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Windsor Continuation Group proposals on homosexuality issues, interventions, get mixed reception

'Pastoral forum' proposed to offer 'advice and guidelines'

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) made a preliminary proposal July 28 to maintain Windsor Report-recommended bans on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.

The group's "preliminary observations," given to the bishops at a Lambeth Conference hearing, also call for the "swift formation" of a "pastoral forum" that would rapidly "engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the communion." The forum could "offer pastoral advice and guidelines in conflicted, confused and fragile situations" and "work alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury in the exercise of his ministry."

While the paper says that a continuation of the Windsor bans "refers to both future actions and is also retrospective," Archbishop Clive Handford, former primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East and chair of the continuation group, told a news briefing that "we are not anywhere intending to imply that Bishop Gene Robinson should resign as a result of what we have called for in our observations."

"We are aware that Bishop Gene Robinson was elected bishop according to the processes of the Episcopal Church," he said. "Whatever we may think about that, nonetheless that it had gone through the process."

The full paper, along with the group's first two Lambeth observations, is available here.

The group proposed that the pastoral forum also develop a plan to hold "in trust" alternative Anglican groups that have attempted to organize people who disagree with the Episcopal Church's stance on the issues involved in the moratoria so that they can prepare "for their reconciliation within their proper provinces." Handford told the briefing that such a "safe place" or "holding bay" would not take on new members over time. "It's meant to be a diminishing body," he said. Handford admitted that the group has "not worked out the property issues" that would be involved in such a plan.

The proposals Handford outlined are destined to come to the 14th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in May 2009 and he acknowledged that they could change many times before that meeting convenes.

The WCG proposed that the pastoral forum and the continuation of the moratoria called for in the Windsor Report -- and re-iterated at a 2005 ACC meeting and the most-recent Primates Meeting in February 2007 -- operate during the time "leading up to the establishment of [an Anglican] covenant." That statement presupposes the eventual approval by all 38 communion provinces of a document that is still in draft form. Still, the group said, "there are urgent issues which need addressing if we are going to be able to get to the point" where re-establishing trust within the communion is even possible.

The proposal also suggests that the pastoral forum might continue as part of the covenant "as a key mechanism to achieve reconciliation."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams would be the president of the forum and appoint a chair. Members of the forum must include members from the Instruments of Communion and be representative of the breadth of the life of the communion as a whole, the proposal said.

"Movement forward on this proposal must bear fruit quickly," the continuation group's paper said.
 
Bishops, others react to proposals
Reaction to the proposals was swift. "There is no willingness to give us a middle ground, to find the via media," Bishop Sergio Carranza, assistant bishop of Los Angeles, said in an interview. "They are blaming the Episcopal Church and the Canadian church for all the problems."

Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith, one of the day's Episcopal Church media briefers, said that the church will discuss the proposals over the next few days.

Speaking personally, he said he "would have liked to have seen something initially a little more positive and less punitive."

"Our time together has given me wonderful feelings about the communion, strengthened friendships around the world and I'd like to see us at the end of the conference come up with a common statement affirming what we stand for in a positive way and less a statement that if you don't accept certain things you can't be part of the group," he added.

Diocese of Pittsburgh Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven told ENS that if the pastoral forum "delivers what it promised and does what it says it's going to do, from our point of view, that would be very helpful."

At the diocese's annual convention the first weekend in October, delegates are expected to agree to make the diocese a member of the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

"Whether that is stoppable by this forum, I don't know, but it would at least address that issue, hopefully, and deal with whether we're deposed or not," Scriven said.

Diocese of Maine Bishop Coadjutor Steven Lane, sitting in a breezeway outside the hot, standing-room-only hearing room where bishops were discussing the proposals privately, said his initial reaction to the idea of a pastoral forum was to wonder why it would succeed when previous attempts at forming similar groups have failed. Those groups include the Windsor Report's call for a council of advice, an ACC recommendation for a panel of reference (which did operate for a time), and the Primates Meeting suggestion of a pastoral council.

