Primates’ Meeting: Final day

By Paul Feheley

The final day of the Primates’ Meeting became a long day’s journey into night as the final session began at 10:00 pm. The day has been occupied with trying to reach consensus on some of the outstanding issues remaining on the agenda.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was elected to represent the Americas on the Primates’ Standing Committee. Each of the five world regions (Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania, Europe and the Middle East) elects its own representative to the Standing Committee, which operates as the governing board of the Primates.

Other members elected to the committee are Archbishops Phillip Aspinall of Australia; Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Henry Orombi of Uganda; and Barry Morgan of Wales.

Next on the agenda was the report of the Covenant Design Group. The Primates approved the document to be circulated and have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to send a letter to all Anglican provinces requesting that they study and respond to the document. The timeline would include study and response during the next 12 months with the bishops at Lambeth receiving a revised text based on provincial responses. It is anticipated that the Bishops would also revise the text and submit it to the provinces for final approval.

The full text of draft Covenant is available here.

The proposal of an Anglican Covenant as a way in which the Anglican Communion can maintain unity amid differing viewpoints was first mentioned in the Windsor Report. In the introduction, the design group noted that of all the material that it received there were few objections to the idea of a covenant. Most saw it as an idea whose time had come. The document states that, “There was a real desire to see the interdependent life of the Communion strengthened by a covenant which would articulate our common foundations, and set out principles by which our life of Communion in Christ could be strengthened and nurtured.”

The covenant contains a significant number of commitments and affirmations including a defined sense of the mission for the Church:

  • to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God;
  • to teach, baptize and nurture new believers;
  • to respond to human need by loving service;
  • to seek to transform unjust structures of society; and
  • to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The Covenant also asks the 38 provinces of the Communion to commit themselves to “essential matters of common concern, to have regard to the common good of the Communion in the exercise of autonomy, and to support the work of the Instruments of Communion.”

It also talks of a manner of reconciliation for those who may find themselves outside of the Covenant and states that “a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches.”

The Primates’ final communiqué was issued close to midnight local time at the close of meeting and deals extensively with the Episcopal Church of the United States.

The full text of the communiqué is available here.

The communiqué acknowledges the work of the Episcopal Church at its convention last summer and tries to identify where the church may have fallen short of the recommendations of the Windsor Report, in particular on the issue of same-sex blessings. It looks for some further work to be done and offers a way forward.

The communiqué noted that, although the Episcopal Church has “taken seriously” the Windsor Report, “at the heart of our tensions is the belief that the Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the Episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed relationship, and by permitting Rites of Blessing same-sex unions.”

The Primates said that there remains a “lack of clarity” about the Episcopal Church’s stance, particularly on the issue of same-gender blessings, and called for some clarification.

The communiqué says the Primates:

“… value and accept the apology and the request for forgiveness made. While they appreciate the actions of the 75th General Convention which offer some affirmation of the Windsor Report and its recommendations, they deeply regret a lack of clarity about certain of those responses.

“However, secondly, we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions, which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us

“We are deeply concerned that so great has been the estrangement between some of the faithful and The Episcopal Church that this has led to recrimination, hostility and even to disputes in the civil courts.”

The Primates have requested that the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops “make an unequivocal common covenant” that they will not authorize same-gender blessings within their dioceses and confirm that a candidate for bishop who is living in a same-gender relationship “shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.”

An answer from the House of Bishops is to be conveyed to the Primates by Sept. 30, 2007.

At a news conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that the response represented “a willingness to engage with the Communion. … Our first question is how do we best engage with that willingness, a stream of a desire to remain with the Communion?”

A key component of the communiqué is the formation of a “Pastoral Council” that would work with the Episcopal Church to negotiate the necessary structures to facilitate and encourage healing and reconciliation for those who feel unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or of the presiding bishop. The report has acknowledged the initiative of the Presiding Bishop to appoint a Primatial Vicar who will have specific powers and who will be responsible to the Pastoral council.

The Primates also acknowledged that interventions by bishops and archbishops of some Provinces “have exacerbated … estrangement between some of the faithful and the Episcopal Church that this has led to recrimination, hostility and even to disputes in civil courts.”

The communiqué said that once the “scheme of pastoral care is recognized to be fully operational, the Primates undertake to end all interventions” and that congregations or parishes in current arrangements will negotiate their place within the structures of pastoral oversight.

“I’d like to put all this within the context of a Covenant process,” Archbishop Williams said. “It’s a scheme … of nurturing those in the Episcopal Church and clarifying its position.”

Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Australia, Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi and Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania joined the Archbishop of Canterbury at the closing news conference.

“The Primates have needed to be patient with one another,” Archbishop Aspinall, their spokesperson, said. “They have listened to each other very carefully and expressed themselves with care. They have tried to accommodate one others’ views as fully as possible. That slow, respectful process of communication does take time.”

Archbishop Ntahoturi said: “The Communion we share is a Communion that covers the whole world. It has the wealth richness and diversity. That diversity is a gift from God. Although we do not have the same views and background, we have the same vision.”

Archbishop Mtetemela said it was an honour have hosted the meeting. “It was an opportunity for our people to have this international leadership ministering to them,” he said, “and an opportunity for me to expose the leadership of the Anglican Communion to my country.”

Paul Feheley is principal secretary to the Canadian Primate.

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