Wednesday 22 July 2009

Archbishop writes to the Communion

Letter to all Bishops of the Anglican Communion from the Archbishop of Anglicanism.

In a letter dated 23 June 2003 to just the Bishops of the Church of England I argued that:

Confidence in the ability of a new bishop to minister to those in his pastoral care is a centrally important matter, and it is clear that serious questions remain in the diocese.

In other words, what happens within a local Church is a matter for every Church. I had put:

...the concerns of many in the diocese of Oxford are theologically serious, intelligible and by no means based on narrow party allegiance or on prejudice. They must be addressed and considered fully.

The actions by me relating to Jeffrey John were seen as a turning point in many of the expectations of me becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet apostolic authority meant and means that I was never going to operate simply as an individual, and this was my first not insignificant action in which I operated as an Archbishop under collective, apostolic authority. My concerns then were based on the Cameron Report of 1990, clearly rooted in Anglican understanding, and not simply my own personal background, or my ecumenical understanding and relations with the Roman Pontiff. The Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on the Episcopate, 1990 stated:

In the local church the bishop focuses and nurtures the unity of his people; in his sharing in the collegiality of bishops the local church is bound together with other local churches; and through the succession of bishops the local community is related to the church throughout the ages. Thus the bishop in his own person in his diocese; and in his collegial relations in the wider Church; and through his place in the succession of bishops in their communities in faith-fulness to the gospel, is a sign and focus of the unity of the Church [paragraph 351].

Thus as Archbishop, I continue as Archbishop from other Archbishops, rather than simply being my own Archbishop, and this has been true of me as Archbishop in the Anglican Communion, as well as Archbishop in the Province and indeed in the local Church. Thus, on taking up my appointment, I became one of the Instruments of the Communion. I would here make a comparison with the new Speaker of the House of Commons. John Bercow was elected Speaker on 22 June 2009. When he assumed office, he announced that he was giving up all previous political opinions. Some, of course, on the Conservative side had assumed he had been doing this already, which made him particularly attractive to the Labour side as Speaker, but nevertheless once sat in the Speaker's Chair he made this point explicitly. In my case this did not happen, nor was I seeking such office, and indeed it is a matter of record that the previous Archbishop, who now travels around with a freedom to address the worldwide media, considered me unsuitable to be worthy of office in the Church of my training, which is why I was for a time Archbishop of a minority ecclesiastical unit, where there is a different local apostolic test, although I would argue again that all bishops have collegiate apostolic authority towards and including the Archbishop of Anglicanism.

The analogy between the office I hold and that of the Speaker does not stretch too far. The Archbishop, of course, continues to observe the very creeds that all Church members hold, although they are interpreted with cultural variation, and upholds apostolic authority. Nevertheless, there are not unexisting further potential parallels: and along with direction against offensive language (I have done so regarding some remarks made in Nigeria), the equivalent of asking members to be quiet to listen to minority voices (such as indeed our lesbian and gay members), and suggesting that members be quiet (usually in private to my such loyal friend Bishop Tom), there is the not minor matter of suspending members and the sitting of the House.

Since 2003, in particular, the Instruments of Communion (not simply myself as a form of Speaker; I cannot so act alone) have been looking for ways by which we can suspend members or the equivalent of the sitting of the House - and for Houses (plural) read local Churches. Indeed we managed successfully to suspend one member outside his local Church, namely the understood to be Bishop V. Gene Robinson, although actually local Churches have effectively suspended many women who are also understood to be bishops in their local Churches. But we have not yet done this properly and formally in respect of partnered gay and lesbian people. In effect too we also exclude lay and clerical gay and lesbian people, except those who hide this feature of their identities, although I have indicated that such exclusion ought to include listening to the unhiding while they are excluded unless, of course, they resume and have a good hiding instead.

This was what the Windsor Process and the Covenant have been all about, creating formal processes in which we can exclude those who fall outside collective apostolic authority and its understandings, and in the process of reaching such formal exclusions across the board, including laity, asking for moratoria regarding these disputed matters from all those who represent apostolic authority, which in some cases even involves asking lay people who sit in synods and conventions.

Nevertheless, although this is an Anglican process, we cannot ignore that this would be an ecumenical matter. This I addressed in the next major milepost in my ministry as Archbishop, my (but not my) Advent Letter. As I wrote to the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches:

...the deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle. Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.

I also wrote that: I have repeatedly said, that the 1998 Resolution [1:10] is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion. This is the point where our common reading of Scripture stands, along with the common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries.

As an individual, I may have at the time of Lambeth 1998 responded in the minority of bishops against the manner and outcome of the resolution made, but as Archbishop I am bound to teach what an Archbishop should, whether in an airport or the cathedral, or on the street, at home and abroad, and if apostolic authority means anything it surely means being trapped into what took place over ten years ago. Thus I made a distinction between the Camp Allen bishops of The Episcopal Church (and any others) loyal to the Windsor process.

