The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has expressed concern about the ‚Äúrecrimination and bitterness‚Äù that may accompany a formal split in the 77 million worldwide Anglican Communion ‚Äì though he admits that ‚Äúit's not the worst thing in the world‚Äù.
In a television documentary on Canterbury Cathedral broadcast today on ITV Dr Williams said that he was concerned that Christians should not be set more deeply at odds with each other.
‚ÄúAnd because I am an ordinary, sinful human being, I fear the situation slipping out of my control, such as it is,‚Äù he added.
Though it has infuriated his critics in different sections of the Church and outside it, the Archbishop is unafraid of describing the vulnerability of his position and how it leaves him feeling.
While clearly not a public emoter, Dr Williams has eschewed spinning his predicament ‚Äì and has rejected the ‚Äòtough guy‚Äô approach to often bitter arguments about sexuality and gender. He has influence but not formal powers in relation to the Communion.
He declared on the programme: ‚ÄúI fear schism, not because I think it‚Äôs the worst thing in the world but because, at this particular juncture, it‚Äôs going to be bad for us. It‚Äôs going to drive people into recrimination and bitterness.‚Äù
The Archbishop of Canterbury also commented: ‚ÄúWe can‚Äôt take it for granted that the Anglican Communion will go on as it always has been. Of course that‚Äôs unsettling, of course that‚Äôs painful for everybody, but there‚Äôs no way of moving on without asking the hard questions.‚Äù
Dr Williams has recently written to all the Primates of the Anglican Communion, in advance of their February 2007 meeting in Tanzania, confirming that he has invited the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, to attend.
In his letter the Archbishop acknowledges that the meeting will be ‚Äúan important and difficult encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist in strengthening our unity as a Communion‚Äù.
Questions remain about the American church‚Äôs relations with other provinces, though Dr Williams comments that ‚Äúsome provinces have already made their positions clear‚Äù. But he says that he does not think it helpful to take ‚Äúany action that will appear to bring that consideration, and the whole process of our shared discernment, to a premature end‚Äù.
Dr Williams also believes it is important that Dr Jefferts Schori should ‚Äúbe given a chance both to hear and to speak, and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ.‚Äù
Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda has declared publicly that he will not sit at the same table as Dr Jefferts Schori, because he regards her affirming views on gender and sexuality unacceptable. He has not yet responded to Dr Williams‚Äô letter.