Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Canterbury to Meet with Bishops

Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has accepted the invitation to meet with the House of Bishops of TEC. He will attend the scheduled Fall meeting of the HoB in New Orleans which commences on September 20. Accompanying him will be members of the Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council.

Speaking at a news conference in Toronto, Dr. Williams offered these thoughts:

...He said he also hoped to understand, from the meeting, the problems the primates’ request is causing for the American church, under its constitution. “I’m still waiting to see what the Episcopal Church will come up with as an alternative. The reaction was a very strongly worded protest against what they see as interference, but if not that, then what? I’ve spoken privately to people in the United States and am waiting to see,” he said...

...As leader of churches affiliated with the Church of England, Archbishop Williams said that his aim “is to try and keep people around the table as long as possible, to understand one another and to encourage local churches on this side of the Atlantic and elsewhere to ask what they might need to do to keep in that conversation, to keep around the table”...

...It’s not, he said, “just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians and nasty people who don’t. It is a question on which there is real principled disagreement. What are the forms of behaviour the church has the freedom to bless, and be faithful to Scripture, tradition and reason? That is the question that is tearing us apart at the moment because there are real differences of conviction.”

A split in the Anglican Communion would be terrible, he said. “I believe passionately that we need each other in the Anglican Communion. A communion divided into a liberal segment and a conservative segment would be very, very much impoverished on both sides and to the degree that it would isolate the churches of the developed world from some of the more vulnerable churches of the global south,” he said...
This will be considered by some as a positive development. Personally, I think such a visit will make little difference. Dr. Williams decided not to be present for General Convention 2006. He then chose to not be present for the installation of our Presiding Bishop. It took a plea from our HoB and much publicity in the press to get him to agree to meet with the bishops of TEC. I think it is safe to speculate that there is a high probability that he is making this visit under duress.

Note that there is no mention of meeting with the Executive Council. This will be yet another "bishops only" event. Also note that he is bringing with him a delegation representing the Primates. The message is clear. He will visit, have polite conversations with the Americans, but any conclusive decisions will come from the Primates. The meeting, scheduled for ten days before the imposed deadline set by the Primates' Communique, will change nothing.

During his visit to the Anglican Church of Canada, Dr. Williams also delivered the Larkin Stuart lecture, hosted by Wycliffe and Trinity theological colleges in Toronto. He spoke about listening properly to the bible. It is an excellent lecture, and worth taking the time to read. Here is a segment that leaped out at me:

...But to read Scripture in the context of the Eucharist -- which has been from the beginning of the Church the primary place for it -- is to say that the Word of God that acts in the Bible is a Word directed towards those changes that bring about the Eucharistic community. The summons to the reader/hearer is to involvement in the Body of Christ, the agent of the Kingdom, as we have seen; and that Body is what is constituted and maintained by the breaking of bread and all that this means. For Paul, exploring it in I Corinthians, the celebration of the Lord's Supper is strictly bound up with the central character of the community: what is shown in the Eucharist is a community of interdependence and penitent self-awareness, discovering the dangers of partisan self-assertion or uncritical reproduction of the relations of power and status that prevail in the society around. So if Scripture is to be heard as summons or invitation before all else, this is what it is a summons to. And the reading and understanding of the text must be pursued in this light. We ask what change is envisaged or required in the 'time' of any passage of Scripture; and now we can add that whatever change that is in particular, it must make sense in the context of the formation of this kind of community -- the Eucharistic Body.

Take Scripture out of this context of the invitation to sit at table with Jesus and to be incorporated into his labour and suffering for the Kingdom, and you will be treating Scripture as either simply an inspired supernatural guide for individual conduct or a piece of detached historical record -- the typical exaggerations of Biblicist and liberal approaches respectively. For the former, the work of the Spirit is more or less restricted to the transformation of the particular believer; for the latter, the life of the community is where the Spirit is primarily to be heard and discerned, with Scripture an illuminating adjunct at certain points. But grasp Scripture as part of the form taken by the divine act of invitation that summons and establishes the community around the Lord's Table, and the Bible becomes coherent at a new level, as a text whose meaning is most centrally to do with the passage from rivalry and self-assertion and the enmity with God that is bound up with these to the community in which each, by the influx of the Spirit, takes responsibility for all, and all for each. The context of the Eucharist, in which everyone present is there simply because they are guests by the free generosity of the host, obliges a reading of Scripture in which what is decisive is always this shared dependence on God's initiative of welcome which removes pride and fear...
Scripture as an invitation which establishes the community and shapes its character. I like that.


UPDATE: Bill Carroll has responded to Dr. Williams' lecture.

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