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Lambeth Commission report will explore 'communion' uniting world's Anglicans

By Bob Williams
8/20/2004
[Episcopal News Service]  Bonds that unite the world's 77 million Anglicans -- including 2.3 million Episcopalians in the United States -- are at the heart of a study to be completed in September by an international commission appointed last year by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Ways in which these interrelationships -- or aspects of "communion" -- accommodate differences of opinion in faith and practice will be central to the commission's report, which was requested last October by the 38 primates who lead autonomous church provinces that span more than 160 nations and together form the Anglican Communion.

The cohesiveness of the Communion -- which is primarily determined by each province's direct relationship with the See of Canterbury, and not by degrees of impaired ties between provinces -- has been a point of concern for at least the past 30 years, from the time that women were first ordained as priests, through the past year's consecration of an openly gay priest as bishop in New Hampshire and blessings of same-sex unions, particularly in the United States and Canada.

During its upcoming final plenary meeting September 5-10 in Windsor, the 17-member Lambeth Commission on Communion -- named for the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and chaired at his appointment by Ireland's Archbishop Robert "Robin" Eames -- will conclude its process of reviewing hundreds of submissions solicited and received from around the world. [www.aco.org/ecumenical/commissions/lambeth/index.cfm]

The submissions will receive consideration if they address one of commission's five work themes: "issues of process in the Anglican Communion; the nature and purposes of communion; the obligations of community; authority; and the role of the instruments of unity in preserving fellowship."

"I'm confident that the level of work will enable the Commission to complete its work by the end of September," Eames said in a recent interview with Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS). In May he told ENS: "I'm very encouraged by its honesty, its openness. I don't want anyone to feel (his or her) voice is being unheard."

Eames, who is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, has been affirmed in his leadership of the commission, to which he brings 30 years' experience as a mediator of violence in Northern Ireland, and his work chairing a similar 1988 commission addressing the ordination of women as bishops [Commission on Communion and Women in the Episcopate, 1988].

Upon completion, the report is scheduled for presentation to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and to the Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting, whose members include Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Discussion is expected thereafter in England at the October 16-21 meeting of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council. The full Primates Meeting will then take up the report while convened February 21-26, 2005, in Newcastle, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Later, meeting in June 2005 in Nottingham, England, the 100-plus-member Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) will receive the report. As the Anglican Communion's sole representative body -- composed of bishops, clergy and lay people -- the ACC has the authority to act legislatively on the recommendations of the report.

The ACC is one of the Anglican Communion's four "instruments of unity," which also include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meeting, and the every-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. Serving each of these entities is the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon of Ireland will succeed the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson of the United States in that position when Peterson's term concludes December 31.

The Anglican Consultative Council has also been described as "the most comprehensive gathering of the Anglican Communion, representing the voice of the inner life of the provinces." The number of representatives serving on the ACC from each province depends on the number of Anglicans in that province. Each province can nominate one, two or three representatives accordingly.

When asked whether the commission's task should have been more focused on church teachings about sexuality rather than primarily on "how to maintain the highest degree of communion when confronted by divisive issues," Eames told ACNS: "The simple answer is that the Lambeth Commission was not asked to reconsider the teaching of Resolution 1.10 [www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_41254_ENG_HTM.htm] of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and so it is not at liberty to do so. The question of ministry by or to persons of homosexual orientation is not a matter which can be debated beyond the position adopted there, because the Primates made it clear in their statement last October that Resolution 1.10 remains the formally voiced teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue. It is part of the basis on which the Commission must come to its conclusions, and is not open to renegotiation by the Commission."

While affirming the lives of gay people with the church, Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference declared homosexual practice "incompatible with scripture." Although Lambeth Conference resolutions are frequently cited in the life of Anglicanism, church polity is such that the resolutions are in no way binding upon the 38 member provinces or national churches. 

The September 5-10 Windsor meeting of the Lambeth Commission on Communion will follow two previous meetings, the first held February 9-13 also in Windsor, and a second held June 14-18 at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

As Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Griswold, accompanied by a delegation, addressed the Commission meeting in Kanuga. "During our remarks and in our conversation and response to questions from the commission, we sought to give a full and accurate picture of the present state of our church and to dispel a number of misapprehensions," Griswold wrote in a statement sent to members of the national church's Executive Council.

"As presiding bishop of the whole church, it was important for me to make sure that I, along with my colleagues, sought honestly to represent the breadth of views and the depth of feeling that exists in different parts of our household," Griswold noted.

"At the same time, we sought to make clear that the overwhelming reality of the Episcopal Church is the diverse center in which differing views are held in tension because of our common desire to live together in the communion of the Holy Spirit, and to manifest Christ's reconciling love to our divided and broken world."

Joining Griswold in the delegation at Kanuga were Dean George Werner, president of the House of Deputies; Bishop Arthur Williams, former vice president of the House of Bishops; Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, president of the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice; David Beers, the Presiding Bishop's chancellor; and Barbara Braver, the Presiding Bishop's communications officer.

Commenting on who has been invited to speak to the Commission, Eames told ACNS: "We've actually sent out very few invitations; time for the Commission has been very limited, and what we have not been able to do is to respond positively to the many requests we have received for people to make representations in person.

"At our first meeting in Windsor, we invited four key theologians of international standing, who were at hand in England, to offer advice on the shape of the ecclesiological questions that we would be addressing; at our second meeting in Kanuga, we asked the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) to bring a team to speak to us about different perceptions of the situation within that province; and we asked the Rt. Rev. Bob Duncan (bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh) as a leading voice of opposition in the Episcopal Church, to make his views known in person also, as we needed to understand clearly the nature and direction of the work of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes."

Duncan is moderator of the Network, formed in January 2004, with which nine of the Episcopal Church's 112 dioceses have formally affiliated by actions of their diocesan conventions. Also active in each of those dioceses -- Albany (New York), Central Florida, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy (Illinois) Rio Grande, San Joaquin (California), Springfield (Illinois), and South Carolina  -- are the so-called "Via Media" groups that affirm each diocese's formal ties with the Episcopal Church and its policies, on-going ministries, and General Convention.