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Second lecture from Archbishop Eames on Communion at Virginia seminary

Posted on: October 6, 2005 9:32 AM
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The Most Rev. Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, delivered the second of two lectures October 5, titled "The Anglican Communion: What Communion?" as part of Virginia Theological Seminary's 2005 Alumni Convocation.

The full text of Archbishop Eames' October 5 lecture follows.

The Anglican Communion: What Communion?

Yesterday in my first lecture I tried to suggest that there is a relationship between the historic growth of the Anglican Communion and the emergence of difficult issues which threaten our common life. I also suggested that it is possible to turn crisis into opportunity.

In this second lecture I want to say something about Anglican understanding of what 'communion' means, the implications of the relationship we call 'being in communion' and then to look ahead into the future of the Anglican Communion.

I am concerned that the full implications of the Windsor Report and the process it involves returns to the centre of our thinking as a Communion, As I said in the Introduction to that Report, Windsor must be seen as part of a process. Windsor did not seek to address the rights and wrongs of the sexuality question. That was not the task given to the Lambeth Commission. It was a Report on how Anglicanism could address deep differences, deep divisions on principle and it is about methodology. It is my own conviction that in the history of the Anglican Communion the value or otherwise of Windsor must be judged by the process of which it is part -- but only a part. Windsor was not just born out of controversy. It was, I believe an honest attempt by a diverse group of Anglican scholars and leaders to address how bonds of affection, autonomy and diversity could face up to divisive issues -- and such issues will I am convinced continue to arise in the years to come. As we prepared the Report I often asked myself the question -- how much does Anglicanism really want to overcome obstacles to corporate communion when there is such diversity on the nature of that 'communion' itself?

But, back to Windsor. The process the Report spoke of found its early manifestation in the Primates Meeting at Dromantine in Northern Ireland and the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council at Nottingham in England in June 2005.

The Primates Meeting gave general approval to the thrust of Windsor and the ACC meeting received submissions from ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada. The responses of both those gatherings are well documented and I do not need to elaborate on them in this lecture.

So, where does Windsor stand now -- what has happened since it was published?

What I want to do is to express my personal view and personal interpretation of the initial reaction of the north American Anglican Churches to Windsor. What follows is my personal opinion and is not based on consultation with other members of the Lambeth Commission who are entitled to their own reactions.

First, Windsor recommended that

"the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were beached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion." (para 134)

In my opinion the decisions of the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church (USA) met that request. In fact looking at the precise wording of Windsor and the statements of the House of Bishops it is arguable the reaction exceeded what was asked for by the Windsor Report. They have gone so far as to express their 'repentance' at the damage caused to the Anglican Communion by a failure to consult adequately -- a mode of language the Lambeth Commission felt unable to ask of them.

The Lambeth Commission recognised there was genuine disagreement on the sexuality issue across our Communion and that that disagreement could not be settled easily one way or another. I have to say as Chair of the Commission that those members who held the liberal view could not have been expected to sign the Windsor Report if they had felt the Report's conclusions meant that the debate on the Church's attitude to human sexuality was closed. (see par 146). In all honesty I have to say that just as this was necessary to provide a unanimous Windsor Report so if the Anglican Communion is to remain united there can be no blanket condemnation of an on-going process of discernment about the right way, under God and in the spirit of the Gospel, to accommodate the reality of faithful Christians who happen to be homosexually orientated within the life of the Communion. To do otherwise is to court schism.

Let me put it plainly. This is not a struggle between two north American Provinces and other Provinces. It is not a struggle between 36 Provinces and 2 on how to 'discipline' the 'wayward'. Rather it is a struggle to discern how to meet conservative concerns for proper biblical interpretation AND liberal consensus for justice and inclusion for minorities who claim they face prejudice and discrimination. In my many contacts on a personal level with the episcopal leadership of ECUSA since Windsor was published I am now convinced that there is a new and realistic recognition of the reactions across the Communion and an acknowledgement that actions taken in the Episcopal Church (USA) had consequences which were not adequately recognised in advance.

I must also note that there has been wide divergence of opinion as to the nature of 'regret' to be expressed. Conservative opinion has demanded that 'regret' should embrace not just regret for the world-wide consequences of actions in north America, but acknowledgement that the actions of ECUSA and the diocese of New Westminster, Canada, were 'wrong'. To this north America has continued to emphasise the importance of prolonged internal debate prior to those developments, in the case of ECUSA over nearly 40 years.(1)

(1) To Set Our Hope on Christ 2005 page 4.

Careful study of Windsor will show that the Lambeth Commission did not choose to condemn the decisions per se. It addressed the consequences, the lack of consultation and the perception that any Province or diocese could take internal action without due regard to the effect such actions would have on the rest of the Anglican Communion. Perhaps it was inevitable that semantics would embrace divergent interpretations. But I am aware and acknowledge that some interpretations of 'regret' as used by Windsor could allow opposing opinions to ask for more than was originally intended by the Windsor Report. Again I must ask for careful reflection on the terms of the mandate given to the Lambeth Commission. To put it another way, individual Provinces and individual episcopal and other leaders are entitled to ask more of ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada than regret for consequences. But I must defend my colleagues of the Lambeth Commission in terms of their remit.

Windsor went on to indicate that

"pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We urge this in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion. We advise that in the formation of their consciences, those involved consider the common good of the Anglican Communion, and seek advice through their primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We urge all members of the Communion to accord appropriate respect to such conscientious decisions."
Presentations of the thinking of ECUSA and the Canadian Church were made to the Nottingham meeting of ACC and while the status of attendance at this gathering is a separate matter, I believe that the request for regret in the terms of the Windsor Report has been gmet and now the issue of withdrawal from the councils of the Communion by consecrators which was dependant on that expression can be questioned.

Thirdly, paragraph 134 of Windsor recommended that

"the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."

My reading of the Covenant of the Episcopal House of Bishops is that it exceeds what was requested of them by Windsor. Notwithstanding the fact that consents to all elections are being withheld by the House of Bishops a strict interpretation of Windsor convinces me that the American bishops have met the request of the Windsor Report.

Also relevant are the provisions of paragraphs 143 and 144 for both the American and Canadian churches in respect to public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. Paragraph 143 stated : "For thee sake of our common life, we call upon all bishops of the Anglican Communion to honour the Primates' Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorise public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions." Paragraph 144 added: "we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We recommend that provinces take responsibility for endeavouring to ensure commitment on the part of their bishops to the common life of the Communion on this matter."

Once again, both the bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada have in my opinion met the precise wording of Windsor. The American bishops have convenanted not to authorise such rites, or bless same-sex unions. True, the covenant only holds until General Convention has deliberated and decided on these issues, and there may be a new context to which reactions has to be made then: but the primates acknowledged their willingness to allow space for the synodical processes of the churches to work in their Dromantine statement. For the present, the Episcopal Church (USA) has fulfilled the requests of the Windsor Report in so far as their polity will allow.

The Canadian authorities have also now indicated their willingness to postpone decisions on these subjects until General Synod has had a chance to consider the Primate's Theological Commission's findings that blessings of same-sex unions are matters of doctrine, and thus subject to provincial determination, and the approval of two successive General Synods of the church. New Westminster has not applied a full moratorium on such rites, but has indicated it will go no further, whilst Bishop Michael Ingham has expressed his regret at the consequences of his actions in the manner indicated in the Windsor Report.

The reactions of the bishops of ECUSA are included in their publication 'To Set Our Hope On Christ' and the public statements of both Canada and ECUSA, including their presentations to the ACC at Nottingham must be read in the light of the due process of both Churches. A process of reception in both Churches is continuing so far as the Windsor Report is concerned. It is not yet possible to talk of 'the final reaction' of either to Windsor. The Synodical process of both is yet to be completed. Division remains in both Churches. The appointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury of a Panel of Reference to assist where alienation or internal division exists in terms of such as alternative episcopal oversight is a recognition of this fact. Windsor recommended a Council of Advice to support the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Primates have developed this concept and now a Panel of Reference is in operation.

What all this amounts to is a question which I would again submit lies close to the heart of Anglican understanding or the lack of it : who or what speaks for a Province? What statement contains the authoritative voice of an Anglican Province? Once more we are compelled to turn back to the pros and cons of Anglican autonomy. Synodical process is at the centre of our understanding. But in a Communion which gives moral authority to Instruments of Unity or Communion and rejoices in dispersed authority I have to ask -- is it possible to recognise a simple authority representative of one opinion on behalf of a Province?

Let me make it clear once more that what I have said is my personal opinion. I have also to point out that the process of decision-making in both the north American Churches involves more than decisions by the respective House of Bishops. I recognise that the structures of Anglican policy in north America involve Convention and General Synod structures. Other decisions are awaited in the States and in Canada following the developments to which I have referred. The opinions I have just expressed are based on the evidence I have seen to date of the official reactions of episcopal leadership in both the States and Canada. Those opinions I put forward as a contribution to the on-going debate. My plea is that whatever one's loyalty may be in the cauldron of our current crisis objectivity demands fairness in the process of evaluating what has already been said and decided.

May I put it this way. In terms of exact wording of the Windsor Report so far as the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada are concerned -- so far so good but much remains ...
Perhaps we need to recall the plea of the Windsor Report for generosity and charity towards steps taken to meet the requests of the Report. Let us under God find it in our hearts no matter what our individual views on the issues may be to adopt that generosity and charity in these days. (para. 156)

In short, I think we find ourselves in a situation where the North American churches have taken the Windsor Report, and the subsequent Statement of the Primates at Dromantine, extremely seriously, and have complied, in so far as it lies within the power of bodies less than their national synod, to meet the requests made of them.

The suggestion in the Windsor Report that the creation of an Anglican Covenant epitomises much of the real dilemma for a diverse fellowship of Provinces attempting to live in some degree of communion. What I have said about Provincial autonomy hopefully illustrates the strength of diversity. It also underlines what I see as its weakness in producing unity beyond mere bonds of affection.

Beyond the reactions I have mentioned in north America lies a continuing picture of divided opinions. Hurt and dismay remains obvious in parishes and dioceses of both ECUSA and Canada. Opinions continue to be expressed here which do not encourage any expectation of reconciliation as I have described that process in my first lecture. Judgement must await the decisions of the other synodical organs of both Churches before anyone can attempt a full assessment of an overall situation. For the moment as one who has long valued the contribution of north America to the Anglican Communion I share the pain of ECUSA and Canada.

Beyond these shores since Windsor contrary views have continued to surface. The global south has produced alternative suggestions to how Anglicanism could be organised among those the world terms 'conservative opinion'. The depth of feeling among conservative Anglicanism is beyond denial. From a position of dismissing Windsor as irrelevant to the basic issues there have been voices calling for radical reassessment of relationships. In my opinion prior to the next Lambeth Conference the furtherance of such alternatives raise serious issues not just about 'bonds of affection' but about the nature of authority as it has been accepted through the history of the Communion. I can understand the frustration which has produced much of this reaction. But I believe there needs to be much greater understanding of the long-term consequences of developments which could turn the diverse voice of an Anglican Communion into a divided family other traditions of the Christian Church would find it hard to take seriously.
The Windsor Report contained the suggestion that an agreed Covenant could help to produce the circumstances where degrees of common purpose and accepted norms of principle regulated the life of the Anglican Communion. This suggestion took Anglicanism to the heart of the autonomy dilemma. To what extent did diversity and the realities within Provincial autonomy for self-Provincial government dictate independence? The argument to which I would subscribe is that as long as total autonomy in the ecclesiological sense is a reality differences such as at present will continue to be a threat to any common expression of Anglicanism.

I submit that the Covenant proposal in Windsor is not the revolutionary document some commentators have described it to be. As Professor Norman Doe of Cardiff University has put it:
"For the most part it (the Covenant) is a restatement of classical Anglicanism. Generally, of the eighty-five separate provisions, contained in the twenty-seven articles, fifty-nine are derived from existing Anglican texts and twenty-six are 'new' formulations, but themselves either adapted from existing ecumenical documents ... or based on the recommendations of the Lambeth Commission." (2)

(2) Ecclesiastical Law Journal, July 2005, page 160

Windsor produced the Covenant idea not as some final proposal demanding acceptance of every word and comma. We put it forward as an ideal, not written in stone, but rather as a tangible concept of how communion and the living in communion could assume working reality. It is also vital to understand that this suggestion is not a threat to Provincial autonomy so jealously protected throughout the Communion. Local autonomy is recognised in this suggestion. But what is surely achieved in the Covenant proposal is the recognition that there are instances where divisive issues threatening the common life of Anglicanism can be addressed from a common starting-point? If it is accepted as a way forward and something like it included in Provincial constitutions the essentials of inter-Anglican relations will be recognised. If recognised - then protected. It challenges traditional thinking on 'bonds of affection' as the sole ingredient in relationships within our Communion.

Now as a lawyer I recognise the advantages of a Covenant proposal. It is tidy, it is a source of clarity. As a Primate whose Province since disestablishment in 1869 has sternly protected what I would term 'self regulation through synodical government and process' I equally recognise if autonomy is our sole criteria this concept will have little attraction. To that I have to say - how much do we want to avoid future deeply damaging divisions, open conflict and erosion of the being in communion concept?

Anglicanism has already embraced the Covenant principle in ecumenical relations. Provincial links with other traditions have involved agreements which are in fact covenants. As others have argued the historic Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral was in essence a form of covenant. May I also join with those who have regarded the Windsor suggestion of a Covenant relationship as classical Anglicanism?

As an example I would quote the Called to Common Mission agreement of the Episcopal Church (USA) with the Lutherans. This agreement binds the partners to particular commitments, especially the Lutherans to the historic episcopate. There was cost to both parties in that agreement. The "Churches uniting in Christ" process which is the wider ecumenical process in the States sees several denominations binding themselves into commitments about Church order and doctrine together.

If churches can reach out to each other in these and many other agreements such as the Porvoo Agreement between the Baltic Churches and those in the United Kingdom -- why I ask do we find it so difficult to reach out to other members of the same family?

The Lambeth Commission concluded

"the case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant is overwhelming."

The Primates have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to encourage discussion of the concept prior to the next Lambeth Conference. I for one am convinced that eventually Anglicanism will incorporate the Covenant principle in some form. I believe this will happen not necessarily because it will be an end in itself but simply because we can no longer live with the danger of major crisis such as at present.

So where does all I have said in these two lectures lead me to personal conclusions about the future of the Anglican Communion?

My personal opinion is that two documents should remain central to our thinking about the future. The Virginia Report of 1996 completed on this campus and the Windsor Report point us in a direction. In Virginia we tried to see 'communion' as an expression of our Anglican understanding of the Gift of God to His Church. In Virginia we saw that communion with the triune God lies at the centre of our Anglican pilgrimage. In Windsor we tried to see how the transparency of communion was more than theological theory. It has practical application. But in both Reports I continue to see in the light of my years of Episcopal service the benefits but also the dangers of bonds of affection' alone. Controversial it may be for a Communion which is jealous of provincial autonomy and fearful of a central curia to contemplate any attempt to produce agreed protocol which will bind us all. But is there any realistic alternative to some restriction on complete autonomy? Is there an alternative to something akin to the Covenant concept of Windsor? Will the day come when the lessons of our current divisions will again remind us we are in bonds of affection when all is going well -- but in serious trouble when we cannot agree?

At the centre of all we are discussing is the question of how we relate to each other. Historians could claim that Anglicanism has been obsessed with the nature of authority. But surely it could be claimed that whether we have been too pre-occupied by authority, communion or the meaning of autonomy or not, there is now emerging a real need to understand what relationships mean within Anglicanism. What are the basic theological considerations of what constitutes how we relate to each other? What should guide Anglicans when they seek to build or maintain relationships with fellow-Anglicans or with other traditions? Such questions are not in my submission restricted to human relationships. They take us to the heart of the way forward for the Anglican Communion. They are some of the real needs to emerge from a Communion in crisis.

I remain a convinced Anglican. I remain a firm believer that God has a purpose for the Anglican Communion. But I also remain convinced that the Anglican attitude to the nature of the Church needs fresh recognition, that Anglicanism needs a theology of relationships and that a new feeling of trust across our Communion cries out for new means of cementing what we all most long for -- unity in the life of Christ.

Article from ENS