Hope for Anglican healing after Lambeth gathering?

By Ecumenical News International
August 14, 2008

Leaders of the Anglican Communion left for home from the Lambeth Conference earlier this month having heard Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams say there is "wide support" for measures to resolve a dispute over homosexuality that had threatened to tear apart the 77-million-strong grouping.

"We may not have put an end to all our problems but the pieces are on the board," Williams said in his final presidential address to the 670 or so bishops attending the 16 July to 3 August gathering in Canterbury, England.

The U.S. Episcopal (Anglican) Church, which sparked the dispute by consecrating openly gay V. Gene Robinson as a bishop, and the Anglican Church of Canada, where a diocese authorised same-sex blessings, must pledge to abstain from such moves in the future.

At the same time, bishops from Africa and South America who have offered "cross boundary" ministry to breakaway congregations and dioceses in other parts of the world, must also desist from such actions.

Speaking to reporters, Williams said there was the "makings of a consensus" about such "moratoria", as well as about the need for a covenant, a statement of agreed beliefs to which Anglican churches will be asked to sign up.

However, he warned, "If the North American churches don't accept the need for moratoria then, to say the least, we are no further forward." In that case, he said, the Anglican Communion would "continue to be in grave peril".

At the same time, the archbishop made clear in his closing address that he also wished the Anglican Communion to focus in future on tasks such as international development and human rights rather than only "managing internal conflict".

More than 200 Anglican bishops, mainly from Africa, had boycotted the conference largely in protest at the presence in Canterbury of leaders from the U.S. Episcopal Church.

In his presidential address, Williams said he would be bringing forward proposals within the next two months for a "pastoral forum" to deal with conflict situations in the Anglican Communion. The forum could also offer recommendations if any of the three moratoria were broken, according to a paper presented to the Lambeth Conference.

The archbishop's remarks suggested to observers that regaining the support of those mainly African Anglican leaders who stayed away is one of his key aims. He said he would be convening a meeting of Anglican primates (church leaders) early in 2009.

"In the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in the next stages," Williams said in his presidential address.

He also looked towards establishing contacts with those who gathered in Jerusalem three weeks before the Canterbury gathering in what was widely seen as an "alternative" Lambeth Conference called the Global Anglican Future Conference, which is known as GAFCON.

"Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here," said Archbishop Williams.

At the closing media conference, Williams said he would consider holding large gatherings of Anglicans in Africa in years to come.

Asked by ENI if he would like to see the next 10-yearly bishops' gathering take place in Africa, Williams said, "We did consider very seriously the possibility of a bishops and laity Anglican congress or gathering in South Africa half way between the last Lambeth [in 1998] and this one. That proved extraordinarily difficult. I'm very open to looking for larger scale Anglican gatherings on the continent where the majority of Anglicans actually are."

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, said in a statement at the end of the Lambeth Conference, "We have not resolved the differences among us but have seen the deep need to maintain relationships, even in the face of significant disagreement and discomfort."

U.S. Bishop Rob O'Neill of Colorado, meeting with reporters, said he and his colleagues had "frank, honest, realist conversations" that deepened relationships.

Still, Hong Kong Primate Paul Kwong said he regretted a lack of "concrete action" to deal with the sexuality issues. He told journalists the Hong Kong Anglican Church had ordained a woman in the 1940s but had later revoked the ordination when it became clear it was not acceptable to other churches.

"Sacrifice is what Hong Kong is asking for," he said. "We are not talking about rights. For the sake of the communion, we are asking for sacrifice."

However, Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles said the proposals for a halt to same-sex blessings would be received with "fear and trembling" in his diocese, the Episcopal Café blog site noted. "For people who think that this is going to lead us to disenfranchise any gay or lesbian person, they are sadly mistaken."

Some individuals expressed doubts that the archbishop's plan for a covenant, a pastoral forum and a new round of talks with primates would heal the wounds caused by Bishop Gene Robinson's consecration.

"I think this is not the last Anglican conference but I do think it will be the last Lambeth Conference," said the Rev. Tom Wetzel of Anglicans United, a group headquartered in Dallas, Texas that says it campaigns for "Anglican orthodoxy".

Meanwhile, a group of Anglican leaders from the southern hemisphere called Global South, condemned what they said was "the continuing patronising attitude of the West towards the rest of the churches worldwide".

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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