Sunday, July 20, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury delivers Lambeth Conference presidential address

From EpiscopalLife Online, the presidential address by Archbishop Rowan Williams from Lambeth today [boldface mine]:

As we begin our work together, we're bound to be very much aware of people's eyes upon us. There are expectations among our own people -- both hopes and fears. There are expectations among the representatives of the world's media -- and plenty of stories already which seem to know better than any of us what is going to happen. I saw the headline "Is this the end of the Anglican Communion". No-one has told us here. And there are our eyes on each other -- perhaps not quite sure yet how it's going to feel, who we're going to be alongside, whether everything will come out right in the sense that after two weeks we shall be able to say something with real integrity that will move us forward in God's way.

We know all that; but we need also to know what most matters -- that God's eyes are upon us and that God has entrusted something to us. In the last few days, we have had a chance to hold that firmly in mind as we have shared our time of retreat. We have reminded ourselves that God has entrusted something to each one of us as a bishop, the care of his people and the taking forward of his purpose for humankind through our share in God's mission. We have been caught up in the infinite consequences of Jesus' life and death and resurrection. We are part of God's way of making those consequences real and liberating for all humanity. So all that is said and done in our context here is in some way to do with this fundamental agenda, deepening our commitment to God's own vision of the world's future in Christ.

But God does not hand out general prescriptions and inspirations: God works through the specifics of the community that is called in Christ's name -- the Church. And the Church is known in diverse forms and traditions. So God has not only entrusted to us the task of sharing in his mission; he has also entrusted to us one particular way embodying and serving this mission. He has entrusted to us this extraordinary thing called the Anglican Communion. And in our time together he is asking us, more sharply than ever before, perhaps, what we want to make of it -- how we use the legacy we have been given for his glory and for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.

More sharply than ever? Yes, because we all know that we stand in the middle of one of the most severe challenges to have faced the Anglican family in its history. But at the same time, we shouldn't assume that this is the worst of times. The very first Lambeth Conference met against the background of bitter controversy in Southern Africa and fierce disputes about who was a 'proper' bishop and who wasn't.

And if we go back in Church history to the early centuries of the Christian community, we find once again the record of councils meeting in an atmosphere of some suspicion and fear, with people not being at all sure who was supposed to be in charge and who ought and ought not to be present. We haven't just invented church divisions in the last ten years or so; and there never was a golden age for the Anglican Communion or for the wider Church of God.

When all that has been said, and when we've got things into perspective, though, it's still true that we have some choices ahead of us in these weeks together. And when God gives us choices he also asks us to think and pray about how we make the choices as well as what we actually choose. If what we want more than anything is to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and I'm taking it for granted that is what we want, who alone can make Christ alive in our midst, we shall want to find a way of letting that guidance be as powerful and as real as it could be. So I'd like at this point to say a few more words about the new methods we're using in this Conference, the methods you've been hearing about this afternoon.

Quite a few people have said that the new ways we're suggesting of doing our business are an attempt to avoid tough decisions and have the effect of replacing substance with process. To such people, I'd simply say, 'How effective have the old methods really been?'. . .

The work of the indaba groups and that of these more formal working parties will affect and inform each other in our meetings; and this lays a special responsibility on those who are doing the listening and reflecting for us and who are managing the various 'hearings' that will take place so that all who wish can comment on how some of these matters are advancing and developing. Archbishop Roger Herft has explained something of this process. And our hope is that we shall end up with a 'Reflection' from the Conference that is not a set of resolutions and decisions, but which does genuinely change the situation and take us forward. It's a difficult balance to achieve. All of us are involved in making it work.

But what of these problems, what of the future of the Communion? In what I have said there may be a hint of how we should think about this. Because the greatest need of the Communion now is for transformed relationships. This does not mean simply warm feelings about each other, but new habits of respect, patience and understanding that are fleshed out in specific ways and changed habits -- in responsible agreement and search for the common mind, in constant active involvement in the life of other parts of the family, and, as I suggested in the retreat, in shared commitments to a rule of life and a pattern of prayer, so that it remains possible to see in the other person another believer, another redeemed sinner, another person on the way to transformation in Christ. We need to get beyond the reciprocal impatience that shows itself in the ways in which both liberals and traditionalists are ready -- almost eager at times, it appears -- to assume that the other is not actually listening to Jesus.

For this to be a reality, we must be honest about how deep some of the hurts and difficulties currently go; and we must refresh and reanimate our sense of what our Communion ought to be contributing to the whole ecumenical spectrum of Christian life. We cannot ignore the fact that what is seen to be a new doctrine and policy about same-sex relations, one that is not the same as that of the vast majority at the last Lambeth Conference, is causing pain and perplexity. We cannot ignore the pressures created by new structures that are being improvised in reaction to this pain and perplexity, pressures that are very visible in the form of irregular patterns of ministry across historic boundaries. Perspectives on the situation are very different at the moment. Some in our Communion would be content to see us become a loose federation, perhaps with diverse expression of Anglicanism existing side by side in more or less open competition but with little co-ordination of mission, little sense of obligation to sustain a common set of theological and practical commitments. Some would like to see the Communion as simply a family of regional or national churches strictly demarcated from each other -- sovereign states, as it were, with independent systems of government, coming together from time to time for matters of common concern. Others again want to see a firmer and more consistent control of diversity, a more effective set of bodies to govern the local communities making up the Communion. . .

Is there another option? Along with many in our Communion since the Lambeth Conferences began and international Anglicanism started to have a new kind of visibility, I believe there is; but it will require some of what we take for granted to change. Because it is not an option to hope that we can somehow just carry on as we always have: the rival bids to give Anglicanism a new shape are too strong, and we need to have a vision that is at least as compelling and as theologically deep as any other in the discussion. Without this, trying to carry on as 'normal' will unquestionably drift towards one or other of the options I've outlined, without proper thought or planning or a sense of the cost of each of them to what we value most in our heritage. That is why there is quite properly a sense of being at a deeply significant turning point.

It's my conviction that the option to which we are being led is one whose keywords are of council and covenant. It is the vision of an Anglicanism whose diversity is limited not by centralised control but by consent -- consent based on a serious common assessment of the implications of local change. How do we genuinely think together about diverse local challenges? If we can find ways of answering this, we shall have discovered an Anglicanism in which prayerful consultation is routine and accepted and understood as part of what is entailed in belonging to a fellowship that is more than local. The entire Church is present in every local church assembled around the Lord's table. Yet the local church alone is never the entire Church. We are called to see this not as a circle to be squared but as an invitation to be more and more lovingly engaged with each other. . .

Read it all. If only his vision could be, but the problem is, as I see it, that trust was broken a long time ago, with the actions of former Presiding Bishop Griswold, etc. So you have the issue of no discipline (think of heresy trials in ECUSA that went nowhere) coupled with dishonesty and untrustworthiness, and how can you fit the idea of a covenant or agreement in there? ECUSA at the national level cannot be trusted to keep her word, and so much stems from that fact.

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