On Deeper Communion; Gracious Restraint: A Letter from Alexandria to the Churches of the Anglican Communion
What follows is a letter to Canadian Anglicans from Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, which contains his thoughts on the recently completed Primates’ Meeting and the communiqué that was issued at its conclusion.
Having participated in the recent meeting of the Primates in Alexandria, Egypt, I am now in Cairo and on route to Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund meetings in Kenya and then to Burundi for visits to HIV/AIDS and youth clinics supported by PWRDF and a preaching engagement in the Cathedral in Bujumbura next Sunday.
Upon reflection on the Primates Letter to the Churches of the Communion I am convinced it should have been titled, “For the sake of the Communion; for the sake of the World.” It would better reflect the amount of time we gave to matters of pressing concern in the Communion and matters of grave concern within the world.
The Primates gave considerable attention to the report of the Windsor Continuation Group. It addressed the strained relationships within the Communion over matters of sexuality and unity, and provides recommendations for ways forward in deepening and in some cases restoring Communion. A very significant recommendation, which the Primates whole-heartedly affirmed, is to examine the Instruments of Communion, their respective roles and the manner in which they relate to one another.
The moratoria on the selection of Bishops in same-gender unions, rites of blessings for same-sex unions and cross-border interventions were much discussed. The Primate’s letter acknowledges that deep differences over these matters are held with great conviction. There was a continuing call for gracious restraint on all three fronts.
Reflecting on this call in our context, I am reminded of what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his letter to the Bishops of the Communion following the Lambeth Conference — that while the majority of Bishops agreed that the moratoria was necessary, “ they were aware of the conscientious difficulties this posed for some. … How far the intensified sense of belonging together will help mutual restraint remains to be seen.” In our Church the moratoria have been affirmed by the majority of Bishops until General Synod in 2010. “While recognizing the difficulty this commitment represents for dioceses that in conscience have made decisions on these matters, members of the House of Bishops have committed themselves to talking together and holding each other in prayer.” (Statement from House of Bishops, October 2008)
My observation is that in those dioceses where resolutions have been passed requesting the authorizing of rites for blessing same-sex unions the Bishops have shown gracious restraint. They have called for continuing discernment in some cases through the drafting and testing of such rites in a limited manner and have advised the House accordingly. I am of the opinion that while our church struggles to honour the call for gracious restraint in blessing same-sex unions, those who are the proponents of cross-border interventions have and continue to show no restraint. I have endeavored to address this situation since the Lambeth Conference and I regret to say that to date a conversation with the pertinent parties has not been possible. I am disappointed and dismayed. My feelings are grounded in my care and concern for the Bishops and dioceses most adversely affected by these cross-border interventions.
However, I am encouraged by the call in the Windsor Continuation Report for the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate professional mediated conversations in conflicted situations. In supporting this call, the Primates were unanimous. I personally assured the Archbishop of Canterbury of my commitment on behalf of our Church to this initiative and expressed my hope that all other parties would also come to the table in a spirit of “honest exchange and mutual challenge” for the sake of the unity of the Church.
The proposed Covenant among the provinces of the Communion was discussed at length. I am pleased to see the efforts made to make the covenant more relational than juridical and to see a focus on reconciliation in the face of strained relations.
Generally speaking the spirit of conversation at this meeting was open, frank and gracious. I attribute that to three factors:
- The positive experience of intentional listening, constructive dialogue and mutual respect at the Lambeth Conference, 2008, was carried forward into this meeting;
- The Archbishop of Canterbury invited the Primates of Myanmar, The Episcopal Church USA, Uganda, Canada and Southern Africa to speak to the question: “What impact has the current situation in the Communion had on your province’s Mission priorities?” Each presentation reflected a deep commitment to the mission of God in the context of the history, culture and current challenges within the province. From a Canadian perspective I made reference to the many ways our beloved Church lives out a strong commitment to the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion at home and in partnerships throughout the world;
- Notwithstanding differing views on matters of sexuality and unity, the majority of the Primates do not believe that the blessing of same-sex unions ought to be a Communion-breaking issue. They uphold the principle of autonomy within Communion and respect the pastoral context, polity and due synodical processes of the Churches of the Communion.
I have noted that six of our 12 sessions were given to issues of concern within the world. We heard presentations on the grave situation in Zimbabwe, the tragedy of the renewed violence in Sudan and horrific acts of hostility in Gaza. So urgent is the need for the Church’s response to these life-and-death situations that a statement on each was issued. I draw your attention to the call for the Churches of the Communion
- To observe Ash Wednesday 2009 “as a day of prayer and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe;”
- To call on the international community, “ not to abandon the people of Sudan;”
- To call on our Governments “to use their best efforts to secure an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza as an essential precondition to lasting peace.”
We considered a report on a proposed Anglican Alliance for Relief and Development Agencies throughout the Communion. It was agreed that more than ever we need effective partnerships in aid and advocacy for the sake of the world.
We also gave attention to the issue of Global warming and climate change, examining it from the perspective of the biblical imperative to be good stewards of the earth.
And finally we were challenged by a stirring address entitled, “Christian Responses to the Current Financial Situation” given by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu. “Even in the face of the current economic crisis,” he said “ we must ensure that the commitments made by governments across the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals are not abandoned.” He called us not to lose sight of the vision of God for this world but to proclaim it boldly in word and action. Such a witness includes naming the injustices that “ desecrate that vision.”
In light of these huge global concerns I am compelled to say that those issues over which we experience so much stress and strain within the Church, as important as they are pale in comparison to the overwhelming suffering of humanity and the gospel imperative to proclaim by word and example God’s healing love and justice for all.
In closing I thank you for upholding me and all the Primates of the Communion in prayer. As we give thanks for our life in Christ let us be steadfast in our prayer for the sake of the communion and for the sake of the world.
Draw your church together into one great company of disciples, together following our Lord Jesus Christ into every walk of life, together serving Him in His mission to the world, and together witnessing to His love on every continent and island, we ask this in His name and for his sake. Amen (BAS Pg. 676)
In the love of Christ, I am
Archbishop and Primate