keep the matter of his acceptability under close review. We also urge the Archbishop, unless and until the Council of Advice (or, if the Council should not come into being, the Primates' Meeting) indicate to the contrary, to exercise very considerable caution in inviting or admitting him to the councils of the Communion.
The Episcopal Church apologize for past naughtiness, promise not to do it again, and those bishops who have been naughty voluntarily remove themselves from the councils of the Church;
We recommend that:
* the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion
* pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We urge this in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion. We advise that in the formation of their consciences, those involved consider the common good of the Anglican Communion, and seek advice through their primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We urge all members of the Communion to accord appropriate
respect to such conscientious decisions.
* the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.
Conservative bishops stop misbehaving; specifically respect diocesan boundaries;
We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:
* to express regret for the consequences of their actions
* to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and
* to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
We also call upon these archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.
We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church.
In extreme situations, delegated pastoral oversight by a bishop other than the diocesan may be warranted, as long as the end result is to work towards reconciliation;
In only those situations where there has been an extreme breach of trust, and as a last resort, we commend a conditional and temporary provision of delegated pastoral oversight for those who are dissenting. This oversight must be sufficient to provide a credible degree of security on the part of the alienated community, so that they do not feel at the mercy of a potentially hostile leadership. While the temporary provision of pastoral oversight is in place there must also be a mutually agreed commitment to effecting reconciliation.
The conclusion of the report offers both a note of caution and hopeful sentiments, but, in my opinion, is not rooted in reality;
There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart. We would much rather not speculate on actions that might need to be taken if, after acceptance by the primates, our recommendations are not implemented. However, we note that there are, in any human dispute, courses that may be followed: processes of mediation and arbitration; non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings; invitation, but to observer status only; and, as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership. We earnestly hope that none of these will prove necessary. Our aim throughout has been to work not for division but for healing and restoration. The real challenge of the gospel is whether we live deeply enough in the love of Christ, and care sufficiently for our joint work to bring that love to the world, that we will “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3). As the primates stated in 2000, “to turn from one another would be to turn away from the Cross”, and indeed from serving the world which God loves and for which Jesus Christ died.
We bring the love of Christ to the world by affirming a litmus test as to who is "worthy" enough to be a full member in our elite little club? This may be all well and good for some if we are talking from within the Church, perhaps. But the world is watching to see if Christendom will remain an irrelevant, bigoted club, or if maybe there really is something to our claim to be the embodiment of Christ in the world today. If we are about maintaining the status quo, I'm not interested. Let the club disban. It is the one lost and hurting outside our walls that is our primary concern; not the 99 preoccupied with how we "do church."

There's some good background material on the nature of communion in this document, and some theology worth chewing on as well. I recommend reading the whole thing.

What happens next? The Primates meet in February. Then the Anglican Consultative Council meets in June. Then ECUSA meets for their General Convention in 2006. Then the Lambeth Conference meets in 2008. Unfortunately, the media will have a field day with this for the next four years. In the meantime, in most parishes in ECUSA, it will have little if any impact.

This tempest in a teapot is not about the authority of scripture. It may be seondarily about the way we interpret scripture, but that is not the primary issue. Neither is it about homosexuality. It is about our willingness to take the risk of proclaiming the Good News of God's radical inclusivity. It appears that at the moment the Anglican Communion is not willing to take such a risk. Instead, they have opted for more authority, including the appointment of an Anglican pope. Personally, if I wanted such a hierarchy, I'd be a Roman. I understand Rowan Williams wants nothing to do with this kind of structure either.

The conservatives tested the wind of the times, and decided now is the opportune moment to attempt a takeover of the leadership of the Anglican Communion. The global pendulum has swung in their direction, not only in the Church, but in global politics as well, for now. But I doubt that humanity will be content for very long with a mindset that responds out of a fear of the future, and tries to drag us all back to a past that is painted golden with the brush of nostalgia.

The pendulum will swing back, in God's time. In the meantime, it is essential that we not give in to the self-appointed gate keepers. Their God is just too small to be an expression of Good News to a hurting world hungry for healing.

J.

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