My brothers and sisters in Christ,
As many of you know, the Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered last week in
Northern Ireland and issued a communiqué that outlines their response to the Windsor Report. Contrary to some news reports, the communiqué did not kick the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) and the Anglican Church of Canada out of the Anglican Communion. On the contrary, the communiqué clearly stresses the desire to maintain the unity of the church and the Anglican Communion.
A report from the Episcopal News Service succinctly captures the essence of the communiqué:
It requests the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "voluntarily withdraw" their representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. A note about the Anglican Consultative Council: It is one of four instruments of unity that serve the Anglican Communion. The ACC meets about every three years and includes laity, bishops, priests and deacons. It is the Communion’s main legislative body. The other instruments of unity are: The Lambeth Conference (meets every 10 years, for bishops); the Primates Meetings (regular meetings for the senior archbishops and bishops of the 38 Provinces); and the Archbishop of Canterbury in his international role as primus inter pares.
- It reaffirmed the importance of the autonomy of Provinces and of our interdependence.
- It committed the primates to the pastoral support and care of homosexuals. Furthermore the primates wrote, “The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.” At the same time, the communiqué asked “our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage.”
- It also committed the primates to a promise “neither to encourage nor to initiate cross boundary interventions,” calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a panel
that could supervise the “adequacy of pastoral provisions” for those in theological dispute with their bishop or province.
- I am encouraged by this faithful, prayerful journey of discernment and the widespread commitment to unity. I am thankful for the leadership of Bishop Price in this dialogue as he was the only U.S. bishop asked to serve on the Windsor Report Reception Reference Group, a group that gathered responses about the report from around the world.
The next step in the process occurs in March during the regular meeting of the U.S. House of Bishops. In June, the Anglican Consultative Council will receive the Windsor Report and the Primates' communiqué. The primates have encouraged the Council to organize a hearing with representatives from the U.S. and Canada.
A full response by the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) to the communiqué and the Windsor Report cannot be made until General Convention, which meets in Columbus in 2006.
I think it is important to note that drafting the communiqué was only part of the agenda for the primates. They also discussed the tsunami relief work in South East Asia and the ministry of African churches among people living with HIV/AIDS. As we reflect and determine the nature of the Anglican Communion, we must not lose sight of the ministry and mission of the church to look beyond our doors and help those in need.
We are blessed in our diocese to have remained focused on the ministry and mission of the church. Earlier this month, more than 120 lay leaders and clergy gathered for the annual Bishops, Vestry and Mission Council at the Procter Camp & Conference Center. We spent the morning talking about the Windsor Report and the unity of the church. That afternoon, we offered four workshops. I was heartened that 50 people attended a workshop on evangelism. Another 60 or so divided their time between exploring communication and youth ministry. I think it is significant that the diocese’s leaders wanted to talk about and learn new ways of ministry. I am proud of you, and I am honored to be your bishop.
I have heard some people say that the future of the Church is at risk. My brothers and sisters, the future is God’s. In the midst of these discussions, someone wrote, “We don't have to save the Church. It's not ours to save. Jesus has already done that.”
Our job is to minister to the sick, to feed the hungry. We are called to share the word of Christ to those in a broken, needy world. We must be a witness to the world of the church moving forward in unity for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Herbert Thompson Jr.
Bishop Southern Ohio