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Statement on the Windsor Report from the Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane

Posted on: October 18, 2004 11:17 AM
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At Virginia Theological Seminary, USA

The Feast of St Luke, 18 October 2004

Today is an important day for the Anglican Communion.

I want to begin by congratulating Archbishop Robin Eames and the members of the Lambeth Commission for producing such a comprehensive Report in such a short time, and in such testing circumstances.

This is a substantive Report which requires careful consideration. It provides the Anglican Communion with space for reflection, dialogue and reconciliation. I call on all parties involved to take that process seriously, so we can restore a deeper unity to our Communion, and continue, with increased concord and purpose, the mission of Christ's Church.

The Report does not discuss the detailed issues of homosexuality - and neither shall I. As was its mandate, it invites us to engage with wider issues of shared fellowship and how we handle disagreements and divisions within the Anglican Communion. That is what is at stake here. Regarding homosexuality, the Church of the Province of Southern Africa is committed to the loving pastoral care of all its members, including those who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. We continue to require all unmarried clergy of whatever sexual orientation to be celibate, and we do not bless same-sex relationships. We are meanwhile continuing with the process of listening, pastoral care, reflection and monitoring, which the Lambeth Conference initiated.

It would be premature to offer detailed comment without first digesting the Report thoroughly. I also want to underline the importance of considering it as a whole, and not just to concentrate on the recommendations. On first reading, it seems to me that we have been given the rich gift of a deep theological and spiritual reflection on the nature of the common life of God's people, as members of the body of Christ, of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and of the Anglican Communion. There is so much here which can build up and nurture our common life - we have the chance to make this a 'win-win' opportunity. We must grasp this chance with both hands.

I am particularly struck by the emphasis that has been given to the delicate relationship we must sustain between autonomy and interdependence. As the Report says, 'Communion is, in fact, all about mutual relationship.'

The question of relationships between Christians who are different has been a challenge to much of my ministry. I am convinced that our understanding of the God in whose image we are made can offer fertile resources for considering unity and diversity.

Bearing the divine image, we are created for common life by the God who is three Persons and yet One. God is Trinity, this mysterious concept which is hard to define and yet available to our experience: the nurturing Creator, the redemptive Saviour, the life-giving Spirit. An enigmatic community of persons, distinct individuals and yet inseparable, united in the love that is at the heart of their being, for 'God is love.'

So God creates us, to be in loving community with one another; a community that reflects the revealed life of the Trinity. These three mystical persons, distinct yet complementary, are one in purpose. None of the three is superior, nor inferior, to the others; none acts independently of the others, but always with mutual awareness and in relation; none takes over another's particular role or characteristics or responsibilities; none acts at the expense of another. They are always open to one another, but never consumed or indistinct. Indeed, they show us what it is to enjoy freedom within a relationship of interdependence, a living example of the autonomy-in-communion, which the Report explores.

This must be our model. Can we live and work and order our world like this? Granting everyone equal status, equal opportunity? With give and take? Prepared to share together, equitably, honestly and vulnerably? Living reciprocally rather than hierarchically? Conscious of being bound in a single shared humanity, in which, if one suffers, all suffer?

The recommendations of the Report are a challenge to us. They confront us with what it means to take seriously the bonds of affection that constitute our commitment to each other. They demand tangible acknowledgment of the common life to which we are called in the body of Christ, with both its freedoms and its interdependence. We must see them as the living expression of our vocation of Communion which the Report explores so thoroughly.

This is the dynamic that breathes authentic life into the structures and governance of our Communion and the Provinces, Dioceses and Parishes in which it subsists. Our present form of corporate life has two thousand-year-old roots. The Anglican Communion itself has evolved over the centuries and we look back with heartfelt gratitude to the grace of God that has brought us to this place.

Where we see the need to renew our structures, such changes must carry with them their own legitimacy. For this we must consider them through the due synodical processes. As Anglicans we stand firm on the principle that bishops, clergy and people together share in governance. Legitimate change will come from the full engagement of parishes, diocesan synods, and then of Provincial Synods, Governing Bodies, and Conventions, in considering the Windsor Report, and all that flows from it.

The structures that we have, though not perfect, have been effective vehicles for the expression of the mission and ministry of the Church throughout the world. We must not lose sight of our calling to be ambassadors of reconciliation, heralds of God's compassion, ministers of his mercy in the realities of this broken world. We face issues of war and peace; the scourge of poverty; the blight of HIV/AIDS, of TB and malaria - the Anglican voice must continue to be raised, and with increasing unity and purpose.

As we engage with the Windsor Report, let us together heed Paul's warning to the Corinthians, 'I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves, but all to be in agreement in what you profess, so that you may be perfectly united in your beliefs and judgments.' (1 Cor 1:10). We must hold fast to that which binds us together, realising that this alone has eternal significance. Dissension and factions, like selfish ambition, jealousy and discord, are the products of the sinful nature within us (Gal 5:20), that will be destroyed on the Day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5). Let us therefore not waste our energies on things that are perishable, but fix our hopes on what is lasting and imperishable.

Our God promises to work for good in all circumstances, for those whom he loves and calls. Let us respond to his loving call by working with him so that he may bring a greater good out of the pain of our current circumstances.

The Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane
Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa