Bonnie Anderson, President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, has released the following statement on the communiqué from the recently-completed Primates Meeting and on the report of the Windsor Continuation Group:
The two principal documents released by the Primates at their recent meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, namely The Primates Communiqué and the Report of the Windsor Continuation Group are a study in contrast.
In their communiqué, the Primates, who once issued deadlines, made veiled threats and attempted unwelcome incursions into the affairs of the Anglican Consultative Council and member Churches, have adopted both a new tone and a broader set of theological concerns. In both the Communiqué and in their meeting processes, the Primates seem to be yearning for a deeper sense of communion in God’s mission through prayer, conversation, shared vulnerability and mutual understanding. They state that “we are each burdened and diminished by each other’s failings and pain.” (Paragraph 9). However, this statement stops short of recognizing the pain and division caused by several of the Primates themselves—an ironic development considering the group’s call for “accountability”—but it nonetheless recognizes that our current difficulties are not the fault of a single party.
The Primates renewed focus on mission is an encouraging development. They have offered welcome leadership in their statements on Zimbabwe, Sudan and Gaza, and continue to explore how the Communion can respond to the challenges of global warming and the global financial crisis. Efforts to coordinate and enhance Anglican relief and development work are particularly promising, as they suggest a willingness to be in partnership to heal the world, even though there are theological differences in the broken body of Christ.
In stark contrast to the increasingly relational tone reflected in the Primates Communiqué, the Windsor Continuation Group has taken a step backward, issuing a report that yearns for greater ecclesial centralization achieved by concentrating power in the hands of bishops and archbishops, further marginalizing the laity and diminishing the influence of member churches in the common life of our Communion. The authors of the report—two retired primates, a primate, two bishops and a retired Cathedral dean—believe an “ecclesial deficit” exists within Anglicanism and propose to remedy it by strengthening three of the four “Instruments of Communion”, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting. The instrument they have overlooked is the Anglican Consultative Council; the only instrument that includes lay people, priests and deacons and that has a constitution that codifies its membership, procedures and authority. The ACC’s meetings have proven much less susceptible to outside manipulation than those of the Primates Meetings, as the machinations at Dromantine and Dar es Salaam made painfully clear.
Yet the Windsor Continuation Group argues that the Communion must receive statements from the Primates: “with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation,” while questioning whether the Anglican Consultative Council can “adequately” exercise the purely consultative function it currently serves. This illustrates a triumph of ecclesial ideology over common sense.
As we move into a greater sense of mutuality and interdependence in the Anglican Communion through renewed relationship in service to God’s mission in the whole world, it is imperative that we hear the voices of lay Anglicans from around the Communion. We cannot determine where God is leading the Church unless we are aware of how the Holy Spirit is at work at every level of ministry in every province of our Communion. Proposals to centralize authority in the hands of primates and bishops are potentially impoverishing to our faith. Instead, let us together as all the baptized people of God, rededicate ourselves to extending the saving and life-giving message of Jesus and not look for easy answers in quick ecclesial fixes. Let us be encouraged by the Primates’ renewed energy in God’s mission and not allow ourselves to be bogged down in the proposals of the Windsor Continuation Group. As we all serve God’s mission, we trust that the Holy Spirit will recreate and renew the whole of the Anglican Communion.
Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies