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The Virginia Report: Unity in Diversity?

Posted on: September 17, 1999 10:00 AM
Related Categories: ACC, ACC11, Virginia Report

The calling of the Church is "to live the end time in the mean time, to be a coming attraction." stated Bishop Mark Dyer is his theological introduction to the far-reaching and influential report on Anglican identity and authority known as" The Virginia Report." Bishop Dyer, from the Episcopal Church, USA and a key player in the drafting of the report, led the 11th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Dundee Scotland through a three session review and discussion of the report.

The first session on Wednesday afternoon 16 September, was dedicated to "The Four Instruments of Unity" within Anglicanism. Tracing the history of the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Dyer said that the Archbishop of Canterbury represented the Church's continuity with Christ over time. He emphasized, however, that "the Archbishop's task is not to command but to gather; to gather the Communion in service and caring and never coercive power." Quoting from conference resolutions, Bishop Dyer stressed that the second instrument of unity, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops is primarily about common fellowship and was never "contemplated as a general synod of all Churches in full communion with the Church of England . . . to enact canons that should be binding upon those represented." The Anglican Consultative Council was held up as the third instrument whose role "is to establish a communion of mutual attentiveness, interdependence and accountability to serve the . . . mission of the Anglican Communion." The forth and final instrument is the Primates Meeting that gathers for "debate and discussion of personal and Provincial matters in the context of Eucharist, prayer, and study." Bishop Dyer concluded the first presentation with a review of the Communion's wrestling with the ordination of women to the episcopate as an example of how the four instruments served to bolster unity in diversity."

The second two sessions were dedicated to an exposition by Bishop Dyer of the theological underpinnings behind the Virginia Report, each session ending with discussion by the ACC delegates . Bishop Dyer stressed that "our unity with one another is grounded in the life of love, unity and community of the Godhead. The eternal, mutual self-giving and receiving love of the three persons of the Trinity is the source and ground of our communion, of our fellowship with God and with one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are drawn into a divine fellowship of love and unity." The Church from its inception is called to be a sign of that unity that is at the heart of a Trinitarian God; the unity of all things that will be revealed at the end of time.

The three sessions, two more sessions than any other topic before the Council, were designed to lead the members of ACC in helping their "primates to initiate and explain" the report to their Provinces. Embodying his Irish ancestry, Bishop Dyer's delivered his presentations with a rye sense of humor and sprinkled liberally with heart-warming stories.

At the conclusion of the afternoon of 17 September, the Most Revd George Carey presented Bishop Dyer with the distinguished Silver Cross of St. Augustine "in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Anglican Communion over many years, especially in the field of theological and doctrinal reflection and in promoting ecumenical dialogue.