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Archbishop of Canterbury's Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion

Friday 28th May 2010

In his Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury encourages Anglicans to pray for renewal in the Spirit and focus on the priority of mission, so that 'we may indeed do what God asks of us and let all people know that new and forgiven life in Christ is possible'.

The Archbishop acknowledges that Anglicans are experiencing a period of transition in the world: 'when the voice and witness in the Communion of Christians from the developing world is more articulate and creative than ever, and when the rapidity of social change in 'developed' nations leaves even some of the most faithful and traditional Christian communities uncertain where to draw the boundaries in controversial matters – not only sexuality but issues of bioethics, for example, or the complexities of morality in the financial world.'

In response to the current situation the Archbishop makes clear that when a province 'declines to accept requests or advice from the consultative organs of the Communion, it is very hard to see how members of that province can be placed in position where they are required to represent the Communion as a whole. This affects both our ecumenical dialogues...and our faith-and-order related groups.'

Dr Williams goes on to makes two specific proposals. Firstly, that members of provinces that are in breach of the three moratoria requested by the Instruments of the Communion should no longer participate in the formal ecumenical dialogues in which the Anglican Communion is engaged. Secondly, that members of these provinces currently serving on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (a body that examines issues of doctrine and authority) should, for the time being, no longer have full membership, but retain the status of consultants. 'This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as acceptable limits of diversity in its practice'.

The Archbishop finally urges that 'everyone should be reflecting on how to rebuild relations and to move towards a more coherent Anglican identity (which does not mean an Anglican identity with no diversity)' and to remember that 'there are things that Anglicans across the world need and want to do together for the care of God's poor and vulnerable that can and do go on even when division over doctrine or discipline is sharp'. All this entails '...praying for a new Pentecost for our Communion. That means above all a vast deepening of our capacity to receive the gift of being adopted sons and daughters of the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It means a deepened capacity to speak of Jesus Christ in the language of our context so that we are heard and the Gospel is made compelling and credible. And it also means a deepened capacity to love and nourish each other within Christ's Body'.

Read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost Letter [89kb]

Notes to editors:

Q. Practically, what does this letter mean for Provinces, national or regional churches who have broken any of the moratoria?

A. Representatives of those Provinces, national or regional churches whose decision-making bodies have gone against the agreed moratoria a) will be asked to step down from formal ecumenical dialogues such as those with Orthodox Churches or the Roman Catholic Church, and b) will no longer have any decision-making powers in the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order that handles questions of church doctrine and authority.

Q. What are the agreements that have been broken?

A. As far back as 2004, the Anglican Communion leadership agreed to three moratoria: 1) No authorisation of blessings services for same-sex unions; 2) No consecrations of bishops living in same-sex relationships; 3) No cross-border interventions (no bishop authorising any ministry within the diocese of another bishop without explicit permission). These have been affirmed repeatedly in subsequent years at the highest levels of the Communion.

Q. Is anyone being asked to leave the Communion?

A. No. By proposing these actions the Archbishop is working to safeguard the common life of the Communion. His proposals come after several churches broke the Communion's agreed moratoria (their promises to the Communion). Nevertheless the churches concerned remain full members of the Anglican Communion.

Q. Why did the Archbishop decide to issue this letter now?

A. His comments are made at the season of Pentecost when Christians pray for a renewing of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of communion and of fellowship. The letter also comes shortly after the Episcopal Church broke one of the moratoria by appointing a bishop in a same-sex relationship.

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