This picture is probably as near as you’re going to get to seeing a group shot of the Anglican Primates during the Primates meeting that occurred over the last week, a picture from the Eucharist held in the Cathedral in Zanzibar – and even then Archbishop Akinola wasn’t there after saying that he had a bad back.
Yesterday, the closing hours of the meeting proved to be the most dramatic in some ways, and perhaps ultimately the only part that went according to the script. But before that, things looked like they’d be rather different. Firstly came the quite amazing news that Katherine Jefferts Schori, who prior to the conference it was considered could be excluded, had been elected onto the Standing Committee. That was followed by the announcement of the Anglican Covenant, which seemed to go down better with the liberal wing of the Church. However, alongside this, the press conference for the final communiquÃ© kept being pushed back. Dave Walker came up with his own reason as to why, but it seems that there was a good deal of last minute horse trading going on in order to try and get a communiquÃ© to which everybody could unanimously agree – whilst the traditional group photograph didn’t take place, at least the primates were going to produce a unanimous statement!
Finally, they managed to do it. However it makes interesting reading. What is particularly telling is especially in the parts covering the controversy, the number of times the words â€œsome of our numberâ€? or similar phrases are used – so in order to get everybody to sign, the communiquÃ© in places ends up being a thinly disguised report on the disagreements. As reported by Stephen Bates, although the communiquÃ© records the concerns both of the conservatives about same-sex blessings, and putting a moratorium on further appointments of gays to the episcopate, and also the liberal concerns over the conservative primates ignoring the Windsor report requirements that they not operate in other Anglican provinces, the big blow for the Episcopal Church is that it is given until 30th September to clarify it’s position, but the conservative Bishops can carry on as before – apparently the only way that Archbishop Akinola would sign. Having said that, it doesn’t actually propose a split within the Episcopal Church – effectively what is set up is similar to the Church within a Church that operates in the Church of England over women priests. Whilst it isn’t the predicted split, nor the predicted schism in the Anglican Communion – it does seem to only be postponing the inevitable – certainly if the anger expressed in some of the blog responses from liberal bloggers are anything to go by.
However, there are some interesting points about what was and wasn’t said in the communiquÃ© that an Inclusive Church press release highlighted this afternoon. Chief among this was the perception that the Episcopal Church was being used as a scapegoat – the communiquÃ© places requirements on them, but fails to mention the Canadian Anglican Church at all, nor indeed does it make any requirements on the Church of England, both of which have been the target of conservative anger in the recent past. Officially, the Church of England has no same sex blessings, and although they allow gay and lesbian clergy to enter into civil partnerships they are clear over celibacy – it is perfectly possible to find Church of England clergy who will provide a blessing, and it’s not exactly a secret. The situation in Canada is even more clear, indeed it was the well documented actions of the New Wesminster diocese – that officially approved a same sex blessing that in part initiated the current crisis. However, aside from one mention, the communiquÃ© only targets the Episcopal Church.
So quite what happens now will probably not be clear until the dust has settled. I fully expect that even if the Bishops of Episcopal Church officially agree not to approve same sex blessing rites that the result will be a situation like we have in the Church of England. However I’m not totally sure that they will agree. If they don’t agree, I expect that come September, we might finally reach the point of schism, but if they do officially agree, then I’m sure we can expect another big row – and then we can look forward to the invitations for the Lambeth Conference in 2008 being issued, and the reaction from the different groups based on who gets invited. Unfortunately for the religious press pack who will follow the whole thing, this one will be in Kent, rather than a five-star tropical hotel…
So on we go – more arguments, more meetings, and more column inches. The end for stories about the Anglican Church? Sadly, not a chance.
But on the ground, life goes on. Whilst the press was covering the Anglican top brass, on the ground Church life went on as usual – for example Mum was leading a lay training session for her Diocese on the subject of God, Suffering and Death for which she has posted two sermons that she wrote in 2001 on which the session was based. As I mentioned earlier, members of the St James Choir were off helping out another local choir – and we’ll be back on duty again for Ash Wednesday tomorrow, and for a Musical Supper on Saturday night. Also our new bit of outreach, [email protected](@The Pub) held it’s third session at the Queens Oak, and over in the USA, Father Matthew takes a group of young people to the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York. I’m quite sure that all over the world people will still be at Church on Sunday, and despite talk of schism and split, for most people in the pews, life goes on…