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Anglican leaders respond to Williams' reflections on Communion

By Matthew Davies
[Episcopal News Service]  Recent reflections from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, on the Anglican Communion have prompted several responses from Anglican leaders worldwide.

In "The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today: A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion," Williams questions whether the global church is in crisis, addresses decision-making in local contexts, assesses the definition and meaning of truth and unity, explores Anglican identity, and considers future directions for the worldwide church, including the development of an Anglican covenant.

Read full text of Williams' reflections

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said in a June 28 statement that he is "greatly encouraged" by Williams' "timely call to the provinces of the Anglican Communion to join together in exploring our Anglican identity," and affirmed his support for the development of an Anglican covenant "capable of expressing that identity amidst the complexities of the world in which we live."

Acknowledging that "the conclusion of this lengthy process is now unknown," Griswold said it is misleading that some people, "in responding to the Archbishop's lengthy theological reflection, have focused their attention on speculations about a yet-to-be determined outcome."

"As we enter into that process of discernment, we must never forget that God can always surprise us, and that the church is not our possession but is an instrument of God's reconciling love in the world," he said.

Read Griswold's response

Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori said June 28 in a statement (full text follows here): "I am grateful for the Archbishop’s exposition on the complexity of the current situation and the length of time this process of conversation is likely to require. I value the Archbishop’s utter clarity about his own role as that of convening and inviting into conversation, rather than intervening in the affairs of other dioceses of provinces, even when invited to do so. We members of the Anglican Communion are again being challenged to grow up into the full stature of Christ. May God bless the journey."
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town expressed gratitude to Williams "for his lengthy and careful reflection on being an Anglican today," although the churches of the Anglican Communion need to be tolerant of difference, he said.

"[The] constant talk of schism from various quarters does not address the heart of the matter which is living with difference and otherness," he said. "It is our nature as human beings to be diverse and therefore the modern world requires the church to deal with diversity."

Ndungane bemoaned the lack of appreciation for the governing structures of the Anglican Communion and upheld the importance of autonomous provinces making their own decisions.

"The Episcopal Church in the USA is one of the most democratic of our autonomous provinces," he said. "The Diocese of New Hampshire elected Bishop Gene Robinson democratically, according to their constitution and canons. The same can be said of the recent election of the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

"Those elections were not illegitimate within the rules of the American church which is an orderly church -- as is our church in Southern Africa. There was a clear majority in favor of both candidates."

Australia's Anglican Archbishops described Williams' reflections as "an insightful reading of issues facing us" and a "recognition of where we are, at present, internationally" but admitted that the Anglican Church of Australia is "not at the same point."

"While the Canterbury document is a way to get the international church talking, it isn't a list of instant solutions or demands, nor are the ideas floated new," said the Anglican Primate of Australia, Dr. Phillip Aspinall. "...Williams' document reflects discussions that have occurred over some years within the international church."

Aspinall recognized that developing an Anglican Covenant may be an important step toward reinforcing the principles of Anglicanism.

"When something serious happens that impacts on how members of a family get along, it is important take a fresh look at who we are and what's important to us, including how we get on with each other and how we live together despite differences," he said. "An Anglican Covenant that reinforces who we are and which agrees on the basic norms we expect members of the Anglican family to live by might be something that could work worldwide."

The issues concerning the Anglican Communion are "part of a long journey, which is worth it because the Anglican faith is worth it," Aspinall added. "The Australian Church has never shied away from the real difficulties caused by the sometimes great differences in certain parts of the Anglican Communion."

Sydney's Archbishop, Dr. Peter Jensen, one of Australia's leading Anglican conservative voices, described Williams' reflections as "a turning point."

Williams has provided "a great service" to the Anglican Communion by recognizing that "a separation within the Communion is inevitable," he said.

While Jensen believes that "local problems should be solved locally where possible," he said that Williams' reflections give hope to conservatives because they recognize that "this is a Bible matter."

"The presenting issue may be human sexuality but the real issue remains the word of God," said Jenson, who claims it is unlikely that the Australian Church could ever sign onto the sort of covenant that Williams recommends because of the nature of its constitution.

"It is unlikely that Australia would enter into a set of relationships that would compromise their independence," he said. "It is difficult to think of a covenant that different churches would buy into. We are used to our autonomy."

Archbishop Jensen's full response

Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, told Reuters that he thought Anglican churches should either be in or out of the family.

"Within the same Anglican family there are no boundaries. We are in communion," Reuters reported Akinola saying at a church conference in Abuja. "From my understanding of communion, it's either we are together in communion fully or we're not."

He told Reuters that he had not had time to read Williams' proposal and that it would be premature to reach any conclusion until work on the proposed covenant is completed.

"We in the global South are also working very hard to ensure that we craft the language of the covenant to be such that it would bind all of us together in the communion," he said.

In a statement titled "Ultimatum? What ultimatum?" Archbishops of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia welcomed the prospect of developing an Anglican covenant, saying that describing it as an "ultimatum" to the liberal wing of the church is a misrepresentation of Williams' reflections.

The 75th General Convention made "significant concessions to the worldwide communion, including an acknowledgment that it had "strained" the communion by its actions," said Archbishop David Moxon, one of the church's co-presiding bishops, noting that the decisions did not satisfy Biblical conservatives, especially in some parts of Africa.

Criticizing the English press, particularly The Times of London, as having "gone off on the wrong foot," Moxon said: "They're assuming what the covenant will say -- and that has yet to be shaped. Their assumptions are premature."

Moxon recognized that many liberals and conservatives trust William's scholarship and reason and that he will be a key player in the wording of the Anglican Covenant.

"Anglicanism has only ever survived because of the genius of the wording we've been able to gather around, with integrity and hospitality," he said. "Because the classic Anglican texts, including liturgical texts, are 'roomy'. We can say them, we can pray them, we can believe them -- but there is also room for a reasonable variety of Christian points of view.

"Anglican Christianity has tried to say that we want a large room, of unity in diversity, which is clearly and simply described, and a covenant can do that."

The full text of this statement