After the Big Hearing:
A Conversation with the Archbishop of York

Rev. Andrew Gerns
Deputy from the Diocese of Bethlehem 6/15/2006

One of the persons who testified tonight was the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. It is clear that his presence here is most vital. While it is important that so many Bishops from all over the Anglican Communion are here with us to watch, listen and pray, the Archbishops presence is of singular importance. I believe that his presence here allows us to listen as closely as possible to not only Archbishop Sentamu's mind on the issues before us, but also represents the direction and thinking of the Archbishop of Canterbury as well. Sentamu's style is very accessible and direct. His approach is at once down-to-earth and thoughtful. So when he stepped up to the microphone, speaker number 67 out of 69, I perked up to listen carefully.

What I heard the Archbishop say sounded like some of what came before at first but was different. I was to learn in a subsequent conversation, that much of what was testified on “both sides of the aisle” was important for us in and of itself, but is not be at the heart of what an adequate response to the Lambeth Commission on Communion ought to be. There is at once both more and less than meets the eye.

I heard Archbishop Sentamu tell the Committee that what occurred in 2003 with the election, consent and consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson was a crisis for our friendship in the Anglican Communion but not an insurmountable one. He said that we need space to heal, and the Lambeth Commission on Communion attempted to give us all space to heal. The question he posed was this: Is A160 and A161 sufficient to heal the friendship? He said “I am doubtful this is so.”

He quoted Michael Ramsey who reminded us that the center of Anglicanism is that we are led into the heart of the Gospel, and at the heart is the suffering of Christ for the sake of the world. “Do these resolutions show the world the marks of Christ's suffering? Do they show the marks of Christ's crucifixion?”

He went to say that truth and unity are inseparable. He again asked the Committee to consider if the proposals before them, particularly A160 and A161 (he may have had others in mind, but my notes indicate he was speaking of these at that moment), promote both truth and unity. If they do not, then the language needs to be strengthened. He said “I am not sure that the resolutions as they now stand give us the space to heal.”

His testimony both startled me and, frankly, scared me a bit. I came into the hearings believing that the Resolutions A159-A169 taken together make a full and more than adequate response to the Lambeth Commission. Was the Archbishop in fact in agreement with some of the more dire and extreme positions about what Lambeth compliance meant? So, on finding that he sat down two rows in front of me, I decided that I would ask him myself.

What followed was a fascinating and generous discussion that I found most helpful and enlightening.

I asked the Archbishop directly what he thought we needed to do to make us more repair the friendships? He said simply: whenever possible in the resolutions use “purely the language of the Windsor Report.” He also said that we must be absolutely resolute in the face of emotional issues arising out of Windsor to stay firmly focused on one thing and one thing only: communion and the process of how we make our decisions.

He said that it was clear that the Special Commission had done their work in making the response as true to Windsor as possible, but in instances when the group chose language that was close to but at variance with Windsor, it left us open to the charge that we were trying to avoid or minimize our compliance with the reports' recommendations. This has the additional effect of making it hard to address the issue of other Provinces invading US and Canadian provinces, something which the Lambeth Commission roundly condemns.

The testimony that reflected the debate about the full inclusion of GLBT folks in the church, including ordination and blessings, is not at the heart of the Windsor Report. He told me point blank, that many of those who testified that connecting these issues with Windsor compliance “got it wrong.”

In our conversation, he pulled out his copy of the Windsor Report and compared to my copy of the Report of the Special Commission on Communion. This would mean that the “considerable caution language” of A161 should be substituted with the “moratorium” language of Windsor 134.

He told me that the “regret” language of A160 has nothing do with ordaining a Bishop Robinson, but rather that our consultation with the Communion was weak. He contrasted Lambeth 1968 that stated that there was no theological barrier to the ordination of women with the fact that there was no equivalent statement yet on the issue of same-sex blessings or the ordination of gays and lesbians. He was quick to acknowledge that our practice, as in England, is happening faster than our ability to consult and reflect.

I asked him if regret had to with actually consecrating +Gene, and he said no. Our regret must turn on how we needed to get a wider consensus in the Communion. We cannot, and must not, 'take back' +Gene's election and consecration. Our regret is that we did not make the case to the rest of the Communion as to the biblical basis for what God is calling us to do.

He pointed out to me that the language of Windsor itself looks forward to a new consensus in the future. Windsor 134 says “until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges” relative to ordination of gay or lesbian bishops. We say in A162, relative to rite for same-sex blessings “some broader consensus.” Sentamu felt the Windsor language was both hopeful and positive.

At the end of the conversation, I tried to summarize what I thought I heard. To repair the friendships that are strained or breaches we need to do three things: in our formal responses we need to use the language of Windsor whenever possible. Archbishop Sentamu did not say that we needed to adopt Windsor word for word, but that in our practical response we must to the extent possible use that language.

Second, we need to focus on the Communion and decision-making issues and not about the sexuality issues. He said, what if we were not talking about gay bishops and same-sex unions, but instead was talking of Lay Presidency of the Eucharist. He challenged me to imagine that the Windsor report was generated not by our consecrating +Gene or New Westminster's blessing ceremonies, but by a Province unilaterally instituting lay presidency at the Eucharist. If we focus on the how and the why we did what we did, not the what, then we will begin to get an idea of what the main focus of the Lambeth Commission on Communion was.

Third, having given ourselves and our friends in the Communion space, we have the chance to make the case. we need to make the biblical case for our vision of the church and our actions. He says we have a good case, but that we have only made a start in articulating it in a way that others, particulary with strong, positive biblical approach.

Our conversation made me feel energized. So many people want to get the Archbishop on "their" side. I believe he is on the side of the Episcopal Church. He wants us to succeed this week and to stay in the Anglican Communion. He is not interested in us "taking back" what we did or even having us stop doing what we are doing, but to take the time long enough to make the case to others in the Communion. He is aware that going this direction will disappoint some and anger others. But we are mending a friendship, he told me several times. -- Rev. Andrew Gerns - Bethlehem 6/15/2006

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