This week's meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion has been one of the hardest I have ever attended.
The gathering of church leaders from round the world was dominated by discussion of the Windsor Report. This assessed the nature of the relationships between Anglicans, and between the Provinces which make up our global church, and our ability to respond when major differences arise between us. This, of course, has been the situation since the Episcopal Church of the USA consecrated a Bishop in a long term relationship with another man, and since within the American and Canadian Churches there has been the public blessing of same-sex unions.
At the beginning of the meeting, I was dismayed to have the impression that many colleagues had come with their minds made up. Positions were entrenched - and irreconcilable.
But we serve a Lord who is the God of reconciliation. As we wrestled together, he was able to lead us in constructive ways that will help us deal together with our differences. We were able to hear that though many came with firm views, nonetheless there was also a commitment to continue walking together. Recognising that we were not trying to reconcile the irreconcilable gave us confidence to find a way forward we could share. The way ahead will not be easy, but we can rely on God to continue guiding our path, as we depend on him.
The Windsor Report has proved to be a rich and powerful resource for deepening our understanding of what it means to be Anglican. It prompted us to engage deeply with questions of interdependence - recognising both the autonomy of each Province for the governance of its own affairs, and the accompanying obligations nonetheless to act in ways that are sensitive to our brothers and sisters throughout the worldwide Communion.
There is still much we can learn from the Report, and I strongly commend its serious study to all who wish to engage more deeply with these issues.
Now we are asking the American and Canadian Anglican Churches to withdraw their members from the forthcoming meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council - a large body in which bishops, clergy and laity from around the world join in debate. Yet we are also asking that meeting to make the opportunity for representatives of those churches to speak about the decisions they have taken, and the reasons, including the theological reasons, behind them.
As our meeting demonstrated, listening carefully to one another is vital if we are to building on the foundations we have been able to lay. There also needs to be more listening by the church generally to the experiences of gay and lesbian Christians. The 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution among other things called on us all to follow a thorough process of listening and studying, and in many places this has not been done, or not done adequately.
I am glad that the communiqué from our Primates' Meeting condemned the victimisation and ostracising of those with homosexual orientation. Too often that has been their experience within the church, and I am very concerned at the sub-text of hatred that exists within Anglicanism, for example in some of the responses to the Windsor Report.
I admit that I am dismayed whenever I hear language that seeks to make distinctions among human beings or discriminates on the basis of things over which we have no control - such as race, colour, gender, or sexual orientation. These are, so to speak, accidents of birth. They are gifts of our created nature, and all of us are worthy of the dignity that comes with being created in the image of God.
Because of just such an 'accident', I personally experienced prejudice, exclusion and injustice for over two thirds of my life. The principle of non-discrimination runs strongly in my veins - and indeed, I was imprisoned on Robben Island because of my fundamental belief in the intrinsic worth of every human individual, every child of God.
No, discrimination on grounds like these is wrong. Reconciliation and healing of relationships is the only way forward. That is the experience of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, which lived through the fullness of the apartheid atrocities, and yet found a way forward into freedom, reconciliation and new life together.
Let me be clear about what we have agreed to do. We have not expelled the churches of America and Canada. Nor have they been placed in some sort of limbo, as some press reports suggested. There are no legal provisions for any such actions.
The door to the Americans and Canadians is not shut. We have recognised that this is a deep and complex issue for them, which they must pursue and consider through their own proper constitutional processes. Because of the depth of democratic consultation within these Provinces, we recognise that this may take even a year or two.
And this is right. Because one of the hallmarks of Anglicanism is that we are a synodical church. This means that our deliberations are not just for Bishops. Rather, we consult fully, engaging with clergy and people at every level, right down to the parishes. Bishops, clergy and laity together take council and make decisions. We must give the Americans and Canadians the space to do this, and support them with our prayers.
Considering this has led me to conclude that we need to act more synodically as a global Communion. Archbishops and Bishops meet from time to time, and the Anglican Consultative Council every three years. Yet I wonder whether our current disagreements would have arisen - or would have arisen with such bitterness - if our people knew one another better, and understood better the varied life of the church in this complex world of the twenty-first century.
Therefore, I believe there is an urgent and pressing need to convene a large and comprehensive 'Anglican Gathering' before the next meeting of the Lambeth Conference in 2008. We need to bring people together, to share their stories, and collectively explore what it means to be Anglicans today - with the rich tapestry of our varied experiences and our many differences, yet woven together in a common understanding of faith.
Those who read to the end of the communiqué will find that our meeting did not just discuss matters of human sexuality! I am glad to say that we also debated the scourge of HIV/AIDS and the battle against poverty. We called on our whole Communion to lend its weight to the pursuance of the Millennium Development Goals, which are aimed at halving global poverty irrevocably by 2015. My prayer is that we will now be able to make such vital issues our top priorities.
The Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane
Archbishop of Capetown