Primates support 'pastoral visitors' to assist in healing Anglican divisions

Final communiqué encourages 'gracious restraint' by all sides
February 5, 2009

Anglican leaders meeting in Egypt have affirmed the recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group and called for the development of a "pastoral council" and the appointment of "pastoral visitors" to assist in healing and reconciliation given the current "situation of tension" in the Anglican Communion.

In a communiqué released on the final day of their February 1-5 meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, the primates are also encouraging all parties in the current controversies to maintain "gracious restraint" with respect to actions that could exacerbate the tensions, such as same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told ENS that she is encouraged by the tone of the communiqué, but acknowledged that "the long-term impact of 'gracious restraint' is a matter for General Convention," the Episcopal Church's main legislative body that next meets in July in Anaheim, California.

"We are going to have to have honest conversations about who we are as a church and the value we place on our relationships and mission opportunities with other parts of the communion and how we can be faithful with many spheres of relationship at the same time," she said. "That is tension-producing and will be anxiety-producing for many, but we are a people that live in hope, not in instant solutions but in faithfulness to God."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told a news conference on February 5 that "the spirit of this meeting has been very constructive. I don't think many people have changed their minds, but there has been a willingness to listen and find accommodation for one another."

The report from the Windsor Continuation Group has been welcomed "almost uniformly," Jefferts Schori said.

Williams underscored the group's emphasis that there needs to be "a shift of focus from autonomy of provinces within the communion … to communion as the primary reality with autonomy within that framework. It represents very much the tone of discussion" at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, he said.

In their communiqué, titled "Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint," the primates acknowledged that they are "called to mutual accountability and to bear faithful witness to what is held dear in the life of our provinces and to the inheritance of faith as our church has received it. Together we share responsibility with the other Instruments of Communion for discerning what is best for the well-being of our communion.

"We are conscious that the attitudes and deliberations of the primates have sometimes inadvertently given rise to disappointment and even disillusion. We acknowledge that we still struggle to get the balance right in our deliberations and ask for the prayers of our people in seeking the assistance of the Holy Spirit to support and direct us in discharging our responsibilities before God."

The Windsor Continuation Group report is available here. An electronic version of the primates' communiqué is available here.

The WCG, which last met in December 2008, has been charged with addressing questions arising from the 2004 Windsor Report, a document that recommended ways in which the Anglican Communion can maintain unity amid diversity of opinions, especially relating to human sexuality issues and theological interpretations.

'Pastoral visitors' would be interim step
At the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the WCG called for the "swift formation" of a "pastoral forum" that would rapidly "engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the communion." The forum, the WCG said, could "offer pastoral advice and guidelines in conflicted, confused and fragile situations" and "work alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury in the exercise of his ministry."

In his final presidential address at Lambeth on August 3, Williams said that he would look for a "clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a pastoral forum" within the next two months. However, there had been no mention of the progress made on appointing such a forum until the primates' communiqué and the WCG report.

The Reflections Document released at the end of the 2008 Lambeth Conference acknowledged a "clear majority support for a pastoral forum along the lines advocated by the Windsor Group, and a desire to see it in place speedily."

The bishops at Lambeth agreed that the forum "should be pastoral and not legal and should be able to respond quickly. It was also clearly stated that this process should always be moving towards reconciliation."

The continuation group's most recent report cautioned that its proposed pastoral forum was not intended to have the power to interpret and apply any laws or canons, would not have its own constitution and accompanying authority, would not act as an appeals court, and "could not override or supersede the canons and constitutions of any province or the role of any of the instruments of communion." It would be meant to work with the churches of the communion "in a pastoral, relational and advisory capacity in addressing particular issues of tension between them," the report said. "It could, however, with the co-operation of the parties, suggest, advance and, with their consent, develop models or mechanisms of pastoral care and relationship to assist in any situation."  

Acknowledging that a pastoral forum or council "would need authorization and legitimacy within the communion, and [that] questions of 'mandate, membership, appointment process and authority' will have to be addressed," the continuation group recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury consult with the Joint Standing Committee in advance of the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in May. The ACC is the communion's main policy-making body.

