THE Anglican Communion may not survive its current crisis over authority and differing theological perspectives, the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged on Tuesday.
But he insisted: “Even if we are separated by a number of canonical, theological determinations; even if we blew apart as a communion in chaos and disruption, which God forbid, sooner or later we would have to hear the voice of Christ say: ‘There’s your brother, there’s your sister, there’s a long journey for you together in the path towards reconciliation.’”
Dr Williams was giving the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) a 40-minute presentation on the recommendations of the final report of the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), the body created, as he put it, to “contain the chaos and division” that threatened the Communion over the issue of human sexuality.
The communiqué issued by the Primates after their meeting in February in Alexandria quoted extensively from the report, which recommended a “provisional holding arrangement” to be revisited when the Covenant process concluded, or when long-term reconciliation in the Communion was achieved (News, 6 February).
Dr Williams told the ACC again on Tuesday that the three moratoriums requested by the WDG and affirmed by the Lambeth Conference — the election of bishops in same-sex relationships, rites of blessing for same-sex unions, and cross-border interventions — be maintained, and that “urgent conversations” should be facilitated in provinces which had a problem with them.
He called for shared honesty in the mediated conversations. Critics of North Americans who spoke of the impossibility of going back on the blessing of same-sex unions and ordination of a person in a same-sex relationship should at least listen fully to those who said: “We have discussed this in depth, and have come to these conclusions for ourselves in good faith.”
Critics of cross-border interventions should listen to those who were saying: “We’ve been trying to respond to manifest distress among other Christians. We are not empire-building: we are trying in conscience to give proper care and attention and some sort of churchly home for people who otherwise feel homeless.”
Asked about the length of time all this was taking, he said: “This is on my mind daily. I would like to be able to say we have done that, that there is something we can take for granted about the Anglican Communion. . . Reconciliation between Christians at the level that matters takes as long as it takes.”
The report identifies “Ecclesial deficit” — a phrase, Dr Williams said, intended to indicate confusion over the Communion’s identity. It suffered at present from “a lack of clarity about what kind of a fellowship it’s meant to be. As long as we have that lack of clarity, we will be unclear about what we really mean by church.”
Alongside the recommendations for mediated conversation and for the interim measures of a Pastoral Forum and Pastoral Visitors, the report commits the Instruments of Communion to renewing the Listening Process, and to going ahead with the proposal for a Pastoral Forum and Pastoral Visitors to address tensions and conflicts.
It recommends provisional ways forward for the workings of the Communion. These include clarification of the effectiveness of the Primates Meeting and the ACC; committment to changes to the pattern of Lambeth Conferences, to allow for a shorter cycle and more face-to-face exchanges; and the adoption of the proposed Covenant “as an essential element in rebuilding the confidence in our common life”.
Dr Williams concluded: “We owe it to the Lord of the Church to make that effort to have those conversations and take each other seriously in the gospel. My hope is that this report will help us to do this.”