Lambeth Conference and its (non) follow up – George Conger

By George Conger,  Institute on Religion & Democracy

“The pieces are on the board” for the resolution of the Anglican conflict, Williams asserted. “And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages.”

However, as of October 16, eight weeks after the close of the conference, Dr. Williams has yet to contact the boycotting bishops to take part in the “next stages.”

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Dr. Williams acknowledged at the start of the conference, the communion was “in the middle of one of the most severe challenges,” but noted the “options before us are not irreparable schism or forced assimilation.” The way forward was through an Anglican Covenant – the pact proposed by the Windsor Report to help ensure unity in basic beliefs and mutual accountability among historically autonomous Anglican provinces.

A covenant would allow “an Anglicanism whose diversity is limited not by centralized control but by consent – consent based on a serious common assessment of the implications of local change.”

Conflict

The first open clash in the conference came on July 22, when the Episcopal Church of the Sudan released a statement calling for the Episcopal Church to repent and immediately cease its advocacy of gay bishops and blessings. Three Roman Catholic cardinals attending the conference then rained on Dr. Williams’ parade, offering progressively harsher assessments of the state of Anglicanism and its relations with Rome.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor urged Anglicans to put their house in order, and decide what they believe. “If Anglicans themselves disagree” over contentious issues like women priests “and find yourselves unable fully to recognize each other’s ministry, how could we?”

Dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics now appeared pointless due to the ecclesiological anarchy spreading across the communion. “If we are to make progress through dialogue, we must be able to reach a solemn and binding agreement with our dialogue partners. And we want to see a deepening, not a lessening, of communion in their own ecclesial life,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said.

The Russian Orthodox Church was blunt. Women or homosexual bishops would exclude “even the theoretical possibility of the Orthodox churches acknowledging the apostolic succession” of Anglican bishops, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna told Dr. Williams on July 28.

In its closing week, the conference turned to a discussion of the Anglican Covenant.  Liberal bishops objected to the creation of a mechanism that would impose constraints upon theological and liturgical experimentation, while conservatives expressed fears a covenant would be too little, too late.

A second committee called the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), created by Dr. Williams earlier this year, briefed the bishops on recommendations for repairing the broken fellowship between the U.S. Church and a dozen churches from the developing world.

The WCG called for maintenance on the ban on gay bishops and blessings and for the creation of a “Pastoral Forum” tasked with responding to future conflicts within the communion. However, in the case of both the Covenant and the WCG, the bishops at Lambeth were only briefed on the work of the committees; they were not given the authority to develop the relevant documents.

On August 3, the conference released a closing statement that noted the broad desire for a “season of gracious restraint” marked by abstentions from the consecration and blessing of partnered homosexuals, and foreign incursions into the jurisdictions of the North American provinces.

Written as a “Reflections” paper, the 42-page statement was described as a “narrative” of the meeting, and attempted to summarize the bishops’ discussions. It was not a consensus document or a position paper. The bishops were asked not whether they agreed with the document, but “whether they could see their voices” amidst the various reflections it contains.

Looking Forward

In the closing press conference, Dr. Williams said Lambeth had proven that the bishops could speak to each other respectfully and prayerfully, and had a “strong commitment to remain unified.”

Read the full article here.

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