Lane said he would rather see "groups with different perspectives with a church to work together inside that church to develop some kind of acceptable solution, whether interim or permanent."

"Too many people are walking away from the table or seeking other tables," he said.

Lane also decried the fact that the voices of gay and lesbian people were not being heard. If the proposals do in fact continue the current moratoria "then we continue to ask our gay and lesbian clergy and congregants to pay the price for this dispute in the Anglican Communion," he said.

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, issued a statement saying, in part, that "LGBT Anglicans are back on the chopping block based on the work of the Windsor Continuation Group."

Acknowledging the long-term nature of the Windsor Process, she added that "sadly, what was continued today was the process of institutionalizing bigotry and marginalizing the LGBT baptized. Acceptance of these recommendations would result in de facto sacramental apartheid."

Canadian Diocese of New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham told the hearing that the WCG proposal is "a non-starter where I live," "ignores reality," and carries a "punitive" tone. He told the bishops that the Windsor Report is not doctrine or even an agreed policy within the communion.

"It seeks to impose a singular uniformity upon the complex diversity of our communion. I quite understand that in some parts of the Anglican Communion homosexuality is subject to criminal law and cultural prohibition," he said. "However, I live in a country where homosexual people enjoy the same rights and responsibilities under the law as every other citizen."

He called the paper "an old-world institutional response to a new-world reality in which people are being set free from hatred and violence."

Canadian national indigenous bishop and Navajoland Area Mission Assisting Bishop Mark MacDonald said he thought the members of the Windsor Group "know the difficulties" facing the communion. "Given the opinions expressed so far, it's very difficult to see a human answer that will bridge the difficulties," said MacDonald. "I certainly live in hope and in prayer. Beyond that, I'm waiting for God to show up and tell us what to do."

Maori Anglican theologian Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, the "ahorangi" or principal of Te Rau Kahikatea (College of St. John the Evangelist) in Auckland, New Zealand, said she hoped that the continuation group "would have respect for the work and commitment that went into the production of the original report, and would realize the openness and willingness of all of us who were involved."

Te Paa said that the Windsor Continuation Group is "a curious title to give a group" that has no members of the original commission. She and the other 15 members of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, the formal name of the group that produced the Windsor Report, share an important and "unique historical memory" of the process, she said, adding that none of the WCG members have talked to her or the people with whom she was most closely aligned on the commission.

"Relationality was at the heart of the success of the Windsor Report and one would hope that there might be some recognition of that in the on-going work that needs to be done," she said.

"The spirit of Windsor was very much, I believe, an encouragement towards a respect for mutuality," Te Paa said.

Reflections document draft echoes some WCG observations
Some of the concerns voiced by the WCG's "observations" were echoed July 28 in the first and partial draft of the reflections document expected to be released on August 3, the last day of the Lambeth Conference. The final document is meant to be a "narrative" of "what is happening when bishops as engage with one another," said drafting committee chair Archbishop Roger Herft of Perth (http://www.perth.anglican.org).

Apparently due to be based around the daily themes of the conference, the draft at this point includes sections on Anglican bishops and Anglican identity, evangelism, and social justice. Still to come are ecumenism, interfaith relations, the environment, "gender and power," Scripture, "sexuality and listening," the covenant, the Windsor process and "leading in God's mission."

 Among the Windsor-related comments in the draft are:

  • "There seems to be a general acceptance that we shall have a covenant."
  • "There is concern caused by intervention across provinces, by impaired communion and by a perceived lack of restraint and self-limitation."
  • "…decisions made in one province have a deep impact on the context for evangelism in every other province"; and
  • a suggestion that one of the communion's contributions to evangelism is or could be to "provide ecclesial authority that interprets what is Anglicanism."

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends. Solange De Santis, editor, Episcopal Life Media, contributed to this story.

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