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More or less our last chance, says Eames

GOD was at work in the meetings of the Lambeth Commission, its chairman, Dr Eames, believes.

Speaking in London on Tuesday, the day after the launch of the Windsor report, he said: "When Rowan picked the team — can I say this? — my first reaction was: ‘How in God’s name are we going to agree?’ I thought I’d been given a pretty tough task.

"The fact that all of us signed that report is an indication, I think, that we did have something to offer the Communion. It showed that, by hard work, and prayer, and openness across the table, we were able to see a way ahead. In a sense, I hope the Communion sees that what we were able to do together was an example of the Communion at work."

Responding to a crisis of this order might not be the moment for blue-sky thinking about the shape of the Anglican Communion. On the other hand, says Dr Eames, "it’s sometimes only when things are at their worst that we are forced to act."

Are they at their worst?

"In all honesty, I dare to suggest this is one of the Communion’s last opportunities. If it’s not grasped, I really do not know where we are going. The report, of itself, is not going to prevent disintegration, but it could help, if people are prepared to take this opportunity.

"God may be using this crisis to make us really look in new ways at what keeps us together. It’s like a car engine: you don’t touch it for years as long as it’s working. It’s only when it goes wrong that you realise that it needs some tender loving care.

"Would the Communion have been prepared to consider a covenant had we not had this crisis? The phraseology of ‘bonds of affection’ is comforting in itself; but this is a chance to make it much more than an aspiration.

"I think God is prompting us in a wonderful way to look again at what diversity means. The Kingdom of God is made up of so many parts. I believe God is saying to us: ‘You’ve got to look afresh at what it means to be witnesses in my world.’"

A key element in the Windsor report is the apology it asks for from the American and Canadian church leadership. Dr Eames admitted that the commission resisted using the word "repentance".

"It was the word Africa wanted us to use. In the end we speak about ‘regret’." There were two interpretations of this, Dr Eames said: regret for actually electing Gene Robinson, and regret for the consequences in the Communion. "I prefer the second interpretation: we do not have any criticism of any province for going against its legal processes. Gene Robinson was properly elected.

"But when they went ahead with the consecration, they must have known that this was a person who was not acceptable in many parts of the Anglican Communion. By definition, regret for the consequences of an action includes an expression of regret that we started it all.

"My experience during the Troubles has taught me that sometimes the hardest step is for one side to say ‘I’m wrong. I’ll start the process of reconciliation.’ When that happens, then the floodgates can open. You can’t force reconciliation. I’ve learnt that it only comes when people see that it’s in their interest to do it."

What about the existing split in the Communion? Were there to be a statement of regret, said Dr Eames, "I would hope for an immediate reconsideration by those who have declared themselves out of communion with ECUSA and Canada. Then there would have to come a close examination by both sides of where they stood."

Like everyone involved in the production of the Windsor report, Dr Eames urged people to read it in its entirety, and reflect on all its recommendation. In the light of the report, what would he say to homosexuals in the Church? "I would tell them of my total and absolute opposition to homophobia. I hope they see that they have a place in the Church that is developing, and that their lifestyle and faith is respected. Nevertheless, both sides have a lot of heart-searching to do before it’s clear what the Church’s view is."

And to conservatives? "I should say that I know some will be disappointed that we haven’t gone as far that they would have liked. Expulsion of ECUSA simply didn’t arise, because we have no provision for that sort of thing in the Communion. I hope they would note that we accepted again that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 remains the official position on sexuality.

"I hope, too, that like all parties in this debate, they must find loving compassion for those they disagree with."

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