“This erosion of communion”

Published November 1, 2002

The following is extracted from outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey?s presidential address to the Anglican Consultative Council.

It is at this point as the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury that I must point to my greatest worry. I would be failing in my duty if I recoiled away from it out of an assumption that silence is the safer option.

In short, my concern is that our Communion is being steadily undermined by dioceses and individual bishops taking unilateral action, usually (but not always) in matters to do with sexuality; and as a result steadily driving us towards serious fragmentation and the real possibility of two (or, more likely, many more) distinct Anglican bodies emerging. This erosion of communion through the adoption of ?local options? has been going on for some 30 years but is reaching crisis proportions today.

We have seen the formation of AMiA in the United States and scarcely a week goes by without some report reaching me of clergy teetering on the brink of leaving the Anglican Communion for that body. I have been clear in my condemnation of the schism created by AMiA and the actions of those primates and other bishops who consecrated the six bishops. Sadly, I see little sign of willingness on the part of some bishops in the Communion to play their part in discouraging teaching or action that leads some conscientious clergy to conclude that they have no option other than to leave us for AMiA.

It is not my intention to address now the issue that has led some clergy in the diocese of New Westminster to rebel against their own bishop and their diocesan synod. I respect the sincerity of Bishop Michael Ingham and his diocesan synod, and I do not doubt that they believe that they are acting in the best interests of all, as they see it.

But I deeply regret that Michael and his synod, and other bishops and dioceses in similar situations in North America seem to be making such decisions without regard to the rest of us and against the clear statements of Lambeth ?98. And, on the other hand, as I have said, it is disappointing to note the steps that have been taken in reaction by a number of clergy, bishops and even archbishops in our Communion, equally in disregard of carefully thought-out Lambeth Conference resolutions.

It is for this reason that I have submitted to this ACC a resolution that I hope you will strongly support. The resolution calls upon all dioceses that are considering matters of faith and order that could affect the unity of the Communion to consult widely in their provinces, and beyond, before final decisions are made or action is taken. We cannot insist that they do so, but as a consultative body we can urge them to do so.

… The issue is far more than a matter of internal discipline, though it is certainly that. It affects our mission, and relationships with other churches. Let me say clearly that I believe far too much energy is going into fanning the flames of argument on these matters that divide us, taking our attention away from the critical needs of evangelism and mission.

But it also has serious ecumenical implications. I have had countless conversations with leaders of other churches who have spoken gently but sternly of our internal disorderliness on issues such as this. It is viewed as a stumbling block to the unity we claim we seek with the universal church.

And let me make quite clear that the resolution is not merely about handling issues to do with sexuality, but it applies to all sensitive matters that threaten our common life. That is to say, it entreats the diocese of Sydney on the issue of lay presidency to submit the matter to its province, and to have regard to the effect of any decision it makes on the wider Com-munion to which it belongs, just as much as it applies to a diocese contemplating the official introduction of services in relation to same-sex unions.

The issues we face in our time are as demanding and painful as any our forebears have had to wrestle with; and there are lessons we can learn from them, as to how we too may find ways to discern God?s will for us by listening to one another, carefully considering the impact of our actions on one another, and above all praying for one another. I hope my resolution will receive your clear endorsement, and so send out a strong signal that it is not enough to carry on talking about being a Communion while we take actions that contradict our words.


Keep on reading

Skip to content