« Fr. Tony Clavier on the Virginia splits | Main | Anglican coffee talk »

The ABC writes the Primates

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written the Primates of the Anglican Communion with reflections on his recent travels in China and Rome and on the upcoming Primates' Meeting in Tanzania in February and Lambeth Conference in 2008. Jim Naughton has the text of the letter. Tobias Haller, whose observations are always thoughtful, articulate, and well-informed, and with whom I rarely seriously disagree, in this case sees very different things from what I see. Below is posted an excerpt (I'm cutting the salutation and whatnot) from my reply to his post on the subject to the email list for TEC deputies, bishops, and members of interim bodies, which says something of my take on the letter, and below the jump I'll post the text of the letter as Jim Naughton has it so you can see what I'm commenting on.

[The ABC, in his letter to the Primates] says that we're in a period of discernment regarding our relationships with one another as Provinces in the Anglican Communion, and that precipitous action that would compromise that process is, to put it mildly, extremely unhelpful. He will not exclude our Primate from the Primates' Meeting, and he says nothing (that I see, anyway) to the effect that he plans to exclude any duly consecrated bishops in the Anglican Communion from the Lambeth Conference -- just that he will be seeking advice from the Primates' Meeting, which is appropriate enough. We should all be listening to and seeking advice from one another as sisters and brothers in communion who seek to cooperate in God's mission. I note also that the ABC says he is seeking advice from the Primates' Meeting on the matter of Lambeth invitations, which is a far cry from saying that he will be proposing a vote, or feels bound by one on the subject. As for inviting others from TEC to make a presentation to the Primates prior to the usual business of the meeting, I'm generally in favor of people listening to one another in face-to-face encounters, and the terms we've heard thus far about this proposed listening session (and the letter did say that the idea is still being worked out, so the terms are far from final) suggest that it in no way implies that our Primate is anything other than a full and equal member of the Meeting, much as TEC is a full member (and given the metaphor of the body implicit here, I don't know what a "partial" or "associate" member would be, and I'm guessing that the ABC, with his catholic sensibilities, doesn't either) of the Anglican Communion and the Body of Christ. Furthermore, if representatives who have repeatedly appealed to the Primates' Meeting or some subset of its members are allowed to make their case in person before the meeting, they will not be able afterward to say that the process lacked the integrity for wont of that opportunity.

I do, of course, think that inviting only TEC bishops who do not wish to recognize their Presiding Bishop to contribute to that proposed listening session in Tanzania would give a very incomplete picture of what's going on in TEC. The Primates would do well to make sure others, like laity and clergy distressed by their diocesan bishop's insistence on the polarizing and costly (in all kinds of ways, but certainly financially) course of secession from TEC and its structures (structures, by the way, in which these bishops have had every opportunity to make their case in person to their colleagues, as well as to the laity and clergy in their diocese, and which they ought to have been using to ensure that they have listened deeply and respectfully to those who disagree with them). They would also do well to listen deeply and directly to the Bishop of New Hampshire, whom so many talk about without talking -- let alone listening -- to. I am encouraged to note that the ABC does not in his letter imply that the "other contributors" would all be secessionist bishops, but the number of "two or three" invitees does suggest that a great many of us of differing perspectives will have to rely on ++Katharine to speak for us.

Fortunately, our Presiding Bishop is not only a gifted communicator, but outstanding at deep listening even or especially in difficult perspectives and to those of perspectives very different from her own. My prayers will most certainly be with her, and with all gathering in Tanzania this February.

The text of the ABC's letter, as published by Jim Naughton:


During the last few weeks, I have been privileged to spend time first in China and then in Rome – two environments as different as could be, yet both giving abundant signs of the faithfulness of God to his people. The survival and growth of the Church in China is one of the great miracles of our time, and I know that several of you have witnessed something of this at first hand and are eager to find ways of supporting and assisting our brothers and sisters there. In Rome, I was able for the first time to visit the catacombs and to see there the evidence of the same faithfulness, as I looked at the ancient representations of costly witness painted on the walls – the images of the young men in the fiery furnace, Noah in the ark and the haunting and simple picture of the praying woman with hands raised, who is the symbol of the Church itself in its patient endurance. God is with us as he has promised, and in ways we cannot always see clearly. Also in Rome, I had the immense privilege of sharing in a celebration of the martyrdom in 2003 of our own Melanesian Brothers who gave their lives for reconciliation in a time of civil war. In persecution, conflict or obscurity, God is still present and powerfully active. In this Advent season, the great fact we are reminded of is that he is to be trusted in all things.

