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Lengthy reflections document called 'narrative' of Lambeth experience

Topics range from the environment and peace in Korea to sexuality and covenant

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] A 44-page document meant to reflect the experience of the bishops who participated in the 2008 Lambeth Conference is filled with many details from the many conversations that took place during the 18-day gathering in Canterbury -- and many important statements about what was discussed.

Yet it admittedly cannot replicate the experience which it describes.

Perth Archbishop Roger Herft, who chaired the document's writing committee, wrote in the introduction that the end result is a narrative of "our lived experience and the open and honest discussions we have had together."

"This document is not the primary outcome of this conference," he wrote. "Written words can never adequately describe the life-changing nature of our time together. We have gained a deeper appreciation of the worldwide Anglican Communion and of our common calling as disciples of Christ."

The document is available in two formats here. A one-page official explanatory note about the document's structure is available in two formats here.

Highlights from the bishops' reflections
The report begins with a five-page introduction which describes the conference and notes the absence of some bishops "who are not here, whether through illness or the difficulties of travel or other reasons or pressures." It also expresses deep regret for the absence of bishops who "did not feel able to accept the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to our gathering."

It is estimated that about 230 bishops did not attend the conference. Only a partial list of those bishops who agreed to have their names made public was released.

"We miss their presence, their fellowship and their wisdom and assure them of our continuing love and prayers," paragraph 4 says. "We are very aware that some of our fellow bishops who met in Jerusalem last month have not been present at the Lambeth Conference," the writers continue, referring to the June Global Anglican Future Conference which gathered conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians in Jerusalem.

New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson is not mentioned by name in the document, but is referred to in paragraphs 113, 117, and 118 as "a bishop living in a same-gender union."

Among the points made in Section B on mission and evangelism is a call (in paragraph 41) for the Anglican Communion's Instruments of Communion to "provide the ecclesial authority that interprets what is Anglicanism; provide clarification on the nature of the Communion; enable and channel worldwide emergency responses; strengthen advocacy; stand in solidarity with those facing persecution, injustice and whose voice is silenced, and those Provinces/Dioceses encountering difficulties in the exercise of mission; and provide active support for peacemaking initiatives; assist in resolving internal problems and facilitate linkages and partnerships, (companion dioceses) and the flow of information within the Communion; support those who are isolated in their dioceses because of conscientious objections to actions taken by their dioceses of provinces; and promote regional or Cluster meetings within the Communion between Lambeth Conferences."

An introductory paragraph (99), called "Strengthening Anglican Identity," notes "four particular dimensions to our life in communion: that we are formed by scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for communion, directed by God’s mission." Those four characteristics, the paragraph argues, "require us to address honestly and frankly the tensions at work within the Anglican Communion." Thus, issues of human sexuality, the authority of scripture, the Windsor Report 2004, and the proposal for an Anglican covenant are grouped under this heading.

Section H on human sexuality, while reiterating the disagreements and divisions facing the communion on the issue, says in paragraph 119 that "it was also reported that there has been positive effects in parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico and Central America and in other parts of the world when homosexual people are accepted as God's children, are treated with dignity and choose to give their lives to Christ and to live in the community of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ with fidelity and commitment."

That section also notes (in paragraph 114) that some bishops questioned why the communion "made space" for provinces in which polygamy is practiced to deal with the issue "at their local level" but that the same space has not been given to other provinces to deal locally with homosexuality. It notes that there is a "universal standard" that regards polygamy as sin.

The lead-off paragraph 121 of Section I on the Scriptures places the bishops' discussions about the Bible in the context of division over human sexuality, saying that "the dispute concerning sexuality has reflected among some a deeper unease about the acceptance of the authority of scripture."

Section J, on the St. Andrew's Draft of the proposed Anglican covenant, describes "many positive responses to the idea of a covenant" and also contains descriptions of "reservations and concerns" and "suggestions" that bishops offered.

"There is a tension between wanting to take time over the process and the need for urgency in repairing the tears in the Communion’s fabric," the section notes in paragraph 142.

The final paragraph of the section reports a "strong sense" 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."

Section K on the Windsor Process reports a desire "from all quarters" to uphold Windsor Report moratoria on ordinations of persons living in a same-gender union to the episcopate; the blessing of same-sex unions; and cross-border incursions by bishops. Paragraph 145 cautions, however, that the moratoria "will be difficult to uphold."

"There are questions to be clarified in relation to how long the moratoria are intended to serve," the paragraph reports. "Perhaps the moratoria could be seen as a 'season of gracious restraint.' In relation to moratorium 2 [the blessing of same-sex unions] there is a desire to clarify precisely what is proscribed. Many differentiate between authorised public rites, rather than pastoral support."

