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Leader: Walking together and walking apart

27 September 2007

WHEN the US House of Bishops finally produced its response to the Primates’ demands — covering gay bishops, same-sex blessings, and the episcopal oversight of dissenting parishes — there were some key bishops missing. The Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, and a few others had left shortly after the departure of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that they could prepare for their meeting of conservative bishops and bishops-to-be in Pittsburgh. Thus it seems that those who said beforehand that there was little, if anything, they could do to keep this section of the US Church on side were proved right. “Manoeuvring” Bishop Duncan called the statement, “not movement”, and he should know.

It is interesting, if futile, to wonder what the state of the Anglican Communion might have been had this statement been issued earlier — not before the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, say, because that would involve entering the realms of fantasy, but perhaps soon afterwards; for the document seems to belong to the past, when debate, aspiration, and compromise characterised the Communion. Those who framed it are to be commended for its clarity: it is obvious where the bishops are united, and where they needed a little room for flexibility. In the past, this would have been appreciated. In some parts of the Communion, it still is. The secessionist tendency, however, will not be satisfied.

If it was bound to fail to bring unity, the statement will, none the less, have a significant effect. There has been much talk about walking together and walking apart. In his opening remarks at the Common Cause meeting this week, Bishop Duncan said: “It is to walking together that we are called, is it not?” implying that the Episcopal Church was walking apart. This now looks like a misreading of the situation. By making this concessionary statement, allying themselves to the Windsor process, and inviting further debate, the Episcopalian Bishops have placed themselves firmly in the Anglican mainstream, however others prefer to define that word. There is nothing to stop the US conservatives’ continuing to combine with provinces in the Global South, but such moves will take them away from the centre.

There was another significant meeting last weekend: the Global South Economic Empowerment Consultation. In the past, the attempts by some of the poorest provinces to find strategies to fight poverty and injustice would be a concern of the whole Communion. Just because the great majority of Anglicans have no conception of what occupies the leadership does not mean that it can do what it likes without there being a cost. The mutual support that a worldwide Church ought to generate is in jeopardy if the bishops and Primates cannot agree. The agreement by those of differing views within the US House of Bishops is an example that others could follow, and should not be dismissed out of hand.

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