A personal reflection from The Primus on the meeting of Anglican Primates in Dar es Salaam, 15-19 February 2007
Many people will have read with interest the Communiqué from the Primates’ meeting and drawn their own conclusions from it. A document like this is generated within a specific context and usually makes more sense to those who shared in the meeting than it does at first sight to those who read it afterwards .
The meeting was hard work and full of much good news about the development of life in the Communion as a whole, and with details of programmes such as that produced on Theological Education; the proposed major resource on Hermeneutics and on the Christian response to Human Sexuality and not least the way in which the Church will work in partnership to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals which are so vital for economic justice across the world. For example, we learned that Africa does not need new markets to be opened up in order to bring economic growth so much as support for the markets which already exist . I also learned from the new Anglican Observer to the U.N., Mrs Helen Wangusa, that the representatives from the European Union are a very effective lobby group at the U.N., who greatly impress with their sound knowledge of issue at stake in debates.
There is also the proposed development of an Anglican University by the Province of Tanzania, and a whole host of initiatives being made by the Anglican Churches in the world to respond to the needs of the poor and the hungry on every continent . It is of course no more than we ought to be about – but to hear of what is actually happening is humbling and encouraging at the same time.
And what about The Episcopal Church (the one in America that is)? First, a change of name from ECUSA to TEC because Provinces that are part of The Episcopal Church but not actually located within the United States asked for a name that would recognise them as part of the Episcopal family. So this has been done – though there are a number of us who share the title of the Episcopal Church within our own nations.
The position of the College of Bishops, which was shared with our brothers at the Celtic Bishops meeting last October, is unchanged. We believe that given the constraints and unique nature of its composition (two houses for example, not three as we are used to) what the General Convention achieved at its recent meeting was adequate in its response to the requests made of it by the Windsor Report . We have to remember that the meeting in Dar es Salaam is in the wake of the Windsor Report and a discussion about the extent to which its recommendations can be used in the life of our Communion. That discussion is on-going – so that what is set out in the communiqué as a possible way forward to deal with the specific situation in the Anglican Church in the United States is only one further step along a winding and up-hill path. It is in the nature of a temporary solution to allow space for a longer term resolution of the disagreements currently alive in the Communion and not just in the USA.
An image that I have used is that of ‘ecclesiastical inoculation’. That process, as I understand it, introduces something new into a system only in order that in the end the system will itself create the means of healing for itself and within its own circulation. ‘Giving nature a helping hand’ is how it is sometimes described. ‘Giving the Spirit a helping hand’ is what the Primates have sought to do in their suggestions to ease the tension felt in the Communion. Put into two simple statements the tension is that The Episcopal Church has given offence to the Communion in general by its confirmation of the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire; and that other Provinces have caused offence by being willing to give succour to those who within America expressed discomfort at this but who asked to set up their own church . So there are two offended parties – and although one could go on qualifying these positions with nuance and excuse this is basically what it is about. The Primates have together and unanimously offered a plan which seems the one most likely to help in the long run to ease the pain that exists on all sides in America. We do not imagine it to be a pain-free remedy, nor do we regard it as a ‘miracle cure’. It is however an honest attempt to offer a way forward. The journey is not over yet ; but while seeking to respond to this area of concern work goes on across the Communion in the other areas in which there is disagreement so that the gifts that the Anglican Communion have brought, and continue to bring, to the life of the church world-wide may be released.
Coming together in the Cathedral in Zanzibar and celebrating the Eucharist on the very spot where slaves had been beaten and sold was a powerful image of release. The call of the Gospel is to bring release from sin for all and to re-assure each of us of the fact that the experience of God’s love brings the healing and pardon which we all need. It was the gospel imperatives being understood in a new way that led the Church to campaign for the abolition of slavery. As the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us in his sermon in the Cathedral, new insight leads to innovative action.
Let us pray that the Anglican Communion can be open to new insights and not be afraid to risk new ways of being disciples to Jesus in the world. By the end of 2007 we shall know two new things a) whether the Bishops of The Episcopal Church felt able to move with the Primates, and b) whether those leaders of Provinces in the Communion who have taken over-sight beyond their Provinces felt able to hand the care of those they support to the Communion. In the light of what we shall know then, further provision for the well-being of our Communion will be made.
We remain a Communion – a gift to us from God that often feels we have actually done little to deserve .
Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and Primus