General Synod: Debate on the Agenda - Archbishop's remarks
Monday 9th February 2004The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at the General Synod in London.
Madam Chairman: as the Dean of Derby indicated there may be some members of Synod who have some questions in their mind about the issue affecting the wider Anglican Communion, and whether it is appropriate to debate such issues in this forum. And I hope you'll bear with me if I say just a word about some of those wider issues, perhaps in explanation of why we have not thought it fit at this point to encourage such a wider debate – though questions will undoubtedly arise.
I'm thinking, of course, of developments particularly around decisions taken in the United States of America and the extraordinary meeting of Primates which took place in Lambeth Palace in October of last year. And Synod members will, I am sure, remember the statement issued at the end of that two-day gathering at Lambeth Palace. One of the things for which it called was the setting up of a Commission to examine some of the issues that were arising and would continue to arise for the Communion in the light of actions by any one province or diocese which created acute difficulties for the maintenance of communion. You will be aware that that Commission has been set under the Chairmanship of Archbishop Robin Eames to whom it is obligatory to refer all difficult and delicate matters in the Anglican Communion. And under his expert guidance that Commission is actually beginning its work; even as we speak, as they say, its first meeting takes place this week at Windsor.
I hope that Synod will hold that meeting in prayer during its time together this week. They have been charged with an exceptionally difficult and delicate task. But precisely because of that it would be very difficult indeed, and I think inappropriate for either myself or the House of Bishops or Synod to attempt to second-guess the work of that Commission and its recommendations and reflections on these large issues of Communion, maintenance of Communion and breakage of Communion.
The Primates' statement in October also mentioned the situation in the diocese of New Hampshire, where the consecration of Gene Robinson as coadjutor Bishop has already taken place as you may have noticed. And many Synod members will be aware of some of the reaction to that that continues in the United States and elsewhere.
Now the Primates in their statement in October called on provinces to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury for those in conscience unable to accept certain dispositions made by their provinces. In line with that request from the Primates, I want to say that I remain fully committed to searching for arrangements which will secure a continuing place for all Episcopalians in the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States and I have been involved in working with several parties there towards some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible. It is in that light that I've been following sympathetically the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America engaged in negotiating some of these questions of episcopal oversight.
I have also been sharing with Archbishop Eames the relevant documents and statements which have come from a number of parties around the world in this debate, so that the Commission may be fully aware of them and use them as a resource as appropriate in making their assessments and recommendations, in due course, concerning the future of the Communion.
The Commission has deliberately a limited life. It will report to the Primates probably at the very beginning of the next calendar year, and interim reports will be issued meanwhile.
I hope Synod will have take account of this very brief, necessarily very sketchy, update in order to put some of these matters in context. I hope Synod will be receiving and reflecting on the interim reports that will come from the Commission to which I am extremely grateful for already a good deal of work that has already gone on. As I have indicated on a number of occasions in recent months we do, as a Communion, face perhaps unprecedentedly difficult challenges and it's all the more important that we keep those involved in these discussions – in controversy and also in the work of the Commission – in our prayers, to equip all of us in the Communion for the task that lies before us.
Thank you, madam Chairman.
© Rowan Williams 2004