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Presiding Bishop's Letter to Bishops on Lambeth Commission Report

ENS 091904-1
9/19/2004

Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate
  

 
[Episcopal News Service]  Following is full text of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's September 17 letter to all bishops of the Episcopal Church:


September 17, 2004

For the bishops

Dear brothers and sisters:

As you will recall, following the meeting of the primates last October the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a Commission charged with exploring how best the provinces of the Anglican Communion might live with the various differences that exist among us. A presenting reason for the Commission's appointment was the differences within the Communion on questions of sexuality in relationship to the biblical witness, and different perceptions of what constitutes faithfulness to what we have received.

The Commission, which has come to be called the Lambeth Commission, has now completed its work.  Their report will be released in London on October 18 in conjunction with a joint meeting of the Standing Committee of the Primates, of which I am a member, and the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council. At that time I will be in communication with you, and I will also make sure that you have whatever information you might need regarding the report, and if it seems fitting, to arrange for further steps for collegial reflection.

At this moment -- in the absence of clear information as to the contents of the report -- speculation and rumors abound. With this in mind I am writing to offer you some thoughts on how we might hold ourselves in ready patience to receive the fruit of the Commission's work.  

First of all, we need to keep in mind that the Commission, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and chaired by the Most Rev. Robin Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, was broadly representative of our Communion. When I and others met with the Commission last June we were deeply impressed by the care and thoughtfulness with which they put their questions. In short, as a body, they should be considered trustworthy, having as their concern the unity, faithfulness and wellbeing of the Communion in the service of God's mission.

Second, we need to be clear about what the mandate of the Commission has been. I have just read the presidential address which the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, gave earlier this week to his church's governing body. The Archbishop served as a member of the Lambeth Commission, and of the report he says the following. "It is not a report giving definitive answers to the issue of homosexuality in the church, as many people believe. The Commission was not charged with that task. Rather, the Commission was asked to find ways of keeping the Communion intact when some provinces had moved ahead on particular issues (and those issues did not necessarily have to be issues to do with human sexuality, although those were the presenting issues at present), which other provinces regarded as controversial and problematic. In short, how do we make decisions as a Communion? How do we govern our common life? What means do we have for either consultation or restraint?"

The Archbishop then goes on to ask why the Anglican Communion matters, and gives this response. "It matters because Communion is God's gift to us, and what God has given we should not, dare not spurn. God has given us in this Communion people who are very different from ourselves. They are however His gift to us, as we, hopefully, may be his gift to them. Gifts are means of grace and as such are to be cherished and nourished, not rejected and cast aside."

Regrounding ourselves in the knowledge that communion is a gift from God is another way of living in ready patience during these days. It is important for us in the Episcopal Church to remember that we are part of a reality larger than our own experience of what it is to be a church, and that the body of Christ embraces the whole world. There will always be the invitation to deepen and renew our understanding of the gospel and God's ways, which frequently exceed our immediate comprehension. In this way, the questions that will always arise in this world (and that have the potential to divide us) can be held open to the Holy Spirit who works through our struggles to teach us more deeply the truth and goodness of God.

I note here that these differences and strains are made more acute because of the current realities of globalization. In particular, communication is immediate and far-reaching. Whatever transpires in one place in some sense happens everywhere at once, and can have drastic and unintended consequences which place heavy burdens on brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

At the end of the day, whatever word the Lambeth Commission has to give to the Communion, I hope we will see in it an invitation to become more than what we have been. As the churches of the Anglican Communion live and proclaim the gospel -- in the midst of our different perspectives -- I believe we are all called to see how the circumstances of our lives invite us to become an authentic sign to a broken and divided world of Christ's power to reconcile in the force of his deathless love.

I also believe the essential question, and the ever present invitation, has to do with how we choose to live with one another as limbs and members of Christ's body, in all our singularity and difference, together revealing the fullness of the risen One. This does not come without a willingness to bear one another's burdens and to enter into one another's realities in all their unfamiliarity and complexity, which involves a very real cost on all sides.

At a meeting of the primates several years ago Professor David Ford of Cambridge University, who was guiding our theological reflections, observed that we are in the process of becoming a Communion, and that working through our present strains and differences was the way in which communion would be further revealed. Here it might be said that the Anglican Communion is in some sense a vision of who we might become rather than a fully defined ecclesial body. By God's grace, we discover through the Anglican Communion the ever deeper communion that Christ has won for us. In this regard I think of the words of 1 John "What we will be has yet to be revealed."

I look forward to our meeting in Spokane. Until then, we need to keep in our prayers our brothers and sisters who are and have been in the path of the terrible storms that have had such a devastating effect on several of our dioceses. 

Yours ever in Christ,

Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate