FiF International News
"How do we Get from Here to There?"
The first draft of the Conference Reflections document - "a very preliminary scoping document", in the words of Archbp. Aspinall - and the third set of preliminary observations from the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) were presented at a special press conference held this evening.
The scoping document is an as yet inchoate collection of input from the Bible studies, the sixteen indaba groups, and the other elements of the Conference. The chairman of the drafting group, Archbp. Roger Herft of Perth, Australia, said that the goal was that "every single bishop should have a voice". The present draft is incomplete, in that input had not been received from several indaba groups, and some feedback has already been received. Asked, for instance, about a section which called for "support those who are isolated in their dioceses by initiatives such as that by Gafcon [sic]", the archbishop noted that the group from which it came had indicated that didn't say what it meant to say.
A fuller draft will be released on Tuesday, and feedback will be received both from the indaba groups and from three hearings before the whole Conference.
The goal of the document, Archbp. Herft stated, is to provide "a living, breathing narrative" of "what is happening" as the bishops engage together, a narrative faithful to the Bible, the indaba process, the Anglican Communion, and the bishops gathered here.
The WCG had offered the Conference its observations on three questions: where are we? where do we want to be? and how do we get there?, in order to stimulate conversation; and that effort, its chairman, Bp. Clive Hanford, said, is beginning to pay off.
The goal, the third observation paper states, is "to restore the sense of trust, fellowship and communion on which we thrive". Until a covenant is in place, however, "there are urgent issues which need addressing if we are going to be able to get to the point where such a renewal of trust even becomes possible".
The Group notes that the Windsor Report calls for three moratoria, and that this call has been repeated by the Primates at Dromantine and Dar es Salaam. It observes the requests "have been less than wholeheartedly embraced on all sides", in part because there has been some confusion about what the word "moratorium means, and whether it applied to future actions only or was to be retrospective.
The WCG therefore states that what is being requested is "the complete cessation" of "the celebration of blessings for same-sex unions", "consecrations of those living in openly gay relationships", and "all cross border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction". "Cessation", Bp. Hanford clarified in response to a question, means the action must cease.
If these three moratoria are not observed, the Group suggests, "the Communion is likely to fracture". "The patterns of action currently embraced with the continued blessings of same-sex unions and of interventions could lead to irreparable damage". Therefore, the WCG states, the call for the moratoria "poses the serious question of what response should be made to those who act contrary to the moratorium during the Covenant process and who should make a response".
Asked if this meant that Bp. Gene Robinson should resign, Bp. Hanford stated that there was "no intention" of implying that he should resign; he had, after all, been elected in accordance with his church's processes. The Group is not saying that Bp. Robinson should be "defrocked", but "simply saying that there shouldn't be any more" such consecrations.
The WCG proposes two ways of responding: through a Pastoral Forum, and by creating a "safe space" for dioceses and congregations which have left their provinces, until such time as they can be reconciled.
The Group proposes "the swift formation of a `Pastoral Forum' at Communion level to engage theologically and pastorally with situations of controversy...or divisive actions". This proposal, the WCG notes, draws upon earlier proposals for a Council of Advice (Windsor), a Panel of Advice (Dromantine) and a Pastoral Council (Dar es Salaam), and the Episcopal House of Bishops' statement "acknowledging `a useful role for communion wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight'".
The President of the Forum would be the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would appoint its episcopal chair and other members "representative of the breadth of the life of the Communion as a whole". This referred both to its geography and its character, Bp. Hanford noted.
In practice, the Group suggests, some members of the Forum, "having considered the theological and ecclesiological issues of any controversy or divisive action", might "travel, meet, and offer pastoral advice and guidelines".
The WCG proposes that "the Pastoral Forum should be empowered to act in the Anglican Communion in a rapid manner to emerging threats to its life". It would address "those anomalies of pastoral care arising in the Communion against the recommendations of the Windsor Report". And it would "offer guidance on what response and any diminishment of standing within the Communion might be appropriate where any of the three moratoria are broken".
Responding to an observation that this seemed "punitive" compared to the Response draft's language about partnerships, Bp. Hanford said that it was "not intended to be punitive", but to get the conflicting parties to "pull back", to "exercise a bit of restraint...so that we can talk to one another". This is an ongoing process, "and relationships are at its heart".
Bp. Hanford indicated, in response to another question regarding the failure of the Panel of Reference, that while many details remain to be worked out, the Pastoral Forum is meant to "respond speedily", and would work by relationships rather than written reports.
The proposed Forum might, the WCG suggested, be included in an Anglican Covenant "as a key mechanism to achieve reconciliation".
The Group welcomed "the planned setting up of the Communion Partners initiative in the Episcopal Church as a means of sustaining those who feel at odds with developments taking place in their own Province but who wish to be loyal to, and to maintain, their fellowship within the TEC and within the Anglican Communion".
In his prepared remarks, Bp. Hanford explained that the groups which had pulled apart might be placed in a "holding-bay" not dependent on any other Province, but linked to the Pastoral Forum. In response to questions, he explained that this provision is meant to deal only with those who are already out, not for further withdrawals. Asked if this might take the form of provincial oversight from Canterbury, Bp. Hanford stated that this possibility "will doubtless be considered".
"Ways of halting litigation must be explored", the Group asserts, "and perhaps the escrow concept could even be extended to have some applicability here". In response to a question about whether this meant those who had pulled out might get their property back, Bp. Hanford replied that this "would require working out".
In response to a question about the fairness of providing a safe space for conservatives, but not for lesbian and gay people like the Nigerian man recently given asylum, Bp. Hanford said that he heard what was being said, but noted that this is a preliminary report, and drew attention to the final section. Reaffirm Commitments
Finally, the WCG calls upon the bishops to "reaffirm the commitments expressed" in two statements. The first is Lambeth 1998's call for "all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex". The second is the Primates' statement at Dromantine that "the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship".
The WCG further invites the Lambeth bishops "to be committed to challenging such attitudes where they may exist in the societies, churches and governments of the nations in which they proclaim the Gospel as good news for all without exception".
Why bother with all this?
"Why bother with all this?", the WCG asked in the "coda" to its observations.
First, because "much faithful witness continues - converts are baptised; disciples are nurtured; vocations are encouraged; the scriptures are studied; the Gospel is proclaimed.
Second, because "Anglicanism as [sic] a distinctive global expression of Reformed Catholicism: not only in its content, but in its processes - diverse, patient, hospitable and tolerant".
And third, because "we believe in this Communion; a Communion which contributes to the wider life of the Church in the ecumenical community, and gives witness in a world of many faiths".
Bp. Hanford was asked if the reception of these observations might be affected by the fact that no member of the WCG supports the ordination of gays and lesbians. He expressed his hope that the paper would be accepted "as an early stage" for continued dialogue. He indicated that the next step in the Group's timetable is the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in May 2010. Archbp. Aspinall added that the Conference will continue to have input through the indaba groups.
The bishop was also asked if the observation paper rightly described Reformed Catholicism, and in particular if such a Reformed Catholicism could ever say `no'. He replied that "there must be limits" to the Communion's unity in diversity, and affirmed that the words "diverse, patient, hospitable and tolerant" come "close to the heart" of his experience of Anglicanism.