Archbishop of Canterbury: Church’s hope ‘only in Christ’

The Archbishop of Canterbury has told Anglican Church leaders from the global South that the only ground for unity in the church ‘is to be found in Christ’. Speaking at the South to South Encounter meeting at Ain al Sukhna, some 80 miles south of Cairo, Dr Williams said that the church had to be focussed on Christ:

“The church is one because Jesus Christ is one; the church is holy because Jesus Christ is holy; the church is catholic because Jesus Christ is the saviour of all; the church is apostolic because as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us. In other words, if we are to understand the nature of the church at all, we are to understand who Jesus Christ is and what he does.”

“Someone said recently that the path to heaven doesn’t lie necessarily through Lambeth. I agree. The path to heaven lies solely through Jesus Christ our Saviour and the unity he gives and the only use and integrity of our instruments of unity comes when they serve that.”

“Now I don’t suggest that we can forget the practical questions that are laid upon us at the moment in our Anglican fellowship. But I do say that we shall never begin to answer them adequately unless our eyes, our minds and our hearts are with Jesus, where Jesus is.

The Archbishop said that one of the greatest challenges faced by Anglicans was the development of authentically local voices in liturgy.

“In all sorts of ways the church over the centuries has lent itself to the error, indeed the sin of trying to make cultural captives, whether it is the mass export of Hymns Ancient and Modern to the remote parts of the mission field … the shadow of the British Empire that hangs over our own Communion or the export of American values and styles to the whole world; we are in a real difficulty here…. The question comes back again and again; ‘How do we encourage people to write liturgy, to write prayer books, to write Eucharistic prayers, in their own language with the rhythm, the association and resonance that your own language has for you and no other has.”

He said that the church had to find its holiness ‘under the cross’; where people were in need of healing:

“… our holiness takes us where Jesus goes; our holiness takes us to those Jesus died for; it takes us into the neighbourhood of those who are forgotten, who have no voice, those who need healing and forgiveness. It takes us into very strange places indeed and the holy person, as we all know, is often found in very odd company.”

Following the lecture, Dr Williams answered questions from the conference in a number of areas.

On sexuality, he affirmed that the church had not been persuaded of the acceptability of same sex unions. These questions, though, would not go away.

“Theologians will go on discussing this and it will not be possible to stop them. For nearly a century, the conflict over the Trinity raged between theologians and bishops and was not resolved overnight. I distinguish as clearly as I can a question a theologian may ask and an action or determination a church may take or a bishop may take. I think this is a necessary distinction for the life and health of the church. It would be a tragedy if the church sought to suppress questions; it is equally a tragedy when the church seeks to create facts on the ground that foreclose discussion and reflection on such questions.”

On the question of authority within the Anglican Communion, he said that he had no desire to assume further powers:

“Since I do not have canonical power outside my own province, my freedom is limited. I say it as a matter of actual fact; I do not have authority over the canons and constitutions of another province… I don’t want to be a kind of pope, solving the problems of every province.

“For me, the prospect of an Anglican ‘covenant’ or a convergent system of canon law is the best hope that we have. That being said, many provinces as we know, are wedded to the idea of an absolute constitutional independence”

On the Windsor report, he said that it was too early to come to a judgement as to whether or not the responses of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada satisfied the terms of the report:

“I don’t think we could say that they have satisfied in a simple and direct way what Windsor asked because that process is still continuing and will continue. Archbishop Eames gave an optimistic reading of this; I’m waiting to see.”

On the status of the networks of dissenting parishes in the United States and Canada, he said that he was happy to recognise them as part of the Anglican Communion:

“There is no doubt in my mind that these networks are full members of the Anglican Communion; that is to say that their bishops, their clergy and their people are involved with the Communion which I share with them, which we all share with them. Now formal ecclesial recognition of a network as if it were a province is not so simply in my hands or the hands of any individual. But I do want to say quite simply yes of course; these are part of our Anglican fellowship and I welcome that.”


Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .