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Presidential address: Surprise your critics by listening and agreeing, Dr Williams suggests

24 November 2010

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, in his presid­ential address, urged the members of the new Synod to listen to the arguments over the next five years, and not simply come to debates with their minds made up. And he gave a spirited defence of the Anglican Covenant as the only sign of the kind of work that was needed to repair Anglican unity.

He told the Synod of three themes that had emerged from the Archbishops’ Task Group and the House of Bishops for the next five years. They were to take forward the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church of Eng­land, including the growth of its capacity to serve the whole community; to reshape or reimagine the Church’s ministry for the coming cen­tury, to make sure that there was a growing and sustainable Christian witness in every local community; and to focus their resources where there was greatest need and opportunity.

He invited Synod members to embrace, in John Wesley’s words, “the Catholic spirit”, which, he said, was neither a climate of im­posed universal agreement nor a free-for-all held together by mutual tolerance.

The Church’s growth had always been in some ways haphazard and diverse. “God gives increase in unexpected places — and, by his grace, such growth is already going on in un­expected places in our Church, both in ‘in­herited’ forms of Church life and in Fresh Expressions. For God’s sake, don’t let us waste time and energy talking or behaving as if there were competition going on here.”

Dr Williams said: “What I should really love to see in the light of this Synod is all of us disappointing expectations. What plenty of people expect — people in the media, people in the pews, perhaps even some of us — is that a Synod elected in the middle of several tough political rows in the Church is going to be a body consistently pulled away from the hope of joined hands, let alone joined-up thinking; a body in which the Catholic spirit is invisible.

“So I am urging you to surprise those who are looking on, to surprise them by your loyalty to each other: ‘Is your heart true to mine?’ [a quote from John Wesley]. That loyalty grows and flourishes when we spend time together exploring what has brought us together; which is God.”

Part of what that meant was the willingness to hear the arguments. “I don’t think I’m alone in feeling some anxiety about the degree to which strongly worded exchanges outside this Synod, and the zero-sum atmosphere of campaigning and pamphleteering, can feed a climate in which people are almost expected to arrive in Synod with minds made up on everything, even with a feeling of party lines being defined, and voting ‘packages’ created.

“I don’t think we are doing the job for which God has called us here if we reproduce the worst aspects of secular partisanship. It ought to be possible for us to arrive here ready to discover something, rather than simply determined to win.”

HE HOPED that, in this quinquennium, as they proceeded towards a decision about the ordination of women as bishops, they would not be afraid of discussions that clarified the theological issues. “It will be a great pity if we come to our final decision without having confidently articulated why women bishops would be theologically in tune with our deepest commitments.

“As I’ve said more than once before, I be­lieve that the ARCIC Agreed Statement on ordained ministry offers a clear basis for argu­ment and a clear common ground on which we can continue discussion with our ecu­menical partners, whatever the tensions.”

It was a matter of real sorrow that some had already decided that they could not remain in the Church of England. “They remain in our prayers, and we continue to give thanks for the ministry they have offered all of us.

“I must add that, despite continuing sen­sationalism about the effect of this on the main work of ecumenical relations, the plan­ning of the next round of ARCIC has been developing constructively; and I was told last week in Rome at the highest level that the membership of the Commission is at last practically finalised. The remit of this next Commission is — appropriately — to look at exactly this question of the authority belong­ing to the local church and its relation to the universal Church.”

The issue of same-sex unions, he said, had “become a cardinal example of how we avoid theological debate. The need for some thought­ful engagement that will help us understand how people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism can come to strongly diverse conclusions is getting more urgent, because I sense that in the last few years the debate on sexuality has not really moved much.

“It is unthinkingly treated by some as almost the sole test of biblical fidelity or doctrinal orthodoxy; it is unthinkingly regarded by others as one of those matters on which the Church must be brought inexorably into line with what our culture can make sense of. Neither side always has the opportunity of clarifying how they see the focal theological issues — how one or the other position relates to our belief in a divine saviour.”

IN RESPONSE to criticism of the Anglican Covenant, Dr Williams said that it represented work done by theologians of diverse views, in­cluding several from North America. “It does not invent a new orthodoxy, or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised auth­ority, quite explicitly declaring that it does

not seek to override any province’s canonical autonomy. After such a number of discus-sions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny.

“But the truth is that it does mark the seriousness of our current situation. It is an illusion to think that without some changes the Communion will carry on as usual, and a greater illusion to think that the Church of England can somehow derail the entire pro­cess. The unpalatable fact is that certain de­cisions in any province affect all. We may think they shouldn’t, but they simply do.

“If we ignore this, we ignore what is already a real danger, the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion and the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the see of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly. All very well, you may say, but among the potential casualties are all those areas of interaction and exchange that are part of the lifeblood of our Church and of many often quite vulnerable Churches elsewhere.”

Historic allegiances could not be taken for granted. “They will survive and develop only if we can build up durable and adult bonds of fellowship. And in this respect, the Church of England is bound to engage in this process as one member of the Communion among others.

The fact, surely, is that the mutual loyalty of the Communion needs work, and the Coven­ant proposals are the only sign at the moment of the kind of work that has to be done.”

A full transcript of Dr Williams’s address can be found here.

Synod reporting by Glyn Paflin, Margaret Duggan, Pat Ashworth, Ed Beavan, and Ed Thornton. Photos Geoff Crawford.


Synod reporting by Glyn Paflin, Margaret Duggan, Pat Ashworth, Ed Beavan, and Ed Thornton. Photos Geoff Crawford.

Synod reporting by Glyn Paflin, Margaret Duggan, Pat Ashworth, Ed Beavan, and Ed Thornton. Photos Geoff Crawford.



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