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Archbishop of Canterbury seeks 'covenantal commitment'

Communion 'longs to stay together,' Williams says

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[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his August 3 final presidential address to the Lambeth Conference 2008, appealed to bishops to make a prophetic choice and embrace a "covenantal commitment [with] … the potential to make us more of a church."

Such a global church "understands its ministry and service and sacraments as united and interdependent throughout the world. The global horizon of the church matters because churches without this are always in danger of slowly surrendering to the culture around them and losing sight of their calling to challenge that culture," he said. 

On the last afternoon of the every-decade gathering, bishops met in a final plenary session where each received a copy of reflections compiled from the conference indaba group discussions. Afterwards, Williams met with reporters before officiating at the conference's final event, a closing Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral.

Citing the indaba report, Williams said the communion "longs to stay together" but told reporters that continued blessing of same-sex unions would further imperil already-strained relationships. Indaba groups also pleaded "for continuing moratoria" on the blessing of same-sex unions and ordination of partnered gay bishops, as well as unwelcome incursions from outside bishops, according to a copy of Williams' text, made available after the address.

A covenant is "emphatically not about forcing others to conform," Williams said. He told reporters he hoped to finalize the text within the next 12 months and to gain provincial approval as soon as possible.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in a statement released after Williams' address, said that "we have not resolved the differences among us, but we have seen the deep need to maintain relationships, even in the face of significant disagreement and discomfort.

"The Anglican Communion is suffering the birth pangs of something new, which none of us can yet fully appreciate or understand, yet we know that the Spirit continues to work in our midst. At the same time patience is being urged from many quarters, that all may more fully know the leading of the Spirit. God is faithful. May we be faithful as well."

The full text of the Presiding Bishop's remarks is available here.

Jefferts Schori will conduct a live webcast to talk about the Lambeth Conference on Thursday, August 7 at 2 p.m. Eastern time (1 p.m. Central, noon Mountain, 11 a.m. Pacific). Originating from the Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Ave., New York City, the webcast will be accessible through the front page of the main website. Questions will be accepted from the live audience and via email at Phone-in questions will not be accepted.

Moving forward, building bridges, pastoral forum
Williams said: "We have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures." He outlined as future goals the creation of a pastoral forum to support those with minority viewpoints and an examination of how the Instruments of Communion will best work, prior to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in May 2009.

He told reporters he plans to send a pastoral letter to the Anglican Communion, soliciting feedback from bishops who boycotted the conference and those who attended the July 22-29 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), considered a rival to Lambeth.

"Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here," he said.

He will also include the perspectives of the "various groups looking at the Covenant and the Windsor process, as well as the design group for this conference," he said. Their efforts will help inform a special meeting in November of the Joint standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC.

Williams was asked by a reporter to "explain the theological ground for asking LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) people to sacrifice their vocations and relationships for your benefit and for the unity of the Anglican Communion."

"This remains something about consent, of what people are willing to give up for the sake of the communion and that means of course a judgment about what is worthwhile about the communion," Williams said. "I think the sense that there is something about the preservation of the global fellowship, which is larger than any of us, has to be a factor in this."

Although some indaba groups had expressed concern about primates overstepping their authority, Williams said he plans to convene a Primates Meeting as early as possible in 2009.

"We may not have put an end to all our problems -- but the pieces are on the board," he said. He outlined other goals, including creation of a "pastoral forum to support minorities, a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work, and a recognition -- though still with many questions -- that a covenant is needed."

'Reflections' document released; dissenting bishops hold media conference
Earlier in the day, conservative media organized a press conference with dissenting bishops just before the final reflections document was made public.

Bishop Hector Zavala of Chile in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone said he "challenged or invited Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to say something to the communion. I feel this is the best way we can start talking."

Zavala told reporters his "problem is not with [the partnered gay bishop] Gene Robinson [of New Hampshire], but because … one of our resolutions was broken," referring to the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, which rejects "homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture."

"Now we can't trust each other," Zavala said. "I see the Anglican Communion divided because of that decision of the Episcopal Church (TEC) of the United States. Now we are suspicious because of a lack of trust." He said if TEC continues to bless same-sex unions, "I don't have any hope for the future."

Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina said he attended GAFCON, and that "the Global South has come into its place of maturity and the rest of the communion needs to recognize it.

"I don't know how structures will work together and how the future will unfold. I believe it will be a long and messy journey to get there but I believe a birth has taken place and an old structure has not adapted fast enough to a quickly changing and global world. Those who can change and maneuver in this new landscape … will be the ones who win the day."

Two Church of England bishops had also reportedly dissented, requesting an "orderly separation." Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina told reporters he didn't hear talk of separation in his Bible study and discussion groups.

"The pretty consistent undercurrent was 'we want to keep this family together.' In baptism, Jesus has made us family. We may be dysfunctional, but we're still family. We'll figure it out somehow," he said.

In response to a question about how bridges can be built with the conservative bishops who boycotted the conference, Curry said, "Some bishops who went to GAFCON were here. There are bishops close to some of those bishops who were not here. My hope is that word will go forth and will be heard on some level in some way."

Final reflections document: no sanctions, recommendations
The 44-page final reflections document, which the writing committee called a narrative of "our lived experiences and the open and honest discussions we have had together," contained no sanctions or recommendations.

The document is available in two formats here.

Among other things, it acknowledged disagreement and divisions facing the communion regarding human sexuality, as well as polygamy, which it noted has been dealt with at a "local level" unlike the issue of homosexuality.

The document noted "many positive responses to the idea of a covenant" as well as "reservations and concerns" that the draft's appendix, called Framework Procedures for the Resolution of Covenant Disputes, "could be too legalistic and too difficult to implement" and "might prove too punitive."

The Rev. Susan Russell, Integrity USA President, said that "in spite of extraordinary pressure to do otherwise, the Archbishop of Canterbury has managed to achieve his stated goal of a Lambeth Conference of reflection rather than resolutions.

"The long predicted coup d'état that was going to emerge from this Lambeth Conference and vote the Americans and Canadians out of the Anglican Communion failed to materialize. There is much to be grateful for in that."

She added that "we recognize with deep regret that the exclusion of the Bishop of New Hampshire from this gathering of his peer bishops in the Church of God has sent a signal to LGBT people around the world that the Anglican Communion still considers them 'strangers at the gate.' We commit ourselves to continue in the struggle until our church and our communion live up to the high calling to be the Body of Christ in the world where all members are truly welcome, valued, loved, included and challenged."

Evaluating the conference as a whole, Bishop Rob O'Neill of Colorado, meeting with reporters, said he and his colleagues had "frank, honest, realist conversations" that deepened relationships.

In response to calls for a definitive document or plan that would solve the communion's divisions, Curry said that "the living documents that will go forth from this conference are the people and the relationships and the people we all represent. St. Paul said, 'you are my living epistle, not written with ink but written with the spirit of the living God.'"

-- Episcopal Life Media correspondents Matt Davies, Solange DeSantis, Pat McCaughan and Mary Frances Schjonberg contributed to this report.

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