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Primates engage in 'intense listening,' discuss Windsor response

By Matthew Davies
2/15/2007

ACNS Rosenthal photo.

The Primates meeting in Tanzania welcomed 3 USA Bishops to share their views on the current state of affairs in the Episcopal Church. From left to right, Bishop Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, Bishop Christopher Epting, New York, Presiding Bishop and Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana.

   (ACNS Rosenthal photo.)

 
[Episcopal News Service]  Intense listening, characterized by an expression of "patience, graciousness, care and respect" was the atmosphere in which the Primates gathered February 15, said Australia's Archbishop Phillip Aspinall during a media briefing following the conclusion of their first day of sessions.

"There has been no talk of schism in the meeting at all," he said.

After considering a report from the Communion sub-group that was charged with monitoring the response of the Episcopal Church's General Convention to the Windsor Report, the Primates -- who saw the report for the first time today -- concluded that a working group be established to document the day's discussions and report back to them on the morning of February 16.

[Full report is available here.]

In its report, the sub-group reached consensus that although the Episcopal Church did not use the precise language of the Windsor Report, which called for a "moratorium" on the election of gay bishops and consent to those votes, "it probably did the most that could have been done, and the response to that request is adequate," said Aspinall, who was joined at the briefing by Archbishop John Chew of Southeast Asia.

The General Convention resolution, adopted in 2006, calls the Church to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

Regarding public rites for the blessing of same-gender unions, the sub-group said it was not satisfied by General Convention's response. "It is not convinced about the rationale of why General Convention did not act explicitly," Aspinall said.

The Windsor Report also called on the Episcopal Church to express regret for the pain it had caused by its recent actions. "Again the General Convention didn't use the precise language of the Windsor Report," Aspinall said, but noted that the sub-group felt the response of the Episcopal Church had been sufficient.

The sub-group added that the issue of same-gender relationships "has been on the agenda of the Instruments of Communion of the Anglican Communion since 1978."

The members of the sub-group were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams; Archbishop Bernard Malango of Central Africa; Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales; Chancellor Philippa Amable from the Province of West Africa; Canon Elizabeth Paver of the Church of England; and the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

In addition to their morning Bible study, the Primates gathered at midday for a liturgy of "corporate penitence," with a litany of prayer led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Aspinall said the Primates welcomed three bishops who, along with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, each gave presentations about their perception and understanding of the situation in the Episcopal Church.

Invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the three were Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's ecumenical and interfaith officer; Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network of Dioceses and Parishes; and Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana, chair of the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice.

Aspinall announced that the three bishops, as well as all the Primates, had been asked not to comment on the meeting until after its conclusion February 19.

"Contrasting views and concerns were expressed about how the majority relates to those who hold minority views," Aspinall said. "Each delegate explained the people they represented and their constituencies, and expressed frankly and passionately the views of those they represent."

The presentations were followed by an hour of discussion during which "the Primates were able to clarify what they thought and explore the way in which they might create a space for healing and reconciliation within the Episcopal Church," said Aspinall. He noted that the three bishops and Jefferts Schori are looking to the Primates to assist the Episcopal Church in this process, but said it was understood that the real work would need to be done by the Episcopal Church. Discussion of those specifics still remains on the Primates' agenda.

It was recognized that "unwanted and uninvited intervention" from other parts of the Anglican Communion -- such as the crossing of Provincial or diocesan boundaries, as criticized by the Windsor Report -- has caused difficulties in the Episcopal Church.

In this regard, the sub-group expressed concern that "the other recommendations of the Windsor Report, addressed to other parts of the Communion, appear to have been ignored so far."

Aspinall said that the Primates were reminded "to remember people in parishes and local clergy who are feeling pain and the sense in the church that enough is enough."

"One Primate from another province spoke of his experience in dealing with conflict with Anglican bodies and the attempts at healing and noted the assistance that province was given by the instruments of communion," Aspinall said, acknowledging that there is a sense of anticipation that the proposed Anglican Covenant will provide a vehicle for healing and reconciliation.

The Covenant was proposed by the Windsor Report in order to give explicit articulation and recognition to the principles of co-operation and interdependence which hold the Anglican Communion together

Aspinall reiterated that it had been a day of "intense listening," and that no decisions had yet been made. "The task is now to discern the response [the Primates] wish to make collectively to the report as well as to the Episcopal Church."

Chew, one of the self-named 'Global South' Primates, underscored the importance of the Windsor Process. "What is in the Windsor Report is what is required of us," he said.

Aspinall concluded the briefing with a message of hope "that the Primates will strengthen the Anglican Communion and the bonds of affection and assist the Anglican Church to move forward in mission. I hope that is a message of hope, not only for Anglicans here but throughout the Communion."

When the Primates reconvene on February 16, they are expected to continue discussions about the Episcopal Church and its Windsor Report response, as well as receive presentations on the Panel of Reference -- which considers situations where congregations are in serious dispute with their bishop and unwilling to accept his or her episcopal ministry -- and the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Subsequent sessions will be devoted to an interim report on the Listening Process, a proposal for an in-depth study of the way Anglicans interpret the Bible, and discussions about the future of the Church in China and its relationship with the Anglican Communion. Discussion of Anglicans' response to the Millennium Development Goals is scheduled for February 17.