My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I am writing to you in anticipation of the publication of the report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, scheduled for release on October 18, 2004.
As I mentioned at our Clergy Day last month, it is important for us as pastoral leaders to help our people to understand the purpose of the Commission and the context of this report. The Lambeth Commission on Communion was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in October of 2003 to make recommendations on how to maintain the highest degree of communion possible in circumstances where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion. The report and its recommendations will not address issues of human sexuality, but the circumstances and conditions and means by which Anglican Provinces may maintain communion with one another.
It will be helpful to remember that there are four instruments of Anglican unity:
- the Archbishop of Canterbury
- the Primates' Meeting
- the Anglican Consultative Council, and
- the Lambeth Conference.
The report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion will be discussed by three of these four over the next nine months. Thereport will first be presented to the Archbishop and the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in London on October 18-21. The Primates' Meeting will consider the report in Newcastle, County Down, in Northern Ireland, February 20-26, 2005. And the Anglican Consultative Council will discuss the report at their meeting in Nottingham, England, June 18-29, 2005. The Lambeth Conference of bishops is not scheduled to meet again until 2008.
I hope it will be clear from this schedule that October 18th marks the beginning of a long process of discussion of the report. This report will initiate new levels of discussion of the nature of communion. It will require discipline and humility and patience and respect for one another as we engage in this process of reception.
I do not know what the report will contain. I do know that I will receive the report with humility and hope, as a gift from representatives of our Anglican Communion that will help us all to listen to members of this worldwide family. I am in full accord with the word from our House of Bishops, who wrote last week at the conclusion of our gathering in Spokane, Washington, 'We are committed to a gracious reception of the report in a spirit of humility and to a willingness to learn how we might best be faithful and responsible partners in the Anglican Communion.' We will gather in Salt Lake City, January 12-13, 2005, to discuss the report.
On October 18th we can anticipate that our Presiding Bishop and Primate will have a statement on the report. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church will consider the report at its meeting in November.
I am asking that the clergy and congregations of the Diocese of New Jersey all give consideration to the full report as well as the recommendations of the Lambeth Commission on Communion. We will, no doubt, be hearing quite a lot about the report over the next nine months and beyond. We can participate in our local congregations and convocations as we gather to reflect on the findings and recommendations, with patience, graciousness, and respect. Let us see this report as a gift to strengthen our unity, and not an instrument to threaten or exclude one another.
The report matters because our partners in the Anglican Communion matter to us. As Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, has written,
It [the Anglican Communion] 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.
In my first year as the Bishop of New Jersey, I have tried to be faithful in caring for all the churches, clergy and people of our Diocese. With God''s help, I will continue to honor and to uphold the presence and ministries of gay and lesbian clergy and lay members of this Church. And I will continue to honor and uphold the ministries of those clergy and lay members who differ from me on these matters. All of us are deeply loved by the One whom we all call Lord, who commands us to love one another as he loves us (John 15:12). In this, and in all our challenges, may we have the grace to honor one another as gifts to be cherished and nourished, for Jesus' sake.
The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell
Bishop of New Jersey