Lambeth allowed too many opinions, says Bishop of Winchester

14 August 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Unhappy gathering? The final plenary session of the Lambeth Conference ACNS/GUNN

Unhappy gathering? The final plenary session of the Lambeth Conference ACNS/GUNN

BISHOPS who attended the Lam­beth Conference have continued to reflect on the experience and the outcome.

Many have commented on the honesty, candour, and freedom to speak that ensued from having no resolutions. Few have been as critical as the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, whose diocese is linked with two of the absentees, Uganda and Rwanda.

The decision that the Conference should not seek to offer any clear guidance or teaching on any issue because of the potentially divisive effects upon the plenary debates had had the effect of “legitimising, in the life of the Conference and by implication in the Communion, the whole range of convictions about same-sex relationships and about the use of scripture”, he said.

Bishop Scott-Joynt complained, too, that the physical environment had been “strongly coloured by the well-organised and well-funded activities of groups and individuals lobbying against the Communion’s teaching expressed in Resolution 1:10, and for that publicly advocated by the Episcopal Church and those who think like it”. He also objected to the publication of a daily news sheet, The Lambeth Witness, sponsored by Inclusive Church.

“Profound disagreements” had never been far below the surface, and had been explicit in every Bible-study and indaba group, the Bishop suggested. “Everything had been managed to ensure that opposing and mutually incompatible views should be held in tension,” he said. He acknowledged that Dr Williams had “decisively tipped the balance” with the clear reaffirmations of his final presidential address, but he continued to advocate a “negotiated orderly separation” as the “best and most fruitful way forward for the Anglican Communion”.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, said that he had been “exhilarated and moved” by the Conference, and found positives in the “definite steer” towards commitment to a Covenant process and in “recognition that a covenant clearly has to have some teeth”. He described the develop­ment of structures as “a huge achievement. . . The Anglican Communion has not had over­arching structures capable of bearing this strain.”

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, said that “people came to realise that they wanted us at all costs to find ways of staying together in one Communion, recognising the huge loss if we do not.”

There had been some shifting of ground between “the liberal bishops who came to Lambeth very doubtful about the concept of the Covenant; the more conservative bishops and provinces clear it was needed”. Moratoriums had best been described as “a gracious season of restraint”, Bishop Perham said.

He observed: “One of the key changes in the Anglican picture as a result of Lambeth is the enhanced authority of Archbishop Rowan. Conservatives and liberals alike, as well as all those of us who don’t fit either label, were inspired by his scholarly, gentle and holy leadership.”

The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd George Cassidy, said there had been so much negativity around before the Conference that he had been determined not to get caught up in it. He praised the indabas — “Ours was beautifully led by a gentle-spirited Sudanese bishop, Anthony Poggo” — as giving everyone a chance to say their piece: “It was not possible for anyone to go to a meeting and slag off what someone had said while keeping their own powder dry.”

In common with many others, Bishop Cassidy voiced a new sense of proportion from new insights into the work of the worldwide Church. “We are delivered in this country from cyclones, poverty, rampant HIV and TB. . . Compared with the things that are decimating people around the world, we have more opportunity to give our attention to the things of God, the gospel of Christ, than others have. You feel slightly censured that we’re not more about our task, because we have relatively so many fewer distractions than those in the developing world.”

In a webcast in which she took questions from a live audience in New York and via email, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, said that on the question of moratoriums affecting gay and lesbian Christians, the Episcopal Church had been living in a “season of gracious restraint for some time, and I don’t see there is any Church-wide push to end that in the coming months.

“The General Convention is going to have to consider these issues. General Convention is the only body that really can decide to do anything significant related to them. Individual bishops have always made their own decisions within the canonical responsibilities of their dioceses.”

Incursions did not reflect positively on the Church’s mission, and were seen by the overwhelming majority of bishops as “inappropriate and needing to cease. That said, I’m not terribly hopeful that they will stop.”

The Bishop of Massachusetts, the Rt Revd Thomas Shaw SSJE, has said that he will continue to ordain gay clergy, a ministry he described as “pastorally important”. The Primate of Canada, the Most Revd Fred Hiltz, has acknowledged that a retrospective moratorium on the blessing of same-sex relationships in the diocese of New Westminster would be very hard for its Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Ingham.

Bishop Donald Harvey of the Anglican Network in Canada, now part of the Southern Cone, has termed cross-border intervention as “an administrative matter” not on a par with the other two moratoriums. He was not present at the Conference, but has let it be known: “Archbishop Greg Venables tells us he was not able to partake in the Lord’s Table — the sacrament we often call ‘Communion’ — during his entire time at Lambeth.”

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