"The next Lambeth Conference will be a defining moment for Anglicanism. It will determine what we are and where we are going," said Archbishop Robin Eames to the representatives at the Anglican Consultative Council. "It will stand or fall on our sense of unity and vision."
The Archbishop, who is Chair of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, was presenting The Virginia Report which is in its final stages of preparation prior to presentation to the next Lambeth Conference.
In a powerful and persuasive speech Archbishop Eames introduced ACC-10 members to the work of his Commission, which he described as both trying "to discover more what it means to be an Anglican" and also to understand the perceptions of the inter-relationship of the Anglican "instruments of unity", so that the Communion might be enabled to "move ahead into the future" with certainty as to its role in mission in the world. "We have tried to root our suggestions", he said, "in what is our view of God's revelation to the Anglican tradition."
The Lambeth Conference and the whole Communion will be asked to reflect on the concept of koinonia (communion) and whether the Commission has argued a persuasive case for the concept to be taken seriously through the content of the Virginia Report. The first five (5) chapters are a theological exploration of the meaning of communion with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, the unity and order of the Church, and the unity and community of humanity. This analysis provides the theological basis for the concrete suggestions in the sixth (6) chapter, where the Commission attempted to "bite the bullet" by probing the potential development of the "instruments of unity". The "instruments" are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primate's Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council.
"As Anglicans we accept the concept of unity in diversity. It lies at the centre of the raison d'etre of Anglicanism. The Virginia Report attempts to relate our understanding of that principle in the light of theological and practical experience of the "instruments." ....They are the consequence as well as the justification of unity. It is here that some of the real tensions of living together with difference comes to the surface.
"We have to recognise how binding decisions can only be made at the level of a province or in some cases at the level of a diocese. How do we discover the mind of Anglicanism? How do we protect and enhance international consultation? It is from the junction of such questions with our theological reflections that the concept of reception becomes prominent".
The report asked a number of questions about the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, including whether he must necessarily be a member of the Church of England.. Are there mechanisms by which [his] tasks may be shared within the fellowship of the primates, without weakening the symbol of unity provided by one person? Is the Archbishop of Canterbury adequately resourced as primate of the Communion? Does the role of the Archbishop mean that the Church of England must be more cautious in its decisions than other provinces?
The report claims the Lambeth Conference signifies the fundamental importance of face to face communication for the healthy life of the Communion. It asks "Is a Conference every ten years too frequent to allow for adequate preparation and reception? What is the nature of the authority of the Conference? What weight ought to be given to the resolutions of the Conference?"
"The existence of the Anglican Consultative Council raises questions of a general nature. What is the relationship of this body to the Lambeth Conference and to the Primates' Meeting?
"Should primates be expected to make authoritative statements, or should the Primate's Meeting be encouraged to exercise a primarily pastoral role, both for their own members, but also for the Communion?
Archbishop Eames says the Communion must find a way of giving a greater voice to the laity, who though they are the great majority of the Communion, are virtually voiceless through the "instruments of unity". Even in the Anglican Consultative Council, where they have membership, their voice is often muted.