Church awaits critical commission report

By on October 1, 2004

The Lambeth Commission is scheduled to release on Oct. 18 its much-awaited recommendations on how best to salvage the Anglican Communion, which has been torn apart by bitter conflict over the consecration of a gay bishop in the United States and the approval of same-sex blessings in the diocese of New Westminster in Canada.

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, a Canadian member of the commission, refused to provide details of the report, but said that all 17 members of the commission — who represent varying, sometimes contradictory voices — agreed on the recommendations. No one, she said, was expected to disassociate themselves from it.

“There was a very strong sense of commitment, of wanting to make it work,” she said. Canon Gregory Cameron, the commission’s secretary, told the Church Times newspaper that there had been “a warm atmosphere of consensus” during the commission’s meeting in Windsor last month.

Asked whether the recommendations would be sufficient to arrest a split in the Anglican Communion, which represents 38 autonomous provinces, Ms. Barnett-Cowan said, “It will make a contribution to resolving if people have a will to make it work.”

Members of the commission headed by Archbishop Robin Eames, primate of the Church of Ireland, have agreed not to divulge the substance of the report. Still, reports have circulated in London dailies that liberal bishops from the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) and possibly Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster would be barred from Anglican summits (like the Lambeth meeting of bishops, which meets every 10 years) as a way of placating more conservative members of the Anglican Communion and preventing schism. ECUSA could ultimately face expulsion unless it renounced its position of ordaining gay bishops and clergy, the Telegraph and the Times also reported.

The reports do not name any source but the Telegraph said most of the suggestions supposedly adopted by the commission came from the Anglican Communion Institute, whose board of directors include former Archbishop George Carey, Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, and Bishop Anthony Burton of the diocese of Saskatchewan.

Ms. Barnett-Cowan, who also heads the faith, worship and ministry department of the Anglican Church of Canada, dismissed the report as speculation. “It’s highly creative of the Times to write the report before we’ve completed it.”

The report was to be submitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the end of September. After the report is submitted to the Joint Standing Committee of the Primate’s Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) on Oct. 18, it will be presented before a full primates’ meeting scheduled in February next year at Newcastle, Northern Ireland.

It will subsequently be submitted to the more than 100 members of the ACC when it meets in June.

Archbishop Williams established the Lambeth Commission in October 2003 to find ways of maintaining “the highest degree of communion possible following developments in North America” and to determine the “legal and theological implications” of ECUSA’s decision to elect non-celibate gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and the diocese of New Westminster ‘s decision to bless same-sex unions.

Meanwhile, a recent meeting in Johannesburg of the provincial secretaries of the Anglican Communion was boycotted by Uganda, Nigeria, Central Africa and Southeast Asia — provinces that had earlier declared that they would not send delegates to meetings where representatives from ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada would be present.

A statement issued by the Anglican Provincial Secretaries’ Conference did not mention the absence of these four provinces but noted that a session of the conference was devoted to discussing division in the Anglican Communion and the role which provincial secretaries play in promoting dialogue. It added: “There was a shared recognition of the importance at this present time of seeking to find ways to maintain unity within the Communion.”

Ellie Johnson, director of the national church’s partnerships department, attended on behalf of Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the Canadian General Secretary. “There was a very strong commitment from all sides to reach for unity, to bring in dialogue despite disagreements,” she said in an interview. “It was very encouraging.”

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