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Episcopal groups react to Primates' communiqué

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  Organizations representing part of the spectrum of Episcopal and Anglican opinion have already made statements about the communiqué that was issued late February 19 following the meeting of Anglican Primates in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The full text of the Primates' communiqué is available here.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's statement to the Church is available here and an audio interview with her from London as she returned from Tanzania is available here.

An ENS story with initial comments from Jefferts Schori is available here.

Among the groups that have issued statements are Integrity, Inclusive Church, the combined groups of Inclusive Church, Changing Attitude England and Changing Attitude Nigeria; and Via Media USA.

A February 20 headline on the homepage of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, an organization opposed to many of the Episcopal Church’s decisions, "expresses gratitude for the primates' work."

"The Network's specific response will be released in the days ahead," the item says.

The Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, told reporters in Tanzania that he would issue a statement by February 23.

The Anglican Communion Institute, an organization pledged to "a clear reawakening of 'dynamic orthodoxy'" and critical of both Jefferts Schori and her predecessor, has not yet issued a statement. Its website contains a November 2006 proposal for an "interim arrangement while awaiting a conciliar communion covenant."

Giles Goddard, the chair of the executive committee of Inclusive Church, a United Kingdom organization, posted a statement here.

He acknowledged the complexity of the issues that faced the Primates and the compromises made on all sides. He wrote that the cost of discipleship is sometimes high.

"The cost demanded of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is immense, and has been for generations," Goddard wrote. "The continuing failure of the Communion to address the pastoral needs and receive the ministerial gifts and insights of the whole community is part of that cost."

He said that a cost is also incurred because "the continuing arguments are damaging the Church's mission and undermining the Gospel" and he asked why parts of the church are "so obsessed by the single issue of homosexuality."

Goddard wrote that the Episcopal Church is being used as a scapegoat in the Communion's life. The demand for the Episcopal Church not to authorize same-gender blessings, he wrote, "ignores the reality that across the Church of England such blessings are happening right across the country as parish priests respond to the pastoral needs of their community."

He said that his organization does not want to see anyone "driven from the church" and would therefore commit "to continue the process of dialogue and relationship to which the Primates have called us."

Inclusive Church joined with Changing Attitude England and Changing Attitude Nigeria in issuing a longer statement on February 19 which called, in part, for honesty.

Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998, which the communiqué called "the standard of teaching" on sexuality, also calls for bishops to listen to the experience of homosexual people. The three groups said that "the bishops who drafted the original version of the Resolution refused to meet us and hear our testimony."

"It is not possible for us to be bound by teaching drafted by a largely male, heterosexual body of bishops," the statement said. "The Anglican Communion can never come to an integrated teaching on human sexuality until it has listened with open mind and heart to our experience and Christian testimony."

The statement said the same-gender blessings are being performed in other Anglican provinces.

"The Episcopal Church is not alone in having many faithful lesbian and gay couples who seek God's blessing on their relationship. We know that in England, the USA and Canada as well as other Provinces, priests will continue to find ways to bless such relationships," the statement said. "If the church can condone the blessing of so many inanimate objects, it is surely right to bless the love of two people of the same gender. We pray for the day when the church can support the authorisation of same-sex blessings."

The complete statement is available here.

Integrity, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] Episcopalians and their allies, said February 20 that the Primates "chose bigotry over baptism."

"The primates of the Anglican Communion have utterly failed to recognize the faith, relationships, and vocations of the gay and lesbian baptized," said Integrity President Susan Russell.

Noting that most of the Primates had attended a February 18 Eucharist at Zanzibar's Anglican cathedral, built over a former slave-trading market, during which they expressed regret for the slave trade, Russell said, "Let us pray it doesn't take another hundred years for yet-unborn primates to gather for a service of repentance for what the church has done to its gay and lesbian members today, as they repented in Zanzibar yesterday for what it did to those the church failed to embrace as full members of the Body of Christ."

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, immediate past president of Integrity, said in the statement that "if the House of Bishops (or any other body with actual authority in this church) capitulates to these demands and sacrifices gay and lesbian people to the idol of the Instruments of Unity, it will have become the purveyor of an 'anti-Gospel' that will (and should) repel many."

Integrity encouraged people to contact their bishops to urge them to "reject the demands of the primates" and added that Integrity’s leadership would seek an immediate meeting with Jefferts Schori "to express our deep concerns and encourage the Executive Council to insist on the inclusion of all orders of ministry in the ongoing process of discernment on Anglican Communion issues."

The full text of the statement is available here.

Christopher Wilkins, the facilitator of Wilkins, the facilitator of Via Media USA, issued a statement early on February 20. Via Media USA is an alliance of Episcopal laity and clergy formed in 2004 to offer a counterpoint to efforts to "realign" the Episcopal Church along more conservative lines.

Wilkins wrote that he read the communiqué knowing that all who minister in the Church "do so best when doing so together, mindful of our differences and in the light of the Christ we share."

"It is no easy task to care spiritually for millions of people in a wide range of cultures and societies as they seek to follow the paths on which God has set them," he wrote. "Success with this task helps our communities of faith abide in the fullness of God's abundant love. Failure with it leaves our communities showing signs of wear, fracture, and decay, making that love seem elusive."

Wilkins wrote that the communiqué and its schedule of recommendations ought to be judged on that score and that this reflection in the Episcopal Church will take time.

"Some of us will find these documents to be a balm. Some of us will find in them the taste of wormwood," he wrote.

But, he added, Anglicans share a global tradition that many value and so they must asked how the recommendations and plans set forth by the Primates could make for "healthier, more stable and more loving communities of faith" and how they might make the ministries of those communities more difficult.

Wilkins' statement reminded readers that everyone in the Episcopal Church must minister both to those "who feel most at odds" with the Church because of its decisions in 2003 and 2006, and "those whom they themselves have made to suffer."

The statement is due to be posted on Via Media USA's website.

Joan Gundersen, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), said in a February 20 email to ENS that her organization would issue news release February 21. PEP, a Via Media USA affiliate, opposes Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan’s efforts to sever certain ties with the governance of the Episcopal Church and have a relationship with an Anglican primate other that Jefferts Schori.

In her email, Gundersen said that she was pleased that the Primates appeared concerned about "supporting the institutional integrity" of the Episcopal Church.

"Their recommendations for a way forward, however, are not a good match with the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church," she said. "They have given inadequate consideration to the fact that those who have encouraged withdrawal from the institutional structures of the Episcopal Church have caused deep pain which will require healing."

Gundersen said the primatial vicar scheme gives little attention to people who "fervently want to be fully participating in the institutional structures of the Episcopal Church" but are in dioceses which do not.