An international task group established by the Archbishop of Canterbury to restore relationships in the Anglican Communion is proposing a Season of Prayer and Repentance. The Archbishop’s Task Group was established after the Primates’ Meeting in January 2016. Its remit is to “restore relationships, rebuild mutual trust and responsibility, heal the legacy of hurt and explore deeper relationships.”
Its suggestion of a Season of Prayer and Repentance was first revealed after the Task Group made an interim report about its work to the Primates’ Meeting in October 2017 and more details emerged at the Task Group’s next meeting the following March. Since then, the proposals have been developed and it is now proposing that the Anglican Communion is called to a week of prayer and repentance during the fifth week of Lent in 2020: from Sunday 29 March to Sunday 5 April.
The Bishop of West Malaysia, Archbishop Moon Hing of South East Asia, and a member of the Task Group, has written a prayer to be used during the week. The Task Group will make other resources available to help churches across the Communion take part.
In proposing a Season of Prayer and Repentance, the Task Group members stress that they are not pointing fingers at any particular part of the Communion. Bishop Linda Nicholls from the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Huron chaired the last meeting of the Task Group. She said: “we’ve been very clear when we first proposed a season of repentance that this is about the biblical admonition that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that every one of us has areas in our lives individually, and corporately that require repentance.”
She added: “some of that repentance is around how we treat one another, how we have worked with, or not with one another. And that we believe that all of us can examine ourselves in the season of Lent.”
Bishop Linda explained that the Task Group had chosen the fifth week of Lent, leading into Holy Week, because “that leads us into the power of the cross, the victory of the cross, and the reality that all of us stand under its judgement and its grace. This is not pointing the finger at anyone except oneself.”
The Task Group members have been appointed from different areas of the Communion and with different theological perspectives on the issues that have caused significant division. It has adopted a system of rotating the chairmanship so that all can play a full part in the discussions.
Bishop Linda said that the way the Task Group worked was a model for how the Anglican Communion can work in a united way despite deep differences.
“We come from all parts of the Communion - north, south, east, west”, she said. “We come from very different places on some of the current issues that are concerning the Communion, and early on we spent some time talking about those issues and being frank and honest with one another.
“We said that the only way we can work is by putting on the table who we are and how we see the things that are affecting our communion. The opportunity to gather face to face, to have time over meals, coffee breaks, to have time in worship together and then to have time in conversation deepens relationship and builds trust. So that when we’ve come to some, what have been painful, conversations of disagreement or even finding it difficult to understand the other, we have trusted still that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
“And that is essential to who we are as a Communion. It’s continuing to see each other as a fellow Christian, at God’s table, at the table of our Communion. Our group has tested that and found that it’s possible.”
She added: “I have great confidence in capacity of Christians to sit down and listen to one another and to wrestle deeply with the core concepts of what it means to be a person in Christ. And that these conflicts do cause pain and they cause rifts, but they also drive us to listen more deeply to what calls us together.
“Out of this, I think we will learn more than we thought we would. I have no doubt that God has a purpose for God’s Church and our question is: ‘how will the Anglican Communion participate in that?’
“I’ve seen examples in my own experience, through the Bishops in Dialogue, through the continuing Indaba, through Indaba in Canada itself. I’ve seen examples of how that builds deeper relationships that can hold together while the process of discernment on issues that will not be resolved quickly or easily can be held in the arms of Christ while we work on them.”
Asked whether the Archbishop’s Task Group has come up with a proposal that will enable the Anglican Communion to continue relationships, she said: “I think we’ve discovered in our own meetings that it is possible. We want to commend to the Primates some of the ways in which that can be encouraged and nurtured in the Communion, how we can strengthen the Instruments of Communion together, how we can find new ways to work together and to listen to one another.
“And so, we believe we have some ways that we can commend to the primates in advance of Lambeth 2020 in the hopes that the bishops will have some further conversation and continue to be willing to stay with what can be a painful time, knowing that simple solutions or quick solutions are not going to be the best solutions.”
The Archbishop’s Task Group meet again in September.