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Archbishop of Canterbury's Presidential Address

Posted on: September 16, 2002 3:33 PM
Related Categories: Abp Carey, ACC, ACC12

16 September 2002 at 11:15

Re-imagining the Anglican Communion

It is with mixed emotions that I stand to give my last Presidential Address as Archbishop of Canterbury. It is my fourth and last ACC. I think of ACC-9 in Cape Town in 1993 where the issue of Apartheid was so prominent; ACC-10 in Panama in 1996 where the shocking genocide in Rwanda occupied our minds; ACC-11 in Dundee in 1999 where we focused on mission; and now ACC-12 in Hong Kong in 2002 where the terrible events of Sept 11th 2001 form the backdrop to our common life. Each ACC has been special and different; each has made a distinctive contribution to our identity and life.

So at the outset of this address let me say from the heart 'thank you' for your support and for the privilege to share in the leadership and service of our great Communion with you. A particular thanks to the Chairs of ACC I have served with over the years. Canon Colin Craston, Bishop Simon Chiwanga and vice-Chairman Archbishop John Patterson and the two Secretary-Generals with whom I have worked very closely - Canon Sam Van Culin and Canon John Peterson.

I want to begin with a statement from an unusual source:

'Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks to do one thing only; under the lead of the Holy Spirit, to carry forward the work of Christ himself, who came into the world to give witness to the truth, to save and to judge; to serve and not to be served.'

Those inspiring words written some forty years ago come from the Preface of Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World.

That sentence is immediately followed by the Introductory Statement:

'To carry out such a responsibility, the Church has always the duty of scrutinising the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel … We must, therefore, recognise and understand the world in which we live, its expectations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics …'

It goes on to say: 'Today the human race is passing through a new stage of its history. Profound and rapid changes are gradually spreading around the whole world. Hence we can already speak of a true social and cultural transformation, one which has repercussions on our religious life as well'

For the purposes of this Address I wish to take up the challenge of some of the ideas in that powerful statement - to 'scrutinise the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the gospel, and to understand the world in which we live'. As I mused on the passage I began to re-imagine the Anglican Communion which we represent here at ACC-12. What kind of Communion does Our Lord wish us to become? What is the vocation to which we are called?

Although written so long ago the words from Gaudium et Spes are equally relevant to the times in which we live. How difficult it is to make sense of the confusing world in which we live and interpret it. We have only to consider four great contrasts to realise the ambiguities of our world.

First, The tension between globalisation and fragmentation. 'One man's meat is another man's poison' is an English saying. It is very true when it comes to today's great buzzword 'globalisation'. For some it is the way to a promised land of plenty for all; for others it is a new form of slavery leading to fragmentation and the death of local businesses.

A Christian response to the challenges of globalisation will want to focus more on the moral than the supposedly imperial, I suspect. But it will certainly not shy away from the economic impact of globalisation. Indeed when the bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion met for the 1998 Lambeth Conference, it was globalisation of the market economy that they identified as 'the greatest single new force shaping the world.'

So what should we make of this new force? Well, we should certainly be cautious about concluding that globalisation is irredeemably and fatally flawed. Indeed, it has already brought many benefits to some of the poorer nations - for example, through direct foreign investment. Nevertheless, we have to recognise that rich and poor nations are not competing on a level playing field. Indeed, the very interconnectedness that globalisation offers through the liberalisation of trade, the power of the Internet and free movement of currency may lead to new forms of fragmentation and exclusion.

Poor nations with inadequate infrastructures and limited educational and health resources are likely to struggle to compete in sophisticated and rapidly moving market conditions. That goes some way to explaining why an estimated one-third of the world's population is so far reaping no tangible benefit from globalisation. I know that for many of us in the Anglican Communion the benefits as well as the negative effects of globalisation are experienced by us. It challenges our notion of what it is to be a Communion.

Secondly, The tension between our longing for peace and the threats that undermine it. My time as Archbishop began with the collapse of Communist Russia. What heady times they were! Who can ever forget that picture of Boris Yeltsin in 1991 atop a tank in front of the Russian Parliament defying the coup that had just ousted Gorbachev! Equally dramatic was the picture of thousands of ordinary Russian workers streaming out of their factories the following day and marching to the Palace Square where one of the leaders exclaimed: 'The people can no longer be forced to their knees'. The collapse of Russia as a super power gave us all hope for a more peaceful world.

The irony is that we live in more perilous times as the events of September 11th clearly show. Certainly we do not have time to go into the reasons for terrorism and suicide tactics as part of it although equally certainly the fact and impact of globalisation are factors involved. However, the events of Sept 11th did not simply arise from desperate and very poor people reacting against an evil West but were part of a deliberate campaign of a powerful and wealthy network aiming to destabalise another part of the world. And we in Europe know all about this through the bloody work of the IRA and Basque separatists in Spain. The sad reality is that many Christians today have to live out their faith in the context of shocking violence. The presence of the Bishop Riah is a reminder of the difficulties faced by our Church in Palestine as the sad stand-off between Israelis and Palestinians continues. While we pray for peace in the Holy Land we do not assume that violence is limited to it. Tragically one of the delegates to ACC from Congo, the Revd Basimaki Byabasa was hacked to death on his way to us. It is a shocking reminder of the perils that face many of the people we represent.

Thirdly, The tension between an Inter-faith World and the clash of religions. On the one hand we can point to encouraging developments in convergence of faith in our world as dialogue deepens among different faith communities. We shall have reports to that effect later in our Conference. I myself have been involved in a number of international dialogues and will continue to be interested in making a contribution in the future. But there is another reality as at local levels minority faith communities face dangers and difficulties that belie the rhetoric of international inter-faith gatherings. We have only to look at our Communion; Pakistan, where in recent month there have been three attacks on Christian churches and hospitals; Sudan, where Christians are persecuted in the north. Nigeria, where the imposition of Sharia law in a number of northern States threatens the existence of Christian communities. In India Muslims and Hindus have clashed with extreme violence leading to many deaths; in Indonesia minority Christian communities live in daily fear of violence. The list is long and getting longer as each year passes.

Finally, I point finally to another 'dramatic characteristic' which is the tension and clash between cultures. Again there is nothing new about this. There is often a 'strangeness'' and an 'alienness' about cultures when they first meet that can lead to a clash or to a sympathetic alignment. Each nation has varying shifts of culture between tribes, communities and isolated gatherings which manifest themselves in language, dialect, religion, custom and creed. When we join the Christian Church, whoever we are and wherever we are from, we identify with a body which has its own distinctive culture manifested in belief and practice and mediated to us through the bible and the church.

The journey we have made from the first Lambeth Conference of 1867 and right up to the present represents an increasing understanding of the importance of the Communion, with an awareness that disconnectedness between the independent Provinces cannot be the future of the Anglican Communion. Indeed, I have said on many occasions that, in a sense, we are not yet a Communion because we are still too separate, still too ignorant of one another and, more importantly, in danger of allowing our national and local cultures to pull us apart.

So, here are just some of the characteristics of our world which form the backcloth of our mission. How do we respond to Gaudium et Spes' challenge that 'the Church seeks to do one thing only; under the lead of the Holy Spirit, to carry forward the work of Christ himself'?

In my re-imagining of the Communion I think of four aspects through which we carry forward Christ's mission and fulfill our mission as a Communion.

First, we are called to 'carry forward the work of Christ'. I was struck by one phrase in that Catholic statement. It says 'one thing only'. It reminded me of the conversation which Jesus had with the sisters Mary and Martha. He said to the ever busy Martha who was jealous of Mary spending so much time with Jesus: 'Martha, only one thing is necessary'. That is the real business of the Church of Jesus Christ; to spend time with him and to promote his mission. Everything else - all the fine work we do and everything else we shall say - is nothing but the outworking of presenting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

However, as most of us know, to proclaim Christ is not the easy thing that some claim. As faiths jostle side by side in all our communities, we are constantly challenged by the question, What is the basis on which we present him as Lord when others may wish to make similar claims for the object of their devotion? Are we compelled to abandon our claim that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour?

