The Daily Episcopalian has just published this letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Primate of Australia and presumably to the other Primates of the Anglican Communion. It is undated and without closing typewritten name, but it has been confirmed by the Daily Episcopalian to be legitimate. You may read it in its entirety HERE. The letter makes it clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury should not write his own letters, or should fire the person who writes them if he does not.
At the very least the letter leaves too much to the imagination of too many pundits, and the most it dissembles and obscures matters about which some clarity might have been useful. It is a very mixed Christmas present indeed.
Here are sections of the letter with a few comments:
“As Christmas approaches, preparations continue to be made for the Primates’ Meeting in February in Tanzania…
This meeting will be, of course, an important and difficult and important encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist us in strengthening our unity as a Communion.”
A proofreader might have helped: “important and difficult and important” is a slip. But the list of matters to be taken up is more interesting: hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and the Covenant. Those, however, are seemingly not the “moments of discernment and decision to be faced.” They grow from the next paragraphs of the letter.
“There are two points I wish to touch on briefly. The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear). I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.
This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ. However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organised.
The Episcopal Church is not in any way a monochrome body and we need to be aware of the full range of conviction within it. I am sure that other Primates, like myself, will welcome the clear declarations by several bishops and diocesan conventions (including those dioceses represented at the
So: Not surprisingly the topics to be considered that involve “several moments of discernment and decision to be faced” deal with (i) the relation of the Province of the Episcopal Church and other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, (ii) the seating of the Presiding Bishop at this meeting, (iii) the presence of several “contributors” from the Episcopal Church who would attend a session before the “rest of our formal business” and (iv) some sort of ‘read into the record’ of bishops and dioceses in the Episcopal Church that are “Windsor Compliant.”
My worse read of this is that the letter proposes that this meeting will begin with input from the “contributors” from the Episcopal Church, an acknowledgement of a wider “Windsor compliant” group, the Presiding Bishop so that “she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss” and finally an addressing of the matter of the place of the Province of the Episcopal Church at the table, and therefore the presence of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Then, and only then would the “the rest of our formal business.”
My second point is to underline the importance of planning constructively for Lambeth 08. … The question of invitations to Lambeth has been raised several times, in relation to the status of TEC, and indeed other Provinces. I shall seek the advice of the meeting on this. … at the moment, we urgently need to create a climate of greater trust within the Communion, and to reinforce institutions and conventions that will serve that general climate in a global way.
During my visit to the Pope in November, it was very clear