The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has announced that he intends to visit the United States this autumn in response to the invitation from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church.
US Episcopalians, many of whom are under fire from others in the 78 million worldwide Anglican Communion for affirming the position of lesbians and gay people in the church, have long complained that Dr Williams has had numerous meetings with their critics but has never visited them. Following the recent Tanzania primates’ meeting they offered to pay his plane ticket.
The Archbishop, who sees it a his role to uphold the anti-gay majority position within global Anglicanism, though he is known personally to have personal sympathies in a different direction, has described as “disappointing” the response of US Episcopal bishops to the primates’ proposal for a parallel leadership structure which would be headed up from outside their country.
They had said that they were unable to accept this imposition because it “is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage ... It replaces the local governance of the church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.”
They bishops add of the idea: “It is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them ... we cannot accept what would be injurious to this church and could well lead to permanent division.”
Speaking in a press conference in Toronto, Canada, Dr Williams said he would undertake the US visit together with members of the Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council.
He declared: "I look forward to some sharing of our experiences as pastors as well as discussion of the business of the Communion. These are complicated days for our church internationally and it's all the more important to keep up personal relationships and conversations. ….my aim is to try and keep people around the table for as long as possible on this, to understand one another, and to encourage local churches".
Dr Williams, whose spirituality, scholarship and personal wisdom is highly regarded in North America, has “severely disappointed us by over-accommodating to bullying and coercion” by anti-gay hardliners, according to one US Episcopal source.
Yesterday (17 April 2007), the Archbishop was Dr Rowan Williams will be paying a short visit to Canada at the invitation of the Primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, who has been openly critical of him.
The main purpose of the visit, says Lambeth Palace, has been for Dr Williams to conduct a retreat at a meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops. He has also given a lecture on the use of the Bible, which will be published this week.
The Archbishop’s brief North American visits are seen as part of his wider efforts at bridge-building within the deeply fractured Communion.
Bishops of The Episcopal Church in the US put out a bold and forthright statement of their position in March. They declared: “It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships.
“We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church.
“We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué [from the global Anglican primates] is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way [we have been represented], we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God’s truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.”