A fellow-Christian may believe they have a profound fresh insight. They seek to persuade others about it. A healthy church gives space for such exchanges. But the Christian with the new insight can’t claim straight away that this is now what the Church of God believes or intends; and it quite rightly takes a long time before any novelty can begin to find a way into the public liturgy, even if it has been widely agreed. Confusion arises when what is claimed as a new discernment presents itself as carrying the Church’s authority.
And that’s why the pleas for continuing moratoria regarding certain new policies and practices have been uttered. Such pleas have found wide support across the range of views represented in the indaba groups. The Church in its wider life can’t be committed definitively by the judgment of some; but when a new thing is enshrined, in whatever way, in public order and ministry, it will look like a definitive commitment. The theological ground for a plea for moratoria is the need to avoid this confusion so that discernment continues together. The Resolution of Lambeth ’98 was an attempt to say both ‘We need understanding and shared discernment on a hugely complex topic,’ and ‘We as the bishops in council together are not persuaded that the new thoughts offered to us can be reconciled with our shared loyalty to Scripture.’ Perhaps we should read that Resolution – forgetting for a moment the bitterness and confusion around the debate and acknowledging that it remains where our Communion as a global community stands – as an attempt to define what a healthy Church might need – space for study and free discussion without pressure, pastoral patience and respect, unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from Scripture and tradition. And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding. To say that the would-be innovator must be heard gratefully and respectfully is simply to acknowledge the debt we always owe to those who ask unfamiliar questions, because they prompt us to explore our tradition more deeply.
It’s worth adding, too, that the call for a moratorium on interventions across provinces belongs in the same theological framework. Such interventions often imply that nothing within a province, no provision made or pastoral care offered, can be recognizably and adequately Christian; and this is a claim not lightly to be made by any Christian community regarding any other without grave breach of charity. And it seems to be widely agreed in this Conference that internal pastoral and liturgical care, strengthened by arrangements like the suggested Communion Partners initiative in the USA and the proposed Pastoral Forum we have been discussing, are the way we should go if we want to avoid further ecclesial confusion.
We have quite a strong degree of support for a Pastoral Forum to support minorities, a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work, and a recognition – though still with many questions – that a Covenant is needed. We have a strongly expressed intention to place our international development work on a firmer and more co-ordinated footing. Where will the work be done? Before the ACC meeting next year – which will be a significant element in implementing our vision – I intend to convene a Primates’ Meeting as early as possible in 2009. I shall look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum, and I shall ensure that the perspectives of various groups looking at the Covenant and the Windsor process, as well as the Design Group for this Conference help to shape the implementation of the agenda outlined in the Reflections document, and are fed into the special meeting in November of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board. And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages. Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here.