Anglican body considers ‘relational consequences’ proposal for breaches of moratoria

Published May 5, 2009

Kingston, Jamaica
The 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has been asked to endorse a recommendation that not only reiterates the request for moratoria on issues related to sexuality, including the blessing of same-sex unions, but also calls for an exploration of “what relational consequences” there should be for those who don’t abide by them.

The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), which Archbishop Rowan Williams said was created to “contain the chaos and division” in the Anglican Communion over the issue of sexuality and to find a way forward, has recommended that the moratoria on same-sex blessings, the consecration of bishops living in same-gender union and cross-provincial interventions be maintained.

Archbishop Williams, who walked ACC delegates through the history of the WCG and its recommendations, meanwhile, urged them to explore whether Anglicanism should mean “more or less communion, integrity and cohesiveness.” He said that he believes that the WCG had made several references to an “ecclesial deficit” because the Anglican Communion, “at the moment suffers from a lack of clarity about what kind of fellowship it’s meant to be. As long as we have that lack of clarity we will be unclear about what we really mean by church.”

He said that the Anglican Communion “has never called itself a church in its official documents and yet as a worldwide communion, not just a federation, it has claimed for itself, and claimed in particular, in its relation to its ecumenical partners, that it is precisely more than an assembly of local churches who happen to belong to the same bureaucracy. ” He added: “It is trying to behave in a church-like way, recognizing ordained ministry, shared sacraments, sharing teaching, and to a large extent, doctrinal formulations and canonical positions.”

And so, he said, the following questions needed to be asked: “What does it mean to be a communion behaving in a church-like way where we can recognize sacraments, ministries, doctrine with some clarity and confidence across the communion? Or do we want to operate a system where Anglicanism is a far more dispersed family in which we can no longer in any sense act as a unit in the Christian world? Is it possible to think of an Anglican future in which local churches that were historically Anglican in their origin, practice existed in a vague global cluster with no organs for acting together within their own life or in ecumenical dialogue?”

In his speech, Archbishop Williams also set the tone for the discussion on moratoria, saying, “To talk about moratoria is to allow that to be on the table without prejudging where we finally end up, which may or may not be lasting division.” He added: “Before we do say goodbye to each other in the Communion, we owe it to the Lord of the church to have these conversations and to undertake that effort and listen to one another and taking that seriously in the Gospel.”

He added: “I would like that our Anglican Communion is a place where it’s possible for some people to say, ‘I will hold back from doing this so long as we can have a conversation in which I can explain to you why I felt it was a good thing to do this…'”

Archbishop Williams said various sides of the theological debate over the place of gays and lesbians in the church need a conversation where there is “shared honesty.” Those critical of North American churches’ position that it would be impossible to undo same-sex blessings and the ordinations of persons in same-sex unions because they feel that “we’ve discussed this in depth and have come to these conclusions for ourselves in good faith,” need to hear them say, “We would like you at least, before you go away, to hear fully what we have to say.”

Equally, Archbishop Williams said, “those who have intervened in the life of the North American provinces have repeatedly said, ‘We’ve been trying to respond to the manifest distress among other Christians. We are not empire building, we are trying in conscience to give proper care and attention and some sort of churchly hope for people who otherwise feel hopeless before you run away hear us and understand it.'”

Bishop Ikechi Nwosu, of the diocese of Umuahia, in the Church of the Province of Nigeria, asked whether it was possible to impose a deadline on the moratoria and on the listening process that the WCG has proposed, saying, “there has to be a point where it stops,” and that the fact that it’s “endless and indefinite” is a “sticky point.”

Archbishop Williams responded by saying “it’s a question that’s been on my mind every day,” but that he had a “double reaction” to it. “Yes, if only, and it may very well be that, especially if the Covenant process unfolds and we all go to a point where we have to make such a decision,” he said. “The other part of me says, in the Gospel when Peter asks Jesus how many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him.. Jesus doesn’t seem interested in a cutoff point.” Reconciliation of Christians “at the level that matters takes as long as it takes, I’m afraid, which is no joy for me or for others in positions of authority.”

He added that, “even if we are separated by a number of canonical, theological determinations, even if we blew apart as a communion in chaos and disruption, God forbid, sooner or later we would have to hear the voice of Christ and say, ‘there’s your brother, there’s your sister, there’s a long journey for you together in the path towards reconciliation.'” He ended by quoting Waldo Williams, a fellow Westh and poet, on forgiveness, “It is passing way through a path of thorns to stand alongside the enemy.”

Apart from the moratoria, the WCG, which Archbishop Williams established to “suggest at least some provisional ways forward about containing the chaos and division that threatens us (so) that we can go beyond that chaos and division to something more instructive in the life of our Communion,” recommends the following:

  • That the Instruments of Communion (Primates’ Meeting, ACC, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference of bishops) “commit themselves to the renewal of the Listening Process, and a real seeking of a common mind upon the issues which threaten to divide us.”
  • That the Archbishop of Canterbury “might revisit the idea of a bishop, appointed from a wider Communion, to work closely with him and act on his behalf in Communion affairs.”
  • That the Lambeth Conference have a “shorter cycle of meetings” instead of meeting once every 10 years.
  • Clarification of the role of the Primates’ Meeting.
  • A review of how the ACC’s “effectiveness and confidence in its work can be enhanced.” The ACC is being asked “to recommend that this review be commissioned, and consideration be given to enhanced primatial representation on the JSC (Joint Standing Commission of Primates and the ACC).”
  • That the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order be invited “to produce a concise statement on the Instruments of Communion, their several roles and the authority inherent in them and to offer recommendations for developing the effectiveness of the instruments.”
  • The proposal for a Pastoral Forum and for Pastoral Visitors as an interim measure to address conflicts and provide guidance “in any given situation of tension.”
  • The establishment of a professionally mediated conversation to deal with the issue of parallel jurisdictions.
  • The proposed common covenant “as an essential element in rebuilding the confidence in our common life.”

Archbishop Williams underscored the importance of the mediated conversation proposal. “We now face a situation where in North America there are more than one body claiming the name Anglican,” he said. “Given that the Communion has historically been very unenthusiastic about parallel jurisdiction in one area… in this very anomalous situation, is it possible that at the very least to have the kind of conversations that will allow such division as far as it is unavoidable, to go forward without too much destructiveness, bitterness and fallout and even litigation?”

He said the first pastoral team has already been nominated and is already beginning its work. He said that the Instruments of Communion need to be reviewed because, “at present, to be honest, is not working as effectively as it might,” and there’s a lack of clarity about their roles and responsibilities. “We’re at a point in the life of the Anglican communion where we need to think about these instruments, whether they are currently in their present form serving their purpose…. We need to change things to help us toward a more functional, constructive, relationship.”

Archbishop Williams described the listening process and the moratoria as “interconnected,” saying, “Without that kind of understanding of the underlying issue, the appeal for restraint or moratoria is likely to sound rather hollow. The recommendation recognizes that you can’t simply say to large tracts of the communion, you must pretend that this division isn’t there or that this issue isn’t a real one.” He said, the listening process is “really a recommendation to shared honesty in the community about the reality, and a willingness to exchange our convictions, our hopes and our fears more fully.”

He also explained that the point of the moratoria was “not to throw blame around the Communion, it wasn’t to suggest moral equivalence as some people suggest… it was to say, actions can be taken whose consequences have been divisive.”

After Archbishop Williams’ presentation, the delegates were divided into “discernment groups” and asked to discuss the following questions:

  • What kind of relationship is God calling us to as churches of the Anglican Communion? What vision does this give us for the Anglican Communion? Does the Windsor Continuation Group Report help us to move towards the vision?
  • What could our own provinces/churches do to encourage “gracious restraint” with respect to the three moratoria commended by the Windsor Report, the Lambeth Conference and Primates’ Meeting?
  • In what ways can the Instruments of Communion be developed to enhance their effectiveness?


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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