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The life of the church has never been separate from the life of the world

Posted on: May 27, 2002 3:25 PM
Related Categories: Bp Griswold, Primates Meeting, USA

Presiding Bishop Frank T Griswold reflects on recent meeting of primates of the Anglican Communion

The spiritual leaders of 35 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion met from April 10-17 at the new International Study Centre adjacent to Canterbury Cathedral in England. On his return to the US, Presiding Bishop Frank T Griswold reflected on the latest Primates' Meeting in a conversation with Episcopal News Service.

ENS: The primates have met more frequently in recent years. What has that meant to you - individually and as a group?

Griswold: This was my third Primates' Meeting and what I certainly was aware of was the deepening sense of communion and fraternal understanding that has developed over the last three years. A question was raised early on - 'should we meet every year?' - looking at the expense of it all - and the conclusion was yes, we really do need to do this annually. [Professor] David Ford made a comment at the first meeting [in Oporto]. He said that the very fact of electronic communication means that you must meet face-to-face more frequently. Otherwise, if you rely on electronic communication your sense of one another is going to be warped.

ENS: You've held meetings in Oporto in Portugal, at Kanuga in the United States, and now in Canterbury.

Griswold: I think it made a tremendous difference to have a meeting literally in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral. The new International Study Centre is so designed that every room looks at the cathedral. And for us to have our daily liturgy in the Norman crypt, the original site of Thomas Becket's tomb, and to attend cathedral evensong every afternoon, meant that a sense of continuity, a sense of the church through the ages, put some of our own immediate concerns into a larger perspective. You realise that the life of the church has never been separate from the life of the world around it and has often had to sustain drastic historical moments - so why should it be any different now?

Part of the Primates' Meeting consisted each day of a set number of primates describing to the whole group some of the struggles and tensions - and opportunities for ministry - in their own churches. Listening to stories from the Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, in the really drastic situations in which people are ministering, and the clarity and heroism of these bishops and their people and clergy, made me realise that our own local struggles are nothing compared to these life-and-death issues that they confront all the time.

ENS: The primates issued a call for continuing a Communion-wide strategy on HIV/AIDS.

Griswold: We spent a fair amount of time on the AIDS pandemic in Africa. One primate - I think it's the primate of Kenya - has decreed that funerals cannot last longer than two hours, because a funeral in that culture is an all-day affair that involves incredible expense for the family who have to supply a kind of feast that goes with it, and the clergy simply couldn't bury the number of people who needed burial given the culture. So everything's had to be compressed because of the AIDS deaths. There are directives now about what you shouldn't do if you are a Christian with respect to burial customs. That's just one instance of realising how drastic the situations of so many people have been.

Along with that, what's happened is I think the primates, in a very genuine and sympathetic way, have entered into one another's realities. There really is a sense of, no matter where we're from, no matter how different our situations may be, we really do need to 'bear one another's burdens.' Relationship, mutual responsibility - one thing we all recognise is that none of us can assume that what happens in our province is disconnected from the larger reality of the Anglican Communion, and we have to be ready for whatever happens in one place having all kinds of ramifications elsewhere, both in positive and negative ways.

In some of the countries in which there is a very strong and militant Islam, it is impossible to have interfaith conversations, because the antipathies are so strong and often accompanied by violence. And so it strikes me that a country such as ours, a church such as ours, has to have these interfaith conversations, not just for our own sake but for the sake of the Communion. How can some of what we can discover as common ground among the Abrahamic siblings here be of help in other places? Or when someone says 'there's no common ground between the Islamic community and the Christian community,' others could say, 'well, we have found some ways of talking.'

ENS: This was Archbishop George Carey's final meeting in that capacity. What is his legacy to the primates, and what role is he likely to play in retirement?

Griswold: The fruitfulness of the meeting, the tone of the meeting has had a lot to do with his own efforts to be a man serving the whole Communion and taking seriously every voice and honouring every concern - being clear about his own perspective on any number of things but at the same time possessing a kind of generosity of spirit, a pastoral wisdom that I think made everyone feel this man cares about us no matter what is going on in our province.

He has so many international contacts now that I think he sees himself pursuing some of them. By virtue of his experience as archbishop I think it would be a terrible waste if there weren't ways in which all that he has experienced and learned can be put to the service of the Communion in the days ahead, beyond the formal moment of his retirement.

ENS: The primates issued a strong statement on the crisis in the Middle East.

Griswold: We had a letter from Bishop Riah in the context of the meeting, asking for support, and so the statement was a direct response to Bishop Riah's request. Since the Primates' Meeting is not a legislative meeting, there are no formal votes of any kind. But there certainly was no one who said 'wait a minute, I don't want to be identified with this.' The consensus was, yes, we are in support of this.

ENS: You also received a report from Consultation of Anglican Communion Legal Advisors, a group of Anglican advisors on canon law, who identified a list of 44 principles of canon law common to the whole Communion.

Griswold: I think what's happened is that with communication being all that it is these days and with various realities being lived in different parts of the Communion, the question gets asked again and again: so what is the glue? What are the commonalties? For instance, in the legal advisors' report, one of the questions they'd asked the provinces was 'where is your province with respect to the seal of the confessional?' And a number of provinces had nothing on that topic. Those that did varied from 'it's absolute and inviolate' to 'it's to be maintained except in certain cases.' I don't think the idea is to write a common canon law, but to see how much the provinces have developed a common body of experience and to what extent do they borrow from one another. One province - I think Brazil - said 'we've just taken the canons of the Episcopal Church in the United States, because we were formerly part of the Episcopal Church and so we simply modified them.'

ENS: Was this an attempt to begin to establish some kind of code of Anglican canon law, or just to discern an Anglican 'common law'?

Griswold: Just the principles, [such as] the discrepancy in the role of the bishop in various places. I got a letter from a Nigerian priest in the United States who said 'help me - I'm looking for a parish position but in your church, the parish makes the decision. I come from a church where the bishop simply places you. Can't you intervene?' Here are two quite different ways of exercising episkope.

Since 1856, the Episcopal Church has required bishops to visit [parishes] within the space of three years. Most provinces don't have [that requirement], and some have a five-year span, but most of them you only visit at the invitation of the parish.

ENS: The primates also issued a statement about the Anglican 'doctrine of God.' What motivated that statement - why that, why now?

Griswold: Robin Eames [Archbishop of Ireland] said 'I'm having a heresy trial and it would be good to have some sense of the basic doctrine of God.' So that's why that came out. But the bishops are constantly being told 'you are the guardians of the faith, the teachers, and the church expects you to speak.' And in many provinces that's precisely the role bishops and primates play.

And I think with our various discussions with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, some of them question how we know what's normative within the Anglican tradition - who's representing Anglicanism? And some of it has been George Carey's concern, though I think he has no desire to have the role of archbishop become analogous to that of the Pope in any way. One of his gifts is that he is able to think in pretty clear categories and would just as soon have things stated clearly and definitively.

ENS: With the election of a new Archbishop of Canterbury coming up, you must have shared some thoughts with each other about the kind of person needed to fill that role. What's your vision for the next Archbishop of Canterbury?

Griswold: Obviously the archbishop of Canterbury has to be someone who can deal with complexity and paradox and is capable of entering sympathetically into the vast array of contexts that constitute the life of the Anglican Communion, and can serve as a minister of interpretation and relationship - can articulate not only his own faith clearly, but the life of one province to another in ways that foster understanding. Clearly the Archbishop of Canterbury is first and foremost the Primate of All England. So before you begin to talk about other roles, there's that role.

Article from: ENS by Jan Nunley