As Christmas approaches, preparations continue to be made for the Primates’ Meeting in February in Tanzania. A provisional outline of the programme is almost ready – but I am particularly glad that we shall have opportunity to celebrate in the cathedral in Zanzibar the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1806, another great sign of God’s faithfulness and of what can be achieved by Christ’s disciples when they resist the powers of this world.

This meeting will be, of course, an important and difficult and important encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist us in strengthening our unity as a Communion.

There are two points I wish to touch on briefly. The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear). I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.

This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ. However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organised.

The Episcopal Church is not in any way a monochrome body and we need to be aware of the full range of conviction within it. I am sure that other Primates, like myself, will welcome the clear declarations by several bishops and diocesan conventions (including those dioceses represented at the Camp Allen meeting earlier this year) of their unequivocal support for the process and recommendations of the Windsor Report. There is much to build upon here. There are many in TEC who are deeply concerned as to how they should secure their relationships with the rest of the Communion; I hope we can listen patiently to these anxieties.

My second point is to underline the importance of planning constructively for Lambeth 08. If we become entirely paralysed by our continuing struggles to resolve the challenges posed by decisions in North America, we shall lose a major opportunity for strengthening our common life. The recent St Augustine’s seminar which considered the Lambeth agenda was agreed by all to have been an outstandingly positive week, which has laid out a programme I believe to be worthy of our hopes for the Conference, and which was wholeheartedly owned and approved by people from very different regions and points of view within the seminar group. I do not want to lose that energy. I want to see it channelled properly into projects for better equipping ourselves as bishops and all our pastors and teachers, and into the work we all agree we must do in response to the crying needs created by poverty and violence in our world.

The question of invitations to Lambeth has been raised several times, in relation to the status of TEC, and indeed other Provinces. I shall seek the advice of the meeting on this. I am aware that decisions must be made soon, and I mention it primarily to alert you to the issues that lie ahead and to commend all this to your prayers over the coming season. But it illustrates the point I have made recently to the St Augustine’s Seminar and other groups: at the moment, we urgently need to create a climate of greater trust within the Communion, and to reinforce institutions and conventions that will serve that general climate in a global way.

During my visit to the Pope in November, it was very clear that our ecumenical partners are looking to us not only to strengthen our bonds of ecclesial community and the coherence of our Christian witness, but also to show a hopeful and Christian spirit in resolving our current problems. Our partners are praying very intensely for us in this task, and their prayer deepens my own sense of resolve, as I am sure it will yours.
I should also mention that I have accepted the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee that the Archbishop of York should be invited to the forthcoming meeting, so that there is a distinction between the two roles of speaking for the Church of England and chairing and moderating the meeting overall.

But finally, to end where I began, our reliance must be fundamentally upon God’s faithfulness. Whatever lies ahead, our God is the God who was present in the Roman catacombs with the martyrs and who has led his people in China through half a century of oppression and distress. Immanuel, God-with-us in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is our sole hope and our life, today, tomorrow and for ever. May God help us to honour his inexpressible gift by our faithfulness, forbearance and mutual love.

With every blessing for the Christmas season and the New Year.


December 23, 2006 | Permalink


Thanks for the alternative view, Dylan. I don't think we are actually all that far apart on this and I was offering a kind of "worst case" reading.

On the other side (being a perennial optimist!) I think it would do us well to consider the Archbishop's apparent unwillingness to "expel" anyone from the Anglican Communion. His own words aside, the WR appears to emphasize "choosing to walk apart" -- and even its strongest language of "last resort" refers to "withdrawal from membership" (not "expulsion from membership"); and the Covenant development process suggested that those who might wish not to sign on might accept a secondary status -- for themselves.

The Archbishop seems to be setting the stage for people to choose to "walk apart." I recall he was reported to have been dismayed at the Primates who chose not to share in Communion with ++Griswold. He has said the evolution of the CANA effort from a cultural network into a missionary "jursidiction" is "unhelpful." By deciding not to withhold an invitation for the Primate of the Episcopal Church, he appears to be setting up an opportunity for people to choose to remain together, or choose to step away.

I could, of course, be mistaken in this reading, but I'm looking at his past actions and trying to find the consistent line in his behavior. All in all, it makes, I think, for a much more optimistic picture from my point of view.

Posted by: Tobias Haller | Dec 25, 2006 3:44:52 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.