GENERAL CONVENTION 2003
Anglican Communion's Common Life
July 23, 2003
To: Primates of the Anglican
Communion and Moderators of the United Churches
At the present time, anxiety about our unity as a Communion threatens to overshadow the gifts and grace of God in our common life, and we must all be very deeply grieved about this. At our meeting in Brazil, the question was raised as to whether we really wanted to be a Communion, or just a federation of local churches; and the feeling of that meeting was very strongly that we wanted to be much more than a federation.
But what does it mean to be a Communion rather than a federation? It means that provinces recognize each other as true churches of Christ, so that the apostolic ministry of one local church can be exercised freely in another local church. It means that we have ways of being accountable to each other, so that decisions in any one local church are not taken without consultation and awareness of the consequences a decision may have for other churches. It means that we regard our unity as more than a matter of human agreement, more even than a matter of doctrinal uniformity; we see it as something rooted in the Word of God who is active both through our reading and hearing of Scripture and in our performance of Baptism and Holy Communion.
On these criteria, the Anglican Communion is on the way to being a Communion, but still learning. Differences of belief about the ministry of women as priests and bishops have led us to a situation of impaired communion in which the ministries of our provinces are not completely interchangeable. Our mutual accountability is still very undeveloped in regard to how we make decisions. What makes this a significant time in the Communion is that a number of the choices faced by various provinces are choices that will clearly take us either nearer real communion or further from it.
The choices to which I am referring are not only issues around human sexuality, though these are the most talked-about. They also include concerns about lay presidency at Holy Communion, and about the proper provision for minorities in a church who dissent in conscience from some official position of their province or diocese. Certain decisions bearing directly or indirectly on sexuality are likely to have the effect of deepening the divide between provinces (and between our Communion and other confessions), not least in making any shared understanding of discipline much harder and exposing what many see as serious differences about how we read and obey Scripture. Options for lay presidency would raise for many the question of how sacramental act in one province could be recognised as being theologically the same as what was being done in another province. A canonically uncontrolled development of Ã«alternativeÃ pastoral or sacramental care risks weakening the proper sense that ministry in a province should in every way be a shared enterprise, in which there is care for each other within the life of a local church.
I should be very concerned to think that any decision taken by a local church ignored these considerations, and I want to encourage you and your fellow bishops to hold such questions very clearly before you in all that you do, individually and collectively. We do not have a central executive authority in our Communion; this means we are quite vulnerable in times of deep disagreement, and need more than ever to pay attention to one another. St. Paul says in I Corinthians 11:33: Ã«When you gather together to eat the LordÃs Supper, wait for one another.Ã We all need to ponder how this may apply to our situations. This is not to recommend a refusal to face circumstances or to avoid conflict at all costs. It is to acknowledge that who we are as Christians is connected to the worldwide fellowship to which we belong. Within a living Communion, we should never find ourselves in the position of saying, or seeming to say, to each other, Ã«I have no need of youÃ (I Cor. 12.21).
If we believe that our Anglican tradition has, by the grace of God, been given certain precious and life-giving elements for nourishing holy life, and effective witness, we are bound by our duties and responsibilities as bishops to care for its survival and coherence. May God the Holy Spirit give us Ã«right judgment in all thingsÃ and bring to mind our joyful dependence on each other for our spiritual health and growth as we seek the right and faithful way forward in each of our situations.
With love and prayers — +Rowan
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