I reiterate the essential meaning behind my (but not my) letter of October 2007 to Bishop Howe, Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida:

I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing...

But the ecumenical concern matters further, again invovling this from the Advent Letter: the "common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries".

My function as Archbishop is ecumenical, and it was clear to me that I could not meet the Bishop of Rome representing some rag bag of dissolute Churches but ought to be able to present at least a process of consistency that involved identity as the Anglican Church. I have to identify common ground that is more than something along the lines of ecumenical relationships within our own Communion.

Yes, the Advent Letter with its mixture of Evangelical Bible understanding and traditional Catholic ecclesiology failed to bring along most of those who threatened to stay away from the Lambeth Conference 2008. Nevertheless I still could not risk further rushed resolutions at the Lambeth Conference under my management (but not my management, as I am but an Instrument). Consistent with these aims of identity and apostolic consistency I set up groups to further the Windsor Process whilst the bishops who did come made conversation with each other and showed a consistency of purpose over their disagreements, and everyone left feeling progress had been made towards understanding what it meant to be bishops. It was good for them to get back to basics.

However, it is not unclear that we arrived at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica still in a position of unclarity. And the differences exposed there did lead to my Presidential actions and Address presenting a situation of not inconsiderable confusion of people as to the ongoing direction of the process and the progress of the proposed Covenant. Of course I urge patience, including upon myself, though not myself, and the final draft of the proposed Covenant will return after Section 4 has been reconsidered, even if largely unchanged, to see where further it can go or not.

But of course all of this was before the recent meeting of The Episcopal Church General triennial Convention in 2009, and the passing of key resolutions regarding all of this and with implications for communion-wide apostolic authority. A lay woman wrote to me afterwards about this and I think this Protestant approach expects me to respond, and having consulted some bishops on the matter the next stage in the process now comes to the response I can give to the letter.

Now in the not my Advent Letter I had written: would be unrealistic and ungrateful to expect more from TEC in terms of clarification. Whatever our individual perspectives, I think we need to honour the intentions and the hard work done by the bishops of TEC. For many of them, this has been a very costly and demanding experience, testing both heart and conscience.

We must indeed not be ungrateful. In passing resolutions D025 and C056 relating to the process of consenting to the ordination of bishops respectively and the gathering of liturgies regarding same sex blessings, we should not be unwilling to understand the very real desire in this local Church to contribute to the Communion and indeed pay many of its bills. The collection plate is a central part of any gift into the Church and should always remain a particular means of identifying submission to apostolic authority. As Archbishop, I counsel against those too easily dismissive of the financial sacrifice for the gift of the worldwide Church, and certainly I shall do little to undermine the financial sacrifice that allows our worldwide witness to continue.

Nor should we be not be undismissive of the interpretations by the local Church upon its actions; that bishops in dioceses will continue to disagree and discern when it comes to the deeper processes of selecting candidates for consecration, and that as yet pastoral considerations for the saying of prayers for same sex couples are different from the use of a Church wide liturgy: such is indeed only to be examined, not put into effect (for a minimum of three years). Nor should we not decline to reject the sense that while a moratorium continues to exist, boundary crossings by bishops from other local Churches continued and indeed a Church was established outside the Anglican Communion by those inside, or formerly inside, the Anglican Communion.

Nevertheless, The Episcopal Church as an administrative unit of Canon Law has decided on no formal objection to the consecration of a partnered gay or lesbian bishop, not is there resistance in this local Church to blessings for gay and lesbian people, and it has to be asked whether waiting for these actions constitutes any more of a moratoria. We have moved, seemingly, from a nearly-moratoria, where it has held, to a not quite not moratoria, where it may not hold. Now whilst I certainly do not misunderstand that there can be substance in nuances like these, many people do not, and it has to be asked whether these resolutions constitute the maintenance of apostolic authority at the level of the international Church, the Communion for which Anglicans have Instruments like myself beyond my self.

At the same time, we have some Primates who think that they can establish alternative authority, that the Archbishop of Anglicanism only holds authority when it agrees with their Evangelical opinion, and have set up alternative structures with some characteristics of a local Church, which clearly lie outside the collegiate nature of a worldwide Church or attempt to constitute one of its own.

So where do we go from here, because even if this matter was acceptable according to Catholic ecclesiology, which it surely cannot be, nor does it work as an ecumenical matter when engaging in Church to Church relationships, for example with Rome or the Orthodox?

My own (and it is my own) dilemma is this. If I am working as an Instrument of Communion, and having given up my former views (in the manner of the Speaker alluded to above), with the exception of Catholic ecclesiology (which, while not wishing to contradict, in my view is unaffected by the giving up of views), what difference can be made by changing the personnel of the Instruments of Communion? Arguably, as being operators of collective, apostolic authority, in the Anglican tradition, we are doing only what we can do, and anyone else does, in the roles that we carry through.

