So here we are in 2008 – and the PM programme has kicked off the year with an interview about the same old Anglican story – but of course that is because this year comes another crunch point with the Lambeth Conference. The item today is a seven minute segment interviewing Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. It covers the current major issues, and to some extent there aren’t any surprises in what she says, still worth a listen though.
In all the recent goings on in the Anglican Communion, the obvious crunch point has always been the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Every ten years all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion from all over the world get together, ironically not in Lambeth but at the University of Kent in Canterbury. However who attends is entirely down to who the Archbishop of Canterbury, so there has been much speculation and discussion as to who will be invited, particularly with reference to the Episcopal Church.
Yesterday, the months of speculation were ended by the announcement that the invitations had been issued. Reading the letter of invitation, those worried that the whole of the Episcopal Church will have been sidelined had their minds put at rest. Rowan Williams said the following:
An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.
and also this:
I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for Godâ€™s glory and Christâ€™s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.
However, then comes the following:
At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.
Although they are not mentioned by name, neither the Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, nor Martyn Minns, recently consecrated by Peter Akinola against the wishes of Rowan Williams have been invited.
The reasons for the exclusions though are rather different. Minns isn’t invited, fundamentally because Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), although being regarded as part of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is not recognised as part of the wider Anglican Communion.
The exclusion of Gene Robinson is for no other reason than the fact his is gay and is being honest about it. All of the sixty or so Bishops who supported him and were involved in his consecration are invited, it is only Robinson who is being denied an invite. However, the communiquÃ© issued by the February 2005 Primates meeting said the following:
The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.
Not surprisingly this has provoked a good deal of outrage from across the communion, there is a good roundup on Episcopal Cafe. Interestingly both sides of the debate are not happy with the decision, for differing reasons, as detailed by Andrew Plus:
So far the blogs seem to go like this. The blogs on the right are disappointed because invitation to Lambeth was seen as test of orthodoxy. They assumed that only orthodox Anglicans would be invited, and Archbishop Akinola has said that if +Gene or the Episocpal Church was included he and the Global South would gather in Alexandria or someplace else and have their Lambeth conference.
The bloggers on the left are disappointed because of the active and deliberate exclusion of Bishop Robinson, once again placing the burden of division on the back of one man–the open, affirming and partnered gay man. This once again smacks of condescension and avoidance–talking about people instead of to people–and so this solution seems to be a capitulation to conservative pressure. The words in his letter about the limits of inclusivity seem to reinforce this.
Andrew’s position is much the same as mine – everybody should have been invited, and then it should have been left to the individual Bishops as to whether they would attend. Mark Harris on PRELUDIUM says much the same. By excluding Minns and Robinson from the invite list it seems to please no-one, indeed Peter Akinola is already threatening to have the entire Anglican Church in Nigeria boycott the meeting over Minns not being invited. Minns himself doesn’t seem quite so bothered. Gene Robinson’s statement describes him being excluded as an affront to the whole Episcopal Church. Certainly it will be interesting to see how many of the Episcopal Church choose not to attend in protest.
However, there is a possibility that Robinson will still attend the conference. A number of reports including USA Today and Ruth Gledhill suggest that Robinson may well be invited as a guest – perhaps the irony of that is that as a guest he may well have more visibility than if he was within the conference.
Anyway, if all of this is totally depressing, thanks to Dave Walker for his spin on why the two Bishops weren’t invited…
You may have heard that the Anglican Primate of Canada is due to retire following the meeting of the Canadian General Synod in June. Unlike the Church of England, the new primate will be democratically elected by the clergy and laity in the General Synod from a short list of candidates drawn up by the bishops. It’s also a pretty rapid turnaround too – the election will take place on June 22nd, with the new primate being installed on June 25th.
So why is the choice of a new primate important to the rest of us? Precisely because it’s the Anglican Church of Canada who although they’ve been somewhat in the shadow of the Episcopal Church in the US recently, have also been pushing ahead with a more liberal position on sexuality, particularly with regards to same-sex blessings.
