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Primates endorse pastoral council, primatial vicar in closing communiqué
Presiding Bishop comments on actions; further reflection to follow

By Matthew Davies
2/19/2007
[Episcopal News Service]  The Primates of the Anglican Communion have called for the formation of a "Pastoral Council" that would work in cooperation with the Episcopal Church to negotiate the necessary structures to facilitate and encourage healing and reconciliation for those who feel unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or of the presiding bishop.

The request came in a communiqué issued at the close of their February 15-19 meeting near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during which the Primates devoted extended discussions to the response of the Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention to the Windsor Report, a document that recommends ways in which the Anglican Communion can maintain unity amid differing viewpoints.

The full text of the communiqué is available here

"It is clear that despite the subcommittee report, a number of the Primates were unhappy with General Convention's response, and clarification of that response is among the Primates' requests of the Episcopal Church," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, one of the Anglican Communion's 38 Primates, said after their meeting's final business session adjourned at 11 p.m. local time.

"There is awareness that these issues are of concern in many Provinces of the Communion, and that the Episcopal Church's charism is to continue to encourage the discussion," said Jefferts Schori, who will offer additional comment after further reflection and her nearly 20-hour journey back to New York.

Jefferts Schori said the Primates "have also acknowledged and supported" her November 2006 proposal to name a primatial vicar who would assume some pastoral duties at the Presiding Bishop's direction.

"The hope is that the proposed primatial vicar will provide enough relief on both sides that the property disputes can be resolved in a way that does not alienate property and allows congregations access," Jefferts Schori said.

She said the Pastoral Council has been requested "to provide accountability for the primatial vicar proposal, as well as for other Provinces that have intervened."

Overall, Jefferts Schori said the Primates' Meeting demonstrated "a positive sense of collegiality, especially in the Bible studies and among Provinces where these issues have been robustly discussed. In addition, a number of Provinces are engaged in the Listening Process, and that is positive."

The 11-page communiqué noted that, although the Episcopal Church has "taken seriously" its Windsor response, "at the heart of our tensions is the belief that the Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed relationship, and by permitting Rites of blessing same-sex unions."

During a news conference at the close of the Primates' Meeting, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that the response represented "a willingness to engage with the Communion ... Our first question is how do we best engage with that willingness, a stream of a desire to remain with the Communion?"

Meanwhile, the Primates have requested that the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops "make an unequivocal common covenant" that they will not authorize same-gender blessings within their dioceses and confirm that Resolution B033, passed at the 75th General Convention, means that a candidate for bishop who is living in a same-gender relationship "shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."

An answer from the House of Bishops is to be conveyed to the Primates by September 30, 2007.

"If the reassurances ... cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at the best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion," the communiqué says.

Williams recognized that a substantial group of bishops in the Episcopal Church -- almost one quarter -- have committed fully to the Windsor Report and to providing a carefully worked out procedure for pastoral oversight.

"So we needed to see if there is an interim situation while the covenant is being worked out," he said. "That will provide a way of moving forward with integrity, a system of pastoral care ... a way of beginning to negotiate through the very difficult situation of interventions of provinces in the life of the Episcopal Church. We had some very moving testimonies of those, but it can only remain a very temporary solution."

The Primates said that there remains a "lack of clarity" about the Episcopal Church's stance, particularly on the issue of same-gender blessings, and called for some clarification.

They also acknowledged that interventions by bishops and archbishops of some Provinces "have exacerbated ... estrangement between some of the faithful and the Episcopal Church that this has led to recrimination, hostility and even to disputes in civil courts."

According to the communiqué, Jefferts Schori reminded the Primates that some in the Episcopal Church "have lost trust in the Primates and bishops of certain ... Provinces because they fear that they are all too ready to undermine or subvert the polity of the Episcopal Church."

The Primates are urging "the representatives of the Episcopal Church and of those congregations in property disputes with it to suspend all actions in law arising in this situation," and have requested the assurance that "no steps will be taken to alienate property from the Episcopal Church without its consent or to deny the use of that property to those congregations."

"None of us agreed that litigation or counter litigation can be a proper way forward for a Christian body," Williams said.

The communiqué said that once the "scheme of pastoral care is recognized to be fully operational, the Primates undertake to end all interventions and that congregations or parishes in current arrangements "will negotiate their place within the structures of pastoral oversight."

"I'd like to put all this within the context of a Covenant process," Williams said. "It's a scheme ... of nurturing those in the Episcopal Church and clarifying its position."

Upholding the bonds of affection that unite the Communion, the Primates supported the establishment of an Anglican Covenant, noting that it "may lead to the trust required to re-establish our interdependent life." They recognized that an "interim response" is required "until the Covenant is secured."

The text of a proposed Anglican Covenant, intended to affirm the cooperative principles that bind the Anglican Communion, was also released at the end of the Primates' five-day meeting.

In other business, Jefferts Schori was elected to represent the Americas on the Primates' Standing Committee. Other members elected to serve on the Committee are Archbishops Phillip Aspinall of Australia; Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Barry Morgan of Wales; and Henry Orombi of Uganda.

The Primates Meeting -- of which Jefferts Schori is among 13 new members -- is one of global Anglicans' four "Instruments of Communion" together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Lambeth Conference.

Other international concerns addressed in the communiqué included the Millennium Development Goals; reports on the Panel of Reference, which considers situations where congregations are in serious dispute with their bishop, and the Listening Process, which strives to honor the process of mutual listening, particular to the experience of homosexual persons; a proposal for an in-depth worldwide study of the way Anglicans interpret the Bible; and theological education.

On Sunday, February 18, the Primates traveled by boat to Zanzibar for a Solemn Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral -- where the altar is built over an old slave trading post -- as the people of Zanzibar commemorated the 100th anniversary of the last slave sold on the island and the 200th anniversary of the end of slavery in the British Empire.

Jefferts Schori called the Zanzibar visit one of the meeting's "most significant" aspects.

Throughout the week, alternate meetings have been taking place between some of the "Global South" Primates and conservative Americans, including Bishop Martin Minns of the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), who have been strategizing together.

Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola, one of the Communion's leading critics of the Episcopal Church and its inclusive theology, absented himself from the visit to Zanzibar and met frequently with the CANA group.

Earlier in the week, seven "Global South" archbishops, including Akinola, refused to receive Holy Communion with their fellow Primates, alleging that they were "unable to come to the Holy Table with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding."

"Looking at the levels of human grief, terror and suffering around the world, it is difficult for people to have transforming views about the Anglican Communion when we have our own internal divisions," Williams said. "I do hope that people will bear the MDGs as the primary vision."

The Archbishop of Canterbury was joined at the meeting's February 19 closing news conference by Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Australia; Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies; Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi; and Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania.

"The Primates have needed to be patient with one another," Aspinall said. "They have listened to each other very carefully and expressed themselves with care. They have tried to accommodate one others' views as fully as possible. That slow, respectful process of communication does take time."

"The Communion we share is a Communion that covers the whole world," Ntahoturi said. "It has the wealth richness and diversity ... That diversity is a gift from God -- although we do not have the same views and background, we have the same vision."

Mtetemela, Primate of the 2.5-million-member Anglican Church of Tanzania, said it was an honor to be hosting the Primates. "It was an opportunity for our people to have this international leadership ministering to them," he said. "and an opportunity for me to expose the leadership of the Anglican Communion to my country."