Primates go to mediation over new US Church

by
12 February 2009

by Pat Ashworth

THE PRIMATES have laid down the terms under which the parallel jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is to be considered by the Anglican Communion. It will be discussed as a matter of urgency in a “professionally mediated conversation” initi­ated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, they say in a communiqué.

The communiqué was issued at the end of the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria on Thurs­day of last week. All the Primates were there, bar the Moderators of the Churches of North and South India and Pakistan, and the Pre­siding Bishop of the Philippines. They shared, the communiqué states, “a strong desire to see our Christian World Communion flourish and remain united”, and experienced “a discernible mood of graciousness”.

ACNA was set up last year as a coali­tion of conservative Anglicans in reaction to what it sees as the liberalisation of the Episcopal Church in the United States. It has been recog­nised by a handful of conservative Primates, but not by Dr Williams or the Communion as a whole.

The Primates say that they unanimously support the recommendations in paragraph 101 of the Windsor Continuation Group report, which was published two or three hours after the communiqué. This states that there must be no attempt by ACNA to recruit and expand its membership; nor should it expect to negotiate with the rest of the Com­munion. “It is not for individual groups to claim the terms in which they will relate to the Communion,” says the report. It recommends finding “a provisional holding arrangement”, to be revisited when the Covenant process concludes or when long-term reconciliation in the Communion is achieved.

The Windsor Group’s report does not share the eirenic tone of the Primates’ communiqué. Instead it knocks heads together for “intransi­gence”, and complains about “active fear-mongering, deliberate distortion and demon­ising” on the internet.

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Despite the “honest, deep, and trans­for­m­ing” nature of their discussions in Alex­andria, the Primates admit that there is no consensus among them about how ACNA is to be recognised. But they commit themselves to “support these processes and to participate as appropriate”. They insist: “We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand member­ship of the Anglican Communion is pro­foundly important.”

The Primates admit that there are “con­tinuing deep differences” over the three moratoriums requested by the Windsor Group and reaffirmed at the Lambeth Conference: the election of bishops in same-gender relation­ships, rites of blessing for same-sex unions, and cross-border interventions. They say: “If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding, and hostility cease.”

They acknowledge the “depth of con­scientious conviction” held over the Lambeth 1998 Resolution on sexuality, but reiterate that that is the Communion’s position. They urge: “Gracious restraint on all three fronts is ur­gent­ly needed to open the way for transfor­m­ing conversation.”

They endorse the Listening Process, ex­tending it beyond the experience of gay and lesbian people also to “require listening to those with different experiences and positions in the current tensions”. They declare the securing of the Covenant to be “a vital element in strengthening the life of the Communion”. The text is to have “a relational basis and tone. . . It is about invitation and reconciliation in order to lead to the deepening of our koinonia in Christ, and which entails both freedom and robust accountability.”

Statements are appended on the urgent needs of Sudan and the “tragic situation” of Gaza. A note of humility marks this com­muniqué. The Primates say: “We are conscious that the attitudes and deliberations of the Primates have sometimes inadvertently given rise to disappointment and even disillusion. We acknowledge that we still struggle to get the balance right in our deliberations.”

Windsor Continuation Group

ACTIVE fear-mongering, deliberate distortion, and demonising on the web have contributed to the breakdown of trust in the Communion, the report says. The complexity of situations and attitudes has been caricatured.

Both sides come in for heavy criticism: parishes “feel free to choose from whom they will accept episcopal ministry; bishops feel free to make decisions of great controversy without reference to existing collegial structures.”

“Litigation and interventions have been locked into a vicious spiral — each seeing the actions of the other as provoking and re­quiring response.” The purpose, timing, and outcome of GAFCON is questioned, and the establishment of the GAFCON Primates’ Council and FOCA “has further damaged trust”.

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The report recommends: “On both sides we need to move from intransigence and the conviction that ‘our’ interpretation is the right one to a shared waiting upon God.”

ACNA is named in the report as “a serious and unprecedented development in the life of the Communion”. If it wants to seek formal membership of the Communion, that presents “formidable problems”.

One observation is: “The Windsor report set its face against the concept of parallel jurisdictions; it would be especially tragic if a generous accommodation of the new entity were to be seen as carte blanche for the new province to establish a presence in localities where no cogent theological basis for differen­tiation could be advanced.”

Instead, the group believes difference should be accommodated within the official structure. It seeks an undertaking from the Common Cause Partnership (the coalition of Episcopalians and traditionalist Anglican Churches that set up ACNA) not to proselytise.

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