Proposal calls for creation of Faith and Order Commission

Published July 25, 2008

Archbishop Boutros Nabil El-Sayah of the Archdiocese of Haifa and Holy Land, one of the ecumenical participants at he 2008 Lambeth Conference, at a news conference.

Canterbury, England
The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) has put before the Lambeth Conference of bishops here a proposal to set up an Anglican Faith and Order Commission that could “give guidance on the ecclesiological issues” raised by the current “crisis” in the Anglican Communion – the focus on human sexuality.

The WCG suggests that the approval of the proposed Anglican Covenant among provinces and churches “needs a definite timeline to ensure confidence that the process has credibility.”

In a press conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams would not go into detail about the proposal, saying only that “there is a very strong feeling that we need another level of structure to have a clearing house for some of these issues.” He added: “I don’t want to say anything about the detail because it’s a flag raised to see who salutes it.” He said the proposal was being discussed by bishops in their indaba groups today. “We’ll see how it flies.”

Already some questions are being raised as to whether such a commission would be equivalent to the powerful Pontifical Biblical Commission of the Roman Catholic Church, composed of cardinals who meet in Rome and whose duties include protecting and defending “the integrity of the Catholic faith” and deciding on “controversies on grave questions which may arise among Catholic scholars to ensure their proper interpretation.”

Asked how the Lambeth Conference might be able to offer such prescription since it has no authority to impose rules or prescriptions, Archbishop Williams said, “I’m looking for consent, not coercion. But unless we do have something to consent to, something which we trust to resolve our differences, we shall be (moving) further apart. It’s not as if we can just co-exist without any impact on one another.”

Archbishop Williams said this week that the 670 bishops worldwide attending the conference here have begun to “grapple with business.” The top issue being discussed is how the unity of the Anglican Communion, which has been torn apart by deep divisions over the place of homosexuals in the life of the church, can be saved. More than 200 bishops from the Anglican churches in Uganda, Nigeria, Australia, and England, among others, have boycotted the once-a-decade conference being held at the University of Kent to signify that the nearly 80-million Communion is broken. Boycotting primates and bishops have strongly opposed the consecration by the Episcopal Church in the United States of Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, and the approval of same-sex blessings in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster.

Archbishop Williams said the “serious” issue of sexuality will be discussed at length when bishops enter into the final phase of their conference next week.

Asked what his hopes are by the end of the conference, Archbishop Williams said, “What I hope will have emerged this week is a sense that it’s worth working and staying together; that relationships deepened this week will have made people see that the unity and cooperation of the communion is not a small thing and its loss will not be taken lightly.”

In response to how the Anglican Communion can persuade provinces to agree to an Anglican Covenant when it is not a church, Archbishop Williams replied, “Well, it is a moot point. I think we’ve always publicly avoided the question of whether we are or not… We’re not the Lutheran World Federation nor are we the Catholic church. We’re in between those.”

In the second phase of its presentation of observations, the WCG posed a series of questions to bishops today, among them, “Can we recognize the church in one another?”

In its written observations which were distributed for discussion among bishops, the WCG noted that “Anglicans are currently failing to recognize ‘church’ in one another; we value independence at the expense of interdependence in the body of Christ; we denigrate the discipleship of others and this has led to internal fragmentation as well as to confusion among our ecumenical partners.”

The WCG was created last February by the Archbishop of Canterbury to “address outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and the various formal responses from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.” The Windsor Report, produced in 2004 by an international commission, outlined ways of healing divisions within the Anglican Communion over human sexuality. It recommended a moratorium on public rites of same-sex blessings and on the election of a gay person to the episcopate, the enactment of an Anglican Covenant, and an end to cross-border interventions.

At the press conference, Archbishop Williams said that it has been “helpful and encouraging” to him and other bishops to hear ecumenical partners participating in the conference say that “your issues are everyone’s issues” and that they are “grateful” to be part of the conversations. “They’re saying, ‘it’s not as if the Anglican Communion alone has problems about authority, scripture and other issues.”

Asked to comment on Cardinal Ivan Dias’ earlier statement that Christian leaders who ignore church tradition may suffer from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and “ecclesial Parkinson’s,” Archbishop Williams said, “I think that Cardinal Dias is reminding us that our past is not an embarrassment; that we don’t have to put the past behind us…”

Cardinal Dias, the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, spoke at a plenary of the conference Wednesday night.

Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia and official spokesperson at the conference, said the ecumenical participants include eight from the Lutheran church, eight from the Orthodox church, eight from the Roman Catholic church, four from the Oriental Orthodox church and 18 from other non-Episcopal churches.

At the news conference, Archbishop Boutros Nabil El-Sayah of the Maronite Catholic Church of Haifa and the Holy Land said he was grateful to be at the conference where he had expected to be an observer only to be told he was actually a participant, along with more than 70 other ecumenical partners.

“This is the ecumenical spirit we value greatly in this conference,” Sayah said. “We are not dialoguing for the sake of dialoguing, we want ecumenism to be advanced. I’m excited to be here.”

Bishops addressed the theme “Serving Together, the bishop and other churches,” in today’s indaba groups.


  • 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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