Prayers for the 'Ordinary People of God' as Covenant Plans Progress: Letter to Primates and Presiding Bishops
Friday 15th September 2006The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has spoken today of his prayers for ordinary churchgoers who are 'puzzled, wearied, or disoriented' by the present controversies within the Anglican Communion.
In a Pastoral Letter to the Anglican Communion' s Primates and Presiding Bishops, Dr Williams says that the 'ordinary people of God' do not want to see division as the consequence of the Anglican Communion's difficulties:
"Many say they simply do not want to take up an extreme or divisive position and want to be faithful to Scripture and the common life. They want to preserve an Anglican identity that they treasure and love passionately but face continuing uncertainty about its future."
In his letter, Dr Williams updated the Primates on the Windsor process, reporting the initial thinking of a group set up to advise in the wake of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (formerly ECUSA) held last June.
"It is ... clear that the Episcopal Church has taken very seriously the recommendations of the Windsor Report; but the resolutions of General Convention still represent what can only be called a mixed response to the Dromantine requests. The advisory group has spent much time in examining these resolutions in great detail, and its sense is that although some aspects of these requests have been fully dealt with, some have not. This obviously poses some very challenging questions for our February meeting and its discernment of the best way forward."
On requests for 'alternative primatial oversight' received from some churches in the USA he warned against the tendency to think the matter was straightforward:
"I continue to hope that colleagues will not take it for granted that there is a rapid short-term solution that will remove our problems or simplify our relationships for good and all without the essential element of personal, probing conversation."
Dr Williams also announced the appointment of Drexel Gomez, Primate of the Church of the West Indies, as chair of a group to design a Covenant between churches of the Anglican Communion, an idea Dr Williams canvassed in a reflection offered following the General Convention meeting.
The full text of the letter follows:
My dear friends,
Greetings to you all in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on this commemoration of his Holy Cross, to which we all look for our healing and hope.
In our uncertainties and explorations in the Communion, my prayers are not only for those who, like ourselves, have the responsibility of leadership in our Provinces, but most especially for all those ordinary people of God, in the Episcopal Church and elsewhere, who are puzzled, wearied, or disoriented by our present controversies. So many say they simply do not want to take up an extreme or divisive position and want to be faithful to Scripture and the common life. They want to preserve an Anglican identity that they treasure and love passionately but face continuing uncertainty about its future.
Scripture reminds us, in the Book of Jonah as well as in the gospels, that God is supremely patient and loving to those who are in this sort of confusion and uncertainty. All our churches are, in one way or another, partly sound and partly not; and none of our churches would, on the basis of their virtue and their strength alone, merit God's approval. All of us look to the merciful Lord who has acted 'for us and independently of us' (as Luther said) in the Cross. We need to remember this as we consider our current difficulties and challenges.
In the months that have passed since the June meeting of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a great deal of public and private comment has been circulating, and many meetings have been organised to consider the impact of the Convention's decisions. I am deeply grateful to those of you who have already let me know your initial reactions and those of your Provinces to the actions of the Convention, and I hope that others will be able to communicate their responses in the period between now and February.
I write now not only to thank you for this, but to remind you of the process currently going forward in the Communion to help all of us weigh and interpret Convention's work. You will recall that the Joint Standing Committee appointed a small group of representatives from its number (two Primates and two laypeople, along with staff support) to assist me in preparing an initial response. Now that the Episcopal Church has had opportunity for detailed consideration of the requests from the Primates at Dromantine last year, based on the Windsor Report, it is important that we develop a unified and coherent response as a Communion to the situation as it is developing.
The report of this advisory group has not yet been finalised but will be available at our meeting in Tanzania next February. In the meantime, the group agrees with me that it might be helpful to offer some indication of the direction of its initial thinking.
It is clear that the Communion as a whole remains committed to the teaching on human sexuality expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and also that the recommendations of the Windsor Report have been widely accepted as a basis for any progress in resolving the tensions that trouble us. As a Communion, we need to move forward on the basis of this twofold recognition.
It is also clear that the Episcopal Church has taken very seriously the recommendations of the Windsor Report; but the resolutions of General Convention still represent what can only be called a mixed response to the Dromantine requests. The advisory group has spent much time in examining these resolutions in great detail, and its sense is that although some aspects of these requests have been fully dealt with, there remain some that have not. This obviously poses some very challenging questions for our February meeting and its discernment of the best way forward.
I have also received - as you will have done also - the appeals of seven dioceses of the Episcopal Church for 'alternative primatial oversight'. As we move to reflecting on these requests, we have to acknowledge that we are entering uncharted waters for the Communion, with a number of large issues about provincial identity and autonomy raised for all of us. I write having just heard the outcome of the meeting in New York which was requested in order to see what might emerge from a carefully structured discussion between American Bishops of diverging views. So far, no structure has been agreed, but there is a clear sense that the process has been worthwhile and that it is not yet over. I am sure that there will be more need in the months ahead for such face-to-face discussion, and I continue to hope that colleagues will not take it for granted that there is a rapid short-term solution that will remove our problems or simplify our relationships for good and all without the essential element of personal, probing conversation.
My earlier observations - building on the Windsor Report - on the possibility of a Covenant have on the whole been received with sympathy, and the work on this continues. At the March meeting of the Joint Standing Committee, it was decided to adopt a short introductory paper on the Windsor Covenant proposals, outlining some of the issues that would need to be addressed. It would be of great help to receive observations from any of you who have not yet expressed views on this paper (available at http://www.aco.org/commission/covenant/index.cfm).
The Joint Standing Committee also asked me to appoint a small Covenant Design Group to take forward the work. I have asked Archbishop Drexel Gomez to chair this and would now welcome your suggestions for membership before I proceed to nominate people who might serve. We are envisaging a small number of full members (perhaps no more than ten in the core group) with a wider circle of 'corresponding members', and in the first instance I shall be looking for nominations representing expertise in ecclesiology, missiology, ecumenical relation and canon law. If you wish to make a nomination, perhaps you could indicate something of the background and competence of the person or persons you suggest. I hope, as I wrote earlier, that this will be a major and serious focus for the Lambeth Conference, and the work now commissioned will be a vital task in preparation for the Conference.
As we take this work forward between us, let us continue to pray for one another and for all of God's people. At this season, we pray that we may seek not an empty external unity but a deep common commitment to the crucified Jesus which will unite us as forgiven sinners, whose good news to the world is not the preaching of our own strength and wisdom, but the proclamation of the triumphant 'foolishness of God' in the saving work of Our Lord.