A Statement by the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Lambeth

October 16, 2003 [ACNS] - The Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Moderators of the United Churches, meeting together at Lambeth Palace on the 15th and 16th October, 2003, wish to express our gratitude to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for calling us together in response to recent events in the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada, and the Episcopal Church (USA), and
welcoming us into his home so that we might take counsel together, and to
seek to discern, in an atmosphere of common prayer and worship, the will and
guidance of the Holy Spirit for the common life of the thirty-eight provinces which constitute our Communion.

At a time of tension, we have struggled at great cost with the issues before
us, but have also been renewed and strengthened in our Communion with one
another through our worship and study of the Bible. This has led us into a
deeper commitment to work together, and we affirm our pride in the Anglican
inheritance of faith and order and our firm desire to remain part of a
Communion, where what we hold in common is much greater than that which
divides us in proclaiming Good News to the world.

At this time we feel the profound pain and uncertainty shared by others
about our Christian discipleship in the light of controversial decisions by
the Diocese of New Westminster to authorise a Public Rite of Blessing for
those in committed same sex relationships, and by the 74th General
Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to confirm the election of a priest
in a committed same sex relationship to the office and work of a Bishop.

These actions threaten the unity of our own Communion as well as our
relationships with other parts of Christ's Church, our mission and witness,
and our relations with other faiths, in a world already confused in areas of
sexuality, morality and theology, and polarised Christian opinion.

As Primates of our Communion seeking to exercise the "enhanced
responsibility" entrusted to us by successive Lambeth Conferences, we
re-affirm our common understanding of the centrality and authority of
Scripture in determining the basis of our faith. Whilst we acknowledge a
legitimate diversity of interpretation that arises in the Church, this
diversity does not mean that some of us take the authority of Scripture more
lightly than others. Nevertheless, each province needs to be aware of the
possible effects of its interpretation of Scripture on the life of other
provinces in the Communion. We commit ourselves afresh to mutual respect
whilst seeking from the Lord a correct discernment of how God's Word speaks
to us in our contemporary world.

We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican
Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human
sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion
as its present position on these issues. We commend the report of that
Conference in its entirety to all members of the Anglican Communion, valuing
especially its emphasis on the need "to listen to the experience of
homosexual persons, and to assure them that they are loved by God and that
all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual
orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ"; and its
acknowledgement of the need for ongoing study on questions of human

Therefore, as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New
Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA) which appear to a number of
provinces to have short-circuited that process, and could be perceived to
alter unilaterally the teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue.
They do not. Whilst we recognise the juridical autonomy of each province in
our Communion, the mutual interdependence of the provinces means that none
has authority unilaterally to substitute an alternative teaching as if it
were the teaching of the entire Anglican Communion.

To this extent, therefore, we must make clear that recent actions in New
Westminster and in the Episcopal Church (USA) do not express the mind of our
Communion as a whole, and these decisions jeopardise our sacramental
fellowship with each other. We have a particular concern for those who in
all conscience feel bound to dissent from the teaching and practice of their
province in such matters. Whilst we reaffirm the teaching of successive
Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial
integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the
provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of
dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation
with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) has explained to us the
constitutional framework within which the election and confirmation of a new
bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) takes place. As Primates, it is not for
us to pass judgement on the constitutional processes of another province. We
recognise the sensitive balance between provincial autonomy and the
expression of critical opinion by others on the internal actions of a
province. Nevertheless, many Primates have pointed to the grave difficulties
that this election has raised and will continue to raise. In most of our
provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible
since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his
consecration as a bishop.

If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial
and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to
conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In
this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of
the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to
be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the
fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further
division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in
consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose
not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).

Similar considerations apply to the situation pertaining in the Diocese of
New Westminster.

We have noted that the Lambeth Conference 1998 requested the Archbishop of
Canterbury to establish a commission to consider his own role in maintaining
communion within and between provinces when grave difficulties arise . We
ask him now to establish such a commission, but that its remit be extended
to include urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in
which the dangers we have identified at this meeting will have to be
addressed. We request that such a commission complete its work, at least in
relation to the issues raised at this meeting, within twelve months.

We urge our provinces not to act precipitately on these wider questions, but
take time to share in this process of reflection and to consider their own
constitutional requirements as individual provinces face up to potential

Questions of the parity of our canon law, and the nature of the relationship
between the laws of our provinces with one another have also been raised. We
encourage the Network of Legal Advisers established by the Anglican
Consultative Council, meeting in Hong Kong in 2002, to bring to completion
the work which they have already begun on this question.

It is clear that recent controversies have opened debates within the life of
our Communion which will not be resolved until there has been a lengthy
process of prayer, reflection and substantial work in and alongside the
Commission which we have recommended. We pray that God will equip our
Communion to be equal to the task and challenges which lie before it.

"Now I appeal to the elders of your community, as a fellow elder and a
witness to Christ's sufferings, and as one who has shared in the glory to be
revealed: look after the flock of God whose shepherd you are." (1 Peter

10/16/03 -j