I would answer without hesitation: 'No, But it all depends on how we say it'. To draw back from the firm tones of New Testament Christianity that Jesus is way, the truth and the life, would be a betrayal of the faith itself and an abandonment of historic Christianity. As the Primates of the Communion said in Canterbury this year: We believe that God the eternal Son became human for our sake and that in the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth God was uniquely present and active. All claims to knowledge of God must be brought to Christ to be tested'.

Nonetheless, we have to find ways of putting this truth across in the context of respecting other faiths and understanding their value systems and strengths. William Carey, that great Baptist missionary to India two centuries ago learned eight different languages and waited 14 years before he began his ministry of preaching and church building. I have enjoyed the story told of Barbara McClintock, a geneticist who won a Nobel Prize. She was once asked how her new science was done. She replied: 'You have to have a feeling for the organism'. The reporter didn't know what to make of that reply so pressed the question: 'Now, really, how is this new science done?' Dr McClintock pondered for a while and said: 'I guess the only way I can answer it is, you have to lean into the ear of the corn'

I find that an attractive idea - leaning into the ear of the corn. And today we have to do something similar as we lean into the ear of the culture in which we live and find new ways of connecting with our cultures. May I say how much I admire the missionary energy of our churches in many parts of Africa for their unafraid witness and joy in preaching Christ. They have so much to teach us and share with us all. I welcome the report of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism which is in our papers for this conference. How much I endorse one Resolution which states: 'The structures of the Church should be orientated towards mission as the Church's first priority'. It is vital that we heed that call and find new ways of offering Christ to our needy world. Indeed, for churches in first world countries the imperative must be to focus on children and young people. Healthy plants propagate; healthy churches communicate joyful faith to their young and encourage them in their growth.

One way we Anglicans have leaned into the ear of the corn takes me into my second point. As I re-imagine our life as a Communion I urge that we do not waver in our commitment to mission in action.

And that leads me to believe that the Christian imperative to look first and foremost to the needs of the very poor must be a focal point of the mission of the Church in responding to the changes that globalisation and fragmentation bring.

In my time as Archbishop I have seen many examples round our increasingly globalised world of that challenge being met - examples that should inspire and give hope for the future. Let me offer you just two examples of the Church in action on behalf of the most vulnerable.

First, I recall a visit to Brazil where I was shown a huge rubbish tip in the city of Recife. In that awful environment, hundreds of destitute people - children as well as adults - had been living off whatever they could find - including I was told human remains dumped there from a nearby hospital. An Anglican priest stirred by the plight of these people moved her home there and started a small church among the 'rubbish people' as they were called. Over the years she has helped them reclaim their dignity; she has brought them education and health care - in fact, during my visit I was asked to dedicate a dentist's chair! That woman priest has also helped them to find homes and jobs - indeed some 400 people work in the recycling business that she helped to set up.

I think too of South Africa where grinding poverty combined with the frightful scourge of HIV/AIDS is causing such human devastation. We visited a Church-run orphanage in Durban, caring for babies and children under five with the AIDS virus. There we held in our arms lovely looking babies, many of whom had just a few months to live. It was the only home of its kind in the city. The Province of the Church of South Africa under the leadership of Archbishop Ndungane is doing a most excellent job.

Illustrations like these and so many more that I could give bear out the story of the young man training to be a Rabbi and burning the midnight oil. His tiny baby was crying incessantly. In the end his father goes up to the nursery and comforts the baby. As he passes his son's study on the way down he quietly said: 'You can't be studying the Word of God if you can't hear the cry of a child'

Hearing the cry of children and responding to their distress and those most vulnerable has been characteristic of the incarnational ministry in our Communion. We care for people and that means our concern for their eternal well-being takes in the conditions under which they live today. But this does not mean that we are there simply there to help pick up the pieces. Sadly, too often in the past this has been our attitude. But I note with great satisfaction that are beginning to play our part in representing the very poor and speaking up for Christian values.

We are beginning to work in critical solidarity with the international institutions tasked with regulating global capitalism instead of simply writing them off as irretrievably serving the interests of the rich nations. I recall the President of the World Bank telling me that the World Bank began to take the Churches seriously when a team visited Tanzania and discovered to their amazement that the Christian Churches were providing nearly half of the social services need of the country -hospitals, clinics, education and homes for orphans and the elderly. They found similar proportions in other poor countries too and it changed the relationship between the World Bank and religious organisations.

Much more could be done however. I encourage us all to seek ways of getting alongside the opinion formers and political leaders. We have nothing to lose and much to gain. In this connection let me remind you of the significant work of Archdeacon Faga, our Observer at the UN. She is there for us. Get to know her this week.

There is one thing that greatly concerns me. One of the reasons why I have said we are not yet a Communion but becoming one is my sad conclusion that the richer parts of the body are not doing enough for fellow Anglicans in greatest distress. We ought to be horrified and deeply ashamed and concerned that in many parts of the Communion devoted servants of the Church are not paid adequately, if anything at all. In many African Provinces no pension provision are at present made and for the foreseeable future unlikely to be offered. During my time as Archbishop I have endeavoured to help assist bishops and clergy in Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and elsewhere. But such discretionary help cannot address the urgent need of clergy, particularly in Africa. I call on the rich Pension Funds of first world Provinces to assist by offering advice and by finding ways of sharing what previous generations have given us. We can and must do better.

I re-imagine furthermore a growing Communion honouring our heritage of faith With all great bodies and churches there lies the danger that growth may lead to separation. This is what I was getting at with my comments on culture earlier. Diversity, also a great buzz word in our world, is only a positive element if it is secondary to a fundamental unity in spirit and purpose. Where do we find the marks that identify us as Episcopalians and Anglicans wherever we are from? We immediately think of worship. Yes, indeed, there is a family likeness in the way we worship - whether we be Chinese, American, Australian or Zambians. However, unity in worship is not enough because it will not long survive serious rupture in matters of faith and order. Of far greater importance, then, must be our doctrinal unity which has been expressed in our self understanding as a Communion which is Catholic and Reformed. That is to say, we cherish those traditions and creeds that unite us with Catholic and Orthodox branches of the Church and with the mainstream historic Reformation churches in their acceptance of the primacy of scripture.

Of course, we accept that the Bible is a complex book, and is capable of many interpretations. I love St. Augustine's description of the Bible as a 'vast ocean in which infants can play in safety in the shallows and elephants can wallow to the their hearts content!' It has room for us all. We are committed to thoroughness in study of scripture and are indebted to generations of scholarly research which has made us aware of how much we don't know of the intricacies of the text as well as reaffirming what we do know of God's will for us. Nonetheless this has not led to vagueness of belief. Our doctrinal commitment to the Triune God made known to us in Christ is as firm as any other church and our obligation to live out that faith in holy living is equally as clear.

However, honouring that legacy of faith means that we are constantly challenged to nourish the bonds of affection between us and to confront all issues that divide us in a spirit of love and understanding. It is easy to love those who agree with us; how we handle disagreement is much more taxing but is at least as important for our identity as Anglicans. In that great missionary Bishop Stephen Neill's phrase, "We are a learning church as well as a teaching church"; and learning demands patient listening to one another's insights.

It is at this point as the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury that I must point to my greatest worry. I would be failing in my duty if I recoiled away from it out of an assumption that silence is the safer option.

In short, my concern is that our Communion is being steadily undermined by dioceses and individual bishops taking unilateral action, usually (but not always) in matters to do with sexuality; and as a result steadily driving us towards serious fragmentation and the real possibility of two (or, more likely, many more) distinct Anglican bodies emerging. This erosion of communion through the adoption of 'local options' has been going for some thirty years but in my opinion is reaching crisis proportions today.

We have seen the formation of AMiA in the United States and scarcely a week goes by without some report reaching me of clergy teetering on the brink of leaving the Anglican Communion for that body. I have been clear in my condemnation of the schism created by AMiA and the actions of those Primates and other bishops who consecrated the six bishops. Sadly, I see little sign of willingness on the part of some bishops in the Communion to play their part in discouraging teaching or action that leads some conscientious clergy to conclude that they have no option other than to leave us for AMiA.

It is not my intention to address now the issue that has led some clergy in the diocese of New Westminster to rebel against their own bishop and their diocesan Synod. I respect the sincerity of Bishop Michael Ingham and his diocesan synod, and I do not doubt that they believe that they are acting in the best interests of all, as they see it.

But I deeply regret that Michael and his synod, and other bishops and dioceses in similar situations in North America seem to be making such decisions without regard to the rest of us and against the clear statements of Lambeth '98. And, on the other hand, as I have said, it is disappointing to note the steps that have been taken in reaction by a number of clergy, bishops and even Archbishops in our Communion, equally in disregard of carefully thought-out Lambeth Conference resolutions.

It is for this reason that I have submitted to this ACC a resolution that I hope you will strongly support. In short the Resolution calls upon all dioceses that are considering matters of faith and order that could affect the unity of the Communion to consult widely in their provinces, and beyond, before final decisions are made or action is taken. We cannot insist that they do so, but as a Consultative Body we can urge them to do so.

And let me remind you that this resolution is not novel. Indeed, it was the unilateral action of one bishop, Bishop Colenso of Natal, that led to the first Lambeth Conference of 1867. The fourth resolution of that first Lambeth Conference in fact called upon all dioceses to submit to 'superior synods' This constant emphasis on interdependence and mutual responsibility towards one another - especially in those matters upon which we disagree - is a recurrent, and highly characteristic, theme of our life together.

Of course, the issue is far more than a matter of internal discipline, though it is certainly that. It affects our mission, and relationships with other churches. Let me say clearly that I believe far too much energy is going into fanning the flames of argument on these matters that divide us taking our attention away from the critical needs of evangelism and mission.

But it also has serious ecumenical implications. I have had countless conversations with leaders of other Churches who have spoken gently but sternly of our internal disorderliness on issues such as this. It is viewed as a major stumbling block to the unity we claim we seek with the universal Church.

And let me make quite clear that the resolution is not merely about handling issues to do with sexuality, but it applies to all sensitive matters that threaten our common life. That is to say, it entreats the diocese of Sydney on the issue of Lay Presidency to submit the matter to its Province, and to have regard to the effect of any decision it makes on the wider Communion to which it belongs, just as much as it applies to a diocese contemplating the official introduction of services in relation to same-sex unions. Likewise the resolution is as relevant to the deposition of Fr. David Moyer by Bishop Charles Bennison in the diocese of Pennsylvania, which has consequences not only for that diocese but for the entire Communion.

The issues we face in our time are as demanding and painful as any our forebears have had to wrestle with; and there are lessons we can learn from them, as to how we too may find ways to discern God's will for us by listening to one another, carefully considering the impact of our actions on one another, and above all praying for one another. I hope my Resolution will receive your clear endorsement, and so send out a strong signal that it is not enough to carry on talking about being a Communion while we take actions that contradict our words.

My fourth and final comment arises from the rapid and profound changes spreading around the world in the matter of inter-religious conflict and the urgent need to deepen inter-faith dialogue. Again, the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism speaks of the urgency of this. Since September 11th last year more than half of my time has been spent in this area of work. I shall be speaking about this later in the week so I need not now say any more. But I flag it up as an issue on which we must spend time because it is of the greatest of importance to our brothers and sisters in areas where persecution is a daily reality for them and where our mission for Christ is under the greatest attack. I am more than confident that we can and will meet this urgent challenge.

So I wish to end where I begin with a word of deep gratitude from Eileen and myself. The last eleven and half years have been deeply rewarding for us both in which we have made so many friends. It has been our joy to serve our Communion. We leave with much unfinished but thank God that he has called Archbishop Rowan Williams to carry on this work. We are confident that he will and he knows he has our support and friendship.

Therefore I end on a note of thanksgiving to Almighty God who chooses unworthy people to serve him. As I re-imagine our Communion I am confident that as long as we focus on strengthening the bonds of affection and deepen out mission to the most vulnerable, the very poor and those without hope in Christ, we shall grow stronger and fulfil the enormous potential of which we are capable. So I repeat again those words with which I began:

Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks to do one thing only; under the lead of the Holy Spirit, to carry forward the work of Christ himself, who came into the world to give witness to the truth, to save and to judge; to serve and not to serve'.

Surely, that is our objective too.