8 June 2010

Anglican Communion uncommunicating?

Archbishop Rowan Williams' Pentecost Letter to the Anglican Communion contains some sobering news. The Instruments of Communion (Anglican-speak for the four bodies that together govern our Church - the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates' Meetings, and the Lambeth Conferences) have suspended representation on ecumenical bodies from those Provinces that have broken the moratoria put in place after the Windsor Report.

I think I need to backtrack.

The Anglican Church is a strange beast: our Primates are all equal, including the Archbishop of Canterbury (he's known as prima inter pares, first among equals), and the Communion itself is "run" or "organised" by our Instruments of Communion - all of which are consultative bodies (with the exception of the Archbishop of Canterbury). We are in communion with each other and recognise each other's sacraments, priests, etc, although there are historic tensions between the more theologically conservative and liberal elements of the Communion (eg Southern Africa and America, for instance) - there are even tensions between the New Zealand Church and others because we ordain women and we have female bishops.

After the consecration of a bishop in an active same-sex relationship by the Episcopal Church of USA (Gene Robinson, New Hampshire), there was a bit of a stoush with some of the more conservative elements in the Anglican Communion. Archbishop Rowan asked for a report (the Windsor Report) into how we can maintain our union of provinces, and a listening or indaba process to ensure that each Province's reaction to the Report was properly heard as one of the recommendations was a Covenant for each Province to sign, which we've never had before. In 2004, the Instruments of Communion asked for three moratoria on all Provinces, which all Provinces agreed to:
  1. No authorisation of blessings services for same-sex unions
  2. No consecrations of bishops living in same-sex relationships
  3. No cross-border interventions (no bishop authorising any ministry within the diocese of another bishop without explicit permission).
A number of Provinces have now broken these moratoria, in the middle of the consultation process.  Archbishop Rowan and the ACC have now requested that those Provinces no longer represent the Communion in ecumenical dialogue, noting that when a Province 'declines to accept requests or advice from the consultative organs of the Communion, it is very hard to see how members of that province can be placed in position where they are required to represent the Communion as a whole. This affects both our ecumenical dialogues…and our faith-and-order related groups’.

Archbishop Rowan specifically states that no-one has been asked to leave the Communion, and that although the presenting issues might have been sexual in nature, they really only highlight differences that have been there for many many years between different Provinces. And he asked for us to pray for our Communion, that we will experience together a new Pentecost - a new way of looking at the world through the eyes of God's grace, love, and Spirit.

This nun is praying: for the Communion and Church I love, and for all the people who have been hurt. It's also an interesting issue finding peace for those who are in committed same-sex relationships and ensuring that their voice is heard and their hearts are healed in our church. How? I don't know. But I trust that God does.

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