Section K also offers the opinions of the bishops on each of the so-called Instruments of Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and the Primates Meeting.

Paragraph 150 says that there is "a lack of knowledge' about the ACC, which is a representative body of bishops, clergy and laity from every province, "and therefore an uncertainty about its role." Some believe the ACC "exercises too much authority; others would like to see it reconstituted and given more," the document notes.

"One suggestion was of a two-tier Council with a tier of Primates and another of clergy and laity with the inclusion of younger representation," the paragraph reports. "There was a desire to enhance the presence of clergy and laity in decision making at the Communion level."

The next paragraph notes "much discomfort" about the current actions of the Primates Meeting with some "fearing it is trying to exercise too much authority" and others believing that the primates are "the only ones who can bear the weight of our current challenges."

"The primates should not exercise collectively any more authority than they have in their provinces," the paragraph concludes.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams announced during his last presidential address to the conference on August 3 that he would convene a Primates Meeting "as early as possible in 2009." He also noted a special meeting of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the ACC in November 2009.

In response to a question during Lambeth's final news conference, Williams said his decision to call the primates together soon does not conflict with the statements made about the Primates Meeting in the reflections document because the primates meet on average every two years and last met in February of 2007. There would be "nothing special" about calling a Primates Meeting "except that with the ACC meeting coming up next year it's quite important the primates have a chance to discuss some of the possible agenda before that," he said.

"In past Lambeth Conferences there's been encouragement for the Primates Meeting to do a bit more," he noted. "When the primates do try to a bit more, it's not very well received, so we're on a bit of that cycle I suspect."

The archbishop also noted that while primates "are in some sense people well equipped to speak for the wholeness of their particular region or local church," there is a sense that they are not the only voice and so "balancing the primates and the ACC has always been a bit of a juggling act and I guess it will go on being that."

The ACC's next regularly scheduled meeting is in early May 2009. According to a schedule described during Lambeth by West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the Covenant Design Group, which he chairs, plans to present the ACC with a third draft of the proposed covenant.

The reflections document also contains "statements of solidarity." The people mentioned include those who suffer "on account of their faith whatever their faith may be"; aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia; the dalits in India; the hungry in Ethiopia; persecuted Christians in Somalia; and those who suffer the consequences of natural disasters, including those in Myanmar and the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The latter statement commends "the Church in Louisiana as she attempts to promote a Truth and Reconciliation Commission despite widespread opposition."

One of the statements registers solidarity with "the continental of Africa" and special support for bishops "working under extreme and trying conditions" due to conflicts in Zimbabwe, Sudan and South Africa. That statement calls on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to "stop harassing the bishops and faithful of our church."

Another statement affirms the peacemaking efforts of the Anglican Church of Korea and "its inspiring witness for reconciliation and reunification of the Korean Pennisula."

The report also features lengthy sections on human and social justice, the environment, and ecumenism and interfaith relations.

Document began in discussion
The document is based on reports from the conference's 16 indaba groups and later feedback heard during hearings open only to bishops on July 28, 30, 31, and August 1. Each indaba group was a collection of five of the conference's eight-bishop Bible study groups.

Indaba is a method of engagement, Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said at the beginning of the conference. He added that it "comes from where I was born" in Makgoba Kloof in South Africa. Indaba is use by the village chief when he or she perceives a problem in the community and calls the villagers together to seek a solution.

"What needs to happen is not to rush to quick solutions. We need to come together to define what is this that is effecting the village," he said. "We have borrowed that methodology and process for the Lambeth Conference."

The reflections document was written by a group of 16 "listeners," one from each of the indaba groups. The listeners were bishops Andrew Proud of the Horn of Africa, Jerusalem and the Middle East; Alan Abernethy of Connor, Ireland; Howard Gregory of Montego Bay, West Indies; Sue Moxley of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada; Daniel of East Kerala, South India; Patrick Mwachiko of Masai, Tanzania; James Ochiel of Southern Nyanza, Kenya; Johannes Seoka of Pretoria, Southern Africa; Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum, Sudan; Neil Alexander of Atlanta, United States; Roger Chung Po Chue of Antsiranana, Indian Ocean; Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, United States; David Njova of Lusaka, Central Africa; Bill Godfrey of Peru, Southern Cone; Michael Perham of Gloucester, England; and Louis Tsui of Eastern Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Each indaba group nominated two members whom they believe to be most capable of carrying their views and the fruit of their discussion into the "reflections" process. The final selections were made to ensure a geographical and theological balance, according to the Rev. Paul Feheley of the Anglican Church of Canada, a member of the Lambeth Conference communications team.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends.

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