Alongside this, according to a review of the candidates over on Father Jake’s Blog, the favourite is Bishop Victoria Matthews, current Bishop of Edmonton. She was the first female Bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, and also chaired the commission that examined the issue of same-sex marraige that determined that whilst it was important, it was not core doctrine and should not be seen as a church, or indeed communion dividing issue. Having said that, she is has consistently toed the line with regards to the issue in her diocese, coming out against the Diocese of New Westminster when they moved ahead with same-sex blessings. So she is certainly not the most liberal Bishop in the church, nor indeed in the field of candidates.
Of course she may not win the election, but it will be interesting to see what the reaction of the more conservative provinces will be if the liberal Anglican Church of Canada also has a female primate. Certainly the other candidates may be more personally acceptable to the anti-women provinces – but theologically her actions with regards to the sexuality issues appear to mark her out as much more the kind of person they would want.
After the tension of the meeting, and the ultimately fudged ‘unanimous’ communiquÃ©, the recent meeting of the Anglican Communion Primates left the US church with an interesting problem. They alone were singled out for special treatment, with a plan for independent oversight of disputed Churches, for which apparently recruitment is already occurring, and the House of Bishops called upon to not approve any same-sex blessings (although ironically the Church in Sweeden who are in communion with parts of the Anglican Communion have just approved a rite) The Anglican Church of Canada also got briefly mentioned over approval of same-sex blessings.
To be honest, it was obvious that it was merely postponing the inevitable as it was announced as the final communiquÃ© addressed only some of the issues of disagreement. The church in the USA and Canada were asked to step back, whilst at the same time, in order to get him to to sign, Bishops who were meddling in other provinces such as Peter Akinola were allowed to continue. The mission from the Nigerian Church into the USA, was effectively given some measure of legitimacy.
Within weeks, the Anglican Church in Canada made their position clear, and now the American Bishops have done the same. They have refused the plan for independent oversight on both spiritual and legal grounds, and highlighted that thanks to the democratic structures of the Church much of what was suggested cannot be approved by the Bishops alone. The fact that Peter Akinola also hasn’t been censured for his backing of the new Nigerian anti-Gay law – a move seen by many as contrary to the Anglican listening process that is supposed to be taking place has caused positions to harden even more, resulting in statements that are for once clear, and strong in their position. At one point they even accuse the primates of trying to drag the Anglican Communion back to a ‘time of colonialism’ with a central Church over which the others have no control dictating policy worldwide. They have called for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss their position before the official response is made in September.
The general response from many is that it is good to see the Bishops holding to their beliefs and principals. Quite what will happen to the Anglican Communion though is open for debate as the Episcopal Church still bankrolls much of the Anglican Church, hence the attempts to keep the whole thing together. Ultimately what makes the whole thing more frustrating from a UK point of view is the fact that it is widely known that the Archbishop of Canterbury is theologically closer to the US and Canadian position, but is not expressing his opinion because of his international role. Ironic considering that in his own Church, after public calls for the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords to vote down the Sexual Orientation Regulations, only three of them voted to oppose them – which coupled with events at General Synod, certainly gives an indication of the direction in which the Church of England is heading. The fact is that many of it’s leaders do not believe that the Church should be stopping a law that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, nor are they going to censure their own clergy if they are apparently breaking the current rules as a result of the ongoing listening process, however much some of the conservatives may kick up a fuss.
In terms of our local Church, the topic came up as part of our Lent Course last week, and despite my concerns that it would be a divisive topic, seemed to go rather well, and certainly there was a good deal of respect for the differing opinions. Age wise the younger members of the groups seemed to either be inclusive, or to admit that they had never really thought about it in a Church context as they didn’t have an issue in day-to-day life, and in general even the people who had issues over the topic were not nearly as violently opposed as was suggested people would be a few years ago, and were willing to discuss it. Certainly it seemed to give Rev Richard confidence that we could move forward with properly exploring the issue in the future, something that has been avoided thus far.
I’ve bookmarked a lot of the online comment on the announcements over on my link blog, but worth a read are Ruth Gledhill’s comments, Stephen Bates posting under the heading ‘Bishops to Primate: Drop Dead’, The Episcopal Majority roundup, and of course check out Dave Walkers unique contribution.
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…