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Archbishop's Lent letter 2011

Saturday 12th March 2011

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has written a Lent letter addressed to the Primates and Moderators of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion

My dear friends,

As we begin our pilgrimage towards the celebration of Our Lord's death and resurrection, I send my greetings to you all, and my prayers that this season will bring us closer to the reality of Christ's love and self-giving for us, so that His Spirit will move more powerfully among us to enable us to share that love with the world.

In the forefront of all our concerns at this moment is the situation of our brothers and sisters who are living with the daily threat of violent persecution or in unstable environments. Our thoughts are specially with the leaders and people of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, faced with massive instability and uncertainty, and with many disturbing signs of what may come – and we remember also our Bishop in Jerusalem, still waiting for the clarification of his right of residence. We also think with anguish of the sufferings and anxieties of the Church in Pakistan, in the context of the brutal killings that have occurred in recent months and weeks. The continuing attacks on Christian communities in parts of Nigeria are a matter of deep concern, and I was grateful to be able to speak directly with the Primate recently about the need for Christians worldwide to keep this issue in the eyes of their own governments. In Zimbabwe, our Anglican Church is still subjected to constant attack because of its brave stand for justice. In Southern Sudan, after a referendum more peaceful than most people dared to hope, the Church faces the huge challenge of helping to shape a new nation while maintaining a united witness in Sudan as a whole. Current developments in the Abyei area make it clear that the risk of further conflict and displacement of populations is far from being a thing of the past. The same challenge of witnessing to a unity beyond political boundaries inspires the continuing courageous ministry of the Church in Korea.

It is as though we are all being reminded of the true cost of discipleship. Nothing could be more important for us to reflect on during Lent – particularly those of us who live in relatively comfortable circumstances. And in the midst of all this, we also give thanks for our brothers and sisters who continue to serve sacrificially when natural disaster strikes, showing how the love of God in Christ can inspire faithful and costly care for a whole community. Our prayers are particularly with our friends in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the wake of the earthquake that claimed so many lives and destroyed the beautiful Anglican cathedral along with many other churches. There, as in Haiti and Pakistan last year, the Church has demonstrated beyond any doubt that it is an effective, compassionate presence for the healing of a devastated community. As I write, news has just come of an appalling earthquake in Japan – our prayers go out for all those communities affected.

We look out at a landscape that is in many ways sombre. But what is as miraculous as ever is the fidelity of believers in the middle of it all. Christians in Pakistan or Egypt still obstinately go on loving their neighbours and their enemies and refusing to copy the ways of the world. There is no greater proof of the power and reality of Christ's resurrection than this. The life of the One who was rejected and tortured to death is the same life that lives now in Christians; as St Paul says (Rom.6.9), Death has no more power over Christ – and we who share his life through baptism are delivered from the deathly power of hatred and revenge.

These events also remind us of the importance of our worldwide fellowship. Whatever the wounds in that fellowship – and they are still deep in many ways – there should be no doubt of the willingness of all in our Communion to stand together in prayer and solidarity when confronted by attacks on the gospel and its witnesses, or by human suffering and loss. The recent launch of the global Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy, enthusiastically supported through the entire Communion, under the inspiring leadership of Sally Keeble, has been a sign of that continuing readiness to stand together and work together for the most vulnerable, in the name of the Lord – and, very significantly, to support our local churches in holistic mission and to help them to continue as credible and effective partners for both governmental and non-governmental organisations – since in so many areas only the churches can be trustworthy agents of change. For all this we can rightly give thanks. And I hope and trust that our celebration of the resurrection this year will be also a celebration of the ways we share the new life of Christ through this solidarity and mutual love.

The recent Primates' Meeting in Dublin did not set out to offer a solution to the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion. But it is important to note carefully what it did set out to do and what it achieved. In recent years, many have appealed to the Primates to resolve the problems of the Communion by taking decisive action to enforce discipline on this or that Province. In approaching the Dublin Meeting, we believed that it was essential to clarify how the Primates themselves understood the nature of their office and authority. It has always been clear that not all have the same view – not because of different theological convictions alone, but also because of the different legal and canonical roles they occupy as Primates. Some have a good deal of individual authority; others have their powers very closely limited by their own canons. It would therefore be difficult if the Meeting collectively gave powers to Primates that were greater than their own canons allowed them individually, as was noted at the 2008 Lambeth Conference (Lambeth Indaba 2008 #151).

The unanimous judgement of those who were present was that the Meeting should not see itself as a 'supreme court', with canonical powers, but that it should nevertheless be profoundly and regularly concerned with looking for ways of securing unity and building relationships of trust. And one reason for the fact that it did not offer any new schemes for this was that those present were still committed to the Covenant process and had no desire to interrupt the significant discussions of this that are currently going on (as many of you will know, several Provinces have already adopted the Covenant and others are very close to finalising their decision).

The Primates were strongly focused on the situation of churches under threat, and this was reflected in the statements they issued. But it is also important to recognise that the Primates made no change to their existing commitments to both the Covenant process and the moratoria requests. The purpose of the Dublin meeting was, as I have said, not to offer fresh solutions but to clarify what we believed about our shared purpose and identity as a Primates' Meeting. I think that this clarity was achieved, and achieved in an atmosphere of very demanding and searching conversation, which intensified our sense of commitment to each other and the Communion. We were painfully aware of those who did not feel able to be with us, and held them in prayer each day, seeking to remind ourselves of the concerns that they would have wanted to put on the table. We were all agreed that the Meeting inevitably represented 'unfinished business', and were all committed to pursuing the conversations needed to consolidate our fellowship. We shall continue to seek ways of meeting at every level that will prevent our being isolated from each other in suspicion and hostility.

Which brings me back to my starting point. The cost of discipleship is most dramatically manifest in the sufferings that our persecuted brothers and sisters are enduring. But it is also to be experienced in the ways in which we try to support each other in the Communion, despite all our differences. And I would dare to say too that it is part of what God calls us to in not only 'bearing one another's burdens' but bearing with one another and continually seeking ways to be reconciled – which also means seeking to see ourselves more clearly and more penitently, and asking God to show us how we must change in order for there to be unity and united witness in the Church. Without praying together about this, we are less likely to discover what is possible and more likely to make scapegoats of each other. On a recent diocesan visit in England, I was told of the monthly prayer vigil that is held in the diocese to bring together those who are passionate supporters of the ordination of women as bishops and those who are wholeheartedly opposed. For much of the time when such matters are under discussion, people on both sides are going to be most aware of the pain, the possibility of 'failure', the hurt of those we love. But in the sheer fact of praying intently together, we are at the very least reminded of the utter transcendence of God, who brings new possibilities to birth out of the heart of death, fear and loss.

I wish you all every blessing in the renewed discovery of the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead. May His Spirit transform us day by day into the likeness of Christ.

+Rowan Cantuar:

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