by George Conger
[The Church of England Newspaper]
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury and his senior advisors met privately at last week with eight American bishops at Lambeth Palace to discuss the Windsor Report and the Episcopal Church’s forthcoming June 13-21 General Convention. The May 24 meeting is the latest in a series of gatherings held by Dr Williams with English, American and overseas Church leaders to keep the conversation on the unity of the Anglican Communion alive.
General Convention — the governing body of the confederation of dioceses that make up the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) — will offer ECUSA’s formal response to the recommendations of the Windsor Report, setting out what it sees as its relation and responsibilities towards the Anglican Communion. Dr Williams has warned ECUSA that it cannot dictate the terms of its membership in the Anglican Communion, and that there will be consequences — as yet unspecified — for the actions of the 74th General Convention, unless it responds to the recommendations of the Windsor Report.
Discussion of the Windsor Report and its recommendations will come to Convention through the 61-page report “One Baptism, One Hope in God’s Call” prepared by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.The April 7 report recommended the Church “exercise very considerable caution” in electing bishops “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church,” but stopped short of a moratorium on gay bishops requested by overseas leaders and traditionalists within the Episcopal Church.
The Commission also recommended bishops not sanction public liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions. However the current practise of private unofficial ceremonies would be permitted through the rubric of offering appropriate “individual pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians”. General Convention will consider the commission’s resolutions to slow but not halt the push for gay bishops and blessings alongside a resolution submitted by Newark lay delegate, Dr Louie Crew, that would change references to “man and woman” and “husband and wife” in the Book of Common Prayer to “two persons”. This would permit clergy to solemnise the weddings of “same-sex couples in those civil jurisdictions that permit same-sex marriage.”Archbishop Williams, however, has cautioned Convention not to end the House of Bishop’s moratorium on consecrating ‘gay’ priests to the episcopate or permitting rites for the blessing of same-sex unions until the Communion is of common mind.
“I believe if there is ever to be a change in the discipline and teaching of the Anglican Communion on this matter it should not be the decision of one Church alone,” Archbishop Williams said on February 17. The actions of the 2003 Convention were “seen in the Communion as the decision of one Church which has consequences and repercussions for others that they have not fully owned themselves,” Archbishop Williams said. He said the Anglican Communion “will expect reaction to what has been said around the Communion” from the General Convention. “On a matter where traditionally where there has been a very clear teaching” there must be “the highest degree of consensus for such a radical change”.
A spokesman for Lambeth Palace told The Church of England Newspaper the May 24 discussions were of a private nature and no statement on the deliberations would be forthcoming. However sources familiar with the gathering stated the discussions were in line with the Archbishop’s oft repeated desire to keep the conversation within the Church going forward. Progressive deputies to General Convention had criticised the meeting, fearing it was a ‘strategy session’ to usurp the constitutional authority of General Convention — a charge sources familiar with the meeting tell The Church of England Newspaper is unfounded.
Participants at these prior meetings stated Archbishop Williams’ private words have not differed from his public statements, citing his commendation to the last gathering of global Anglican leaders at the World Council of Churches in Brazil.
“When we say we need each other I am not talking about money. I am talking about spiritual maturity. The enemy of spiritual maturity is that the spirit says we can do without,” Dr Williams told Anglican delegates to the WCC on February 17. “We need each other. It is worth working at,” Archbishop Williams stated.