In the interim, both the primates and the continuation group said they agree with Williams' plan appoint "pastoral visitors" who could be called upon in any dispute or situation of tension until the ACC meeting.  Despite that time limit, the continuation group noted that Williams suggested an initial 12-month appointment.

The group's report also that the visitors would be required to act in a manner "consistent with the constitutions and canons of those provinces" in which they operate. Further, the group said it welcomed what it called Williams' decision that the visitors "would not have any authority to make dispositions or proposals for structural solutions to any situation, unless expressly authorized to do so by the primate or other lawful authority of the particular provinces with which they have been asked to work."

The pastoral visitors are expected to be people "who can listen and have strong skills in healing and reconciliation," said Jefferts Schori, who noted that the Primates Meeting had been "less acerbic" than the February 2007 gathering in Dar es Salaam. "The conversation has been gracious, sometimes challenging, but there is a growing recognition of the remarkably different contexts in which we function."

Primates discuss proposal for second Anglican organization in North America
Discussions among the primates about a new proposed entity in North America, intended to operate along theological rather than geographical lines, has revealed that there is "little patience with the idea of parallel jurisdictions and a continued urge toward the expectation of reconciliation," said Jefferts Schori. "I welcome the opportunity for mediation and would expect my brothers who have offered shelter to the refugees to use their influence to bring the refugees' leaders to the discussion table."

Members of several self-identified Anglican organizations, known collectively as the Common Cause Partnership, announced the formation of the new entity in December 2008 for Anglicans who have decided they no longer want to be a part of the Episcopal Church or Anglican Church of Canada for theological reasons.

The WCG report notes "some of the enormous difficulties around parallel jurisdictions but recognizes the desire of people in these groups to be Anglican," Williams said, underscoring that the entity is "not a new province -- it's a coalition that has drafted a constitution. What its institutional relationship is with the communion is very unclear."

The primates' communiqué acknowledges that "there is no consensus among us about how this new entity should be regarded," but said the members support a WCG recommendation (in paragraph 101 of its report) that Williams "establish at the earliest opportunity a professionally mediated conversation at which all the significant parties could be gathered."
The continuation group said in its recommendation that the aim of such a conversation "would be to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the covenant process, or the achievement of long term reconciliation in the communion."

Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Argentina-based Province of the Southern Cone has offered oversight to parishes and dioceses breaking away from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Venables, who attended the Primates Meeting, told ENS that there is a realization among the supporters of the new North American entity that they need to be patient if they wish to seek official recognition by the councils of the Anglican Communion. Such recognition would need the endorsement of two-thirds of the primates before being presented to the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration.

A statement from Lambeth Palace made shortly after the new entity was announced noted that "there are clear guidelines set out in the Anglican Consultative Council Reports, notably ACC 10 in 1996 (resolution 12), detailing the steps necessary for the amendments of existing provincial constitutions and the creation of new provinces. Once begun, any of these processes will take years to complete."

Venables said there had been a lot of "open and frank discussion" at the Primates Meeting. "There's a whole load of stuff under the surface," he said, "but the atmosphere is better than at other meetings."

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya told ENS that this meeting had not been "as stormy" as the last, but that the issues were still the same. "The primary concern is same-sex blessings," he said.

Primates respond to crises in Gaza, Sudan, Zimbabwe
Expressing their "distress [at] the injury and loss of life in Gaza and southern Israel," the primates issued a statement February 5 calling "for an immediate cessation of all armed aggression. We deplore the fact that a way was not found to continue the ceasefire beyond six months and that violence has since escalated on both sides."

The primates gave thanks for "the selfless work of those ministering in the hospitals and clinics, and caring for the traumatized, the injured and the dying," especially noting the work of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. "We call upon our churches and international organizations to help in the rebuilding of Gaza and to respond to the enormous humanitarian need. We also call upon our governments to use their best efforts to secure an immediate and lasting ceasefire as an essential precondition to negotiations leading to a lasting peace."

The primates released a February 3 statement calling on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to step down and urging "the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes" in the devastated African nation.

The statement noted "with horror the appalling difficulties" in Zimbabwe under the current regime.

Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul had appealed to his fellow primates on February 4 saying that the Church in Sudan needs "urgent support for the work of relief, rehabilitation and resettlement" and calling on the Anglican Communion "not to abandon the people of Sudan in this time of danger and uncertainty."

The primates responded to Deng's address with a February 5 statement making a specific point that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement "has not been implemented and the effect is the pauperization of people in southern Sudan," said Williams. "The situation in Darfur cannot be remedied unless the situation in southern Sudan is addressed."

On February 4, the Anglican leaders visited the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a major library and cultural center that dates back to the third century BC. The ancient library was destroyed 1600 years ago but international support and funding brought it back to life in 2002.

Primates look forward to next covenant draft
Earlier in the week, the primates heard from Archbishop John Chew of Southeast Asia who presented the latest draft (St. Andrew's Draft) of the proposed Anglican covenant. There was also conversation among the primates about the Lambeth Commentary, a document that sets out the responses of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in their discussions of the St. Andrew's Draft.

Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of the Anglican Church of Australia, spokesperson for the primates, said there has been a "general warming" to the idea of a covenant, but acknowledged that there was "increasing realism" among the primates about what a covenant can and can't do. "We're probably pulling back from language about sanctions and teeth," he said, noting that there had been a lot of discussion about a framework for "koinonia" -- a Greek word that refers to the relationships of communion.

"If there is a failure in communion, then there needs to be more of an investment" in relationships, Aspinall said. "There is a pulling back from stick-over-the-head sanctions and a move towards deeper relationships of what will make a covenant work."

The provinces have until March 9 to respond to the St. Andrew's Draft. The Covenant Design Group will meet again in April to discuss the responses and perhaps produce a third draft that will be presented to the ACC in May. Appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the primates of the Anglican Communion, the Covenant Design Group has been meeting since January 2007.

The idea for an Anglican covenant comes from the Windsor Report (paragraphs 113-120) and has been supported by all the instruments of communion as a way for the Anglican Communion to maintain unity amid differing viewpoints, especially on human sexuality issues and biblical interpretation.

The primates said in paragraph 16 of their communiqué that they look forward to the covenant text being presented to the ACC in May "which will commend itself to our Provinces because it speaks of the mutuality that should characterize the life of Christians and of Churches; of a relationship which exercises the self-limitation and gracious restraint born of true affection, and which should be marked by a spirit of humility and integrity."

In other action:

  • The primates endorsed a second phase of Theological Education in the Anglican Communion (TEAC) to focus on resourcing and supporting theological educators. TEAC2 will build on projects developed by TEAC1, such as supplying textbooks to Anglican theological institutions and the translation of educational materials.
  • The primates also supported a more coordinated approach to relief and development work in the Anglican Communion. In mid-January a group of relief and development practitioners met at Lambeth Palace to discuss ways the Anglican Communion may embark on "a collaborative approach to existing Anglican relief, development and advocacy activities," a report from that meeting said. A "foundational document" is expected to be presented to the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion's main legislative body, when it meets in May.
  • On February 4, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited His Beatitude Theodoros II, the Greek Orthodox Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and Africa, at his residence in Alexandria. "The Archbishop was taken on a tour of the residence including the magnificent library with its ancient books and manuscripts," according to a release from the Anglican Communion News Service. "The Archbishop and His Beatitude spoke on a range of important global topics and the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe."

Each morning throughout the five-day meeting, the primates attended Bible study, which Jefferts Schori said provided opportunities "for us to encounter how the other does theology, how the other reads scripture and to see the grace in that."

The Primates Meeting was hosted by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, under the leadership of President Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis. One of the instruments of communion in the Anglican Communion, the Primates Meeting, was chaired by Williams. The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, was secretary to the meeting.

Further information about primates meetings is available here.


-- Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, ENS national correspondent, contributed to this story.