Ecumenical partners stand by communion as it struggles

Published September 2, 2008

ELCIC national bishop Susan Johnson (left), Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and Rev. Canon John Gibaut of the World Council of Churches.

Canterbury, England
The world changed dramatically after 9/11. So, too, have the relationships between churches of the Anglican Communion and other faiths, with inter-faith dialogue now figuring in their agenda like never before.

When bishops gathered for the Lambeth Conference in 1998, inter-faith dialogue was “kind of a theoretical and interesting question,” said Thomas Butler, diocesan bishop of Southwark, a borough of southeast London. “But now it really is very high on the agenda of virtually every nation in the world because we mostly now live in multi-faith environments.”

Matters of faith and religion are now “very high” on the agenda. To demonstrate the importance of ecumenical relations, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams invited more than 75 representatives from a variety of faiths and Christian communities to attend as participants at the conference here.

“Dear friends, as we greet you, our ecumenical participants, in this event, not just as guests but sharers in our work together.We pray that you will show us something of the depths of God in what you have to share with us,” said Archbishop Williams in a homily at an evening service.

The Anglican Communion has a long history of commitment to ecumenism and is presently involved in dialogue with Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Old Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches.

A high-ranking Vatican cardinal who attended the conference, called for greater unity between Anglicans and Catholics but at the same time gave veiled advice that the Anglican Communion must address deep division within its ranks. Evangelization is “possible in the measure in which there is unity and cohesion between the members of the church, between them and their shepherds, and, above all, between the shepherds themselves, both within the community as well as with the other Christian confessions,” Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Rome-based Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told the conference. Cardinal Dias said, “In the present ecumenical framework in which Providence has willed to engage the churches, a unity which binds them together in the apostolic faith is intrinsic to the Church’s mission of speaking and spreading the gospel.”

Living “myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s,” he said.

“And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.”

On July 29, Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth, urged Jews, Christians and other faith communities to show the world another facet of religion – not one of conflict but of hope and blessing. Too often, religion has shown the world conflict – “between faiths, and sometimes within faiths,” said Rabbi Sacks, who spoke on “the relationship between the people and God.”

Rabbi Sacks urged Anglican bishops to “hold together for the future.” He said, “The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice more graciously and successfully than any other religion I know.”

He noted that it was the first time that a rabbi had addressed a plenary session of the Lambeth Conference. “This is for me a profoundly moving moment. You have invited me, a Jew, to join your deliberations, and I thank you for that and for all that it implies.”

Rabbi Sacks said “the call of God in our time” is for faiths to come together in a “global covenant” to address the challenges of the times.

He spoke about covenant – a concept that Anglicans are trying to work out in the hope that it will help heal their relationships that have been deeply wounded because of deep divisions over the place of gays and lesbians in the church.

“A contract is a transaction. A covenant is a relationship. Or to put it slightly differently, a contract is about interests; a covenant is about identity. It is about you and me coming together to form an ‘us.’ That is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform.”

“A covenant is a betrothal, a bond of love and trust,” he said. “Covenant allows us to face the future without fear, because we know we are not alone…”

A covenant of faith is “made by people who share dreams, aspirations, ideals.” “They don’t need a common enemy, because they have a common hope. They come together to create something new. They are defined, not by what happens to them but by what they commit themselves to do.”


  • 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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