Nevertheless, there is a me struggling to be released from all of this, and if I were to follow in the tradition of recent Archbishops, or at least one of them, we would be unlike the Speaker in retirement because we do resume our opinions. For example, I might combine my Catholic ecclesiology with being very much favourable to the full inclusion of partnered gay or lesbian people as holy unions capable of participation in the life of the Church at all levels of ministry. On the other hand, if the me inside has concluded throughout my tenure as Archbishop that Anglicanism does not work, and the only solution is to become part of the Church of Rome or Orthodoxy, then I would have to bury such opinions even more under the stronger yoke of apostolic authority. The analogy would then have to be with my views on the virginal conception: that once I dismissed this particularity as unimportant (in effect, disbelief) but came, through positions of authority, to see its usefulness and indeed to promote within me a sort of personal agreement with it now subsumed anyway within me as an Instrument of Communion. Otherwise I should be released into a condition of having my Orders yet without ministry into a condition of relative theological freedom and I might change my mind again even on this small matter.

So I finish this letter with this reflection on such a personal note. Otherwise, I ask the Instruments of Communion to formulate a policy as to how we might proceed, given that no one wishes to see further worldwide schism, nor an impoverished Communion (in all senses), nor a change from the constricted view of apostolic authority within which I have been working for perhaps too long.


Dennis said...

Wow. You have created the definitive parody of Rowan Williams.

Not content with merely copying his style you have channeled his voice, his hesitant self-doubt, his convoluted processes of speech and thought.

The essence of a good parody is to give us the reality that we had never seen. (think some of the best parodies of great writers, or the good stuff in Private Eye years ago or the show Spitting Image)

Honestly, this is a masterpiece.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm flattered!

The rule of parody is keep it close to the subject, and let their own 'comedy' do the laughing - so don't overdo the jokes and just bring out the contrasts. You can though increase the contrasts towards the end to bring it to a conclusion and underline the point, but don't destroy it.

Fr Craig said...

yup - just as clear as always. thanks A

June Butler said...

When did the ABC suddenly become plain-spoken? That was my first thought as I sat and read in utter amazement. And then, I caught on. I'm a little slow.

Well, at least now I understand him. Excellent.

Erika Baker said...

Truly brilliant. Insightful, well written, funny yet serious - brilliant.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

So one person says: "you have channeled his voice, his hesitant self-doubt, his convoluted processes of speech and thought." Then Grandmère Mimi says, "When did the ABC suddenly become plain-spoken?"

Clearly, not so good a parody then if one of you thought he was suddenly too plain spoken!

The clue was 'Archbishop of Anglicanism' and nowhere does it say Canterbury. I mean I don't know who Bishop Tom is, that he refers to in here.

I've been thinking, though, can I do Bishop Tom and what sort of voice would be involved. I think there I'd have to go for some comedy and obvious extremity. Like some sort of extended biblical point followed by, 'I'll punch his effing head in' sort of thing.

Unfortunately I've other things to do for a while despite the challenge. But I can imagine the title, to be something like, 'G'night Bishop Tom', as if played partly by the late John Thaw and then end up by duffing everyone up in sight.

June Butler said...

I botched it. Sorry. I think I got confused. You're too good for a low brow like me.

June Butler said...

Adrian, the paragraph which I quoted on my blog is hilarious and very like the Archbishop.

How can I fix having made a fool of myself twice in your comments? By trying a third time, of course.

Off topic, I must tell you that I'm green with envy that you drew Erika's portrait.

Dennis said...

perhaps a certain Lord Bishop lately of Rochester might be entertaining to parody? So much material to work with and you just couldn't push that one too far. Remember that children aren't an optional extra in marriage, especially if they help take back neighbourhood no-go areas.

John D said...

Well. I have been into the gin tonight, but this is brilliant. It is a dreadful shame that those of us who pray for the Revolution will have to drag the old British men behind us.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

A superb exercise in reading a very conflicted mind!

June Butler said...

I'm still trying to redeem myself from what I fear is an irredeemable situation. Your parody is excellent.

Rule 1: Never read parody quickly.

My first reading was quick, and I was confused about the quotes because I didn't click the links.

Rule 2: Never comment until you've clicked on the links.

I read through the whole post again, following the links, and you have RW down just right. I only hope that you don't take on his way of writing and speaking permanently. It could get to be a habit. Perhaps it would be best if you took on someone else - say Mr Tom - to break the pattern.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Er, guess what? You don't need to guess. Do look carefully at the pictures, and remember that to copy them to click on them first to get them full size.

Daniel Lee said...


Dude seriously, this pseudo-epigrapha is one of the very best things you have given all of us, so far.

What anguish to be him, but not him.
Goodness sakes.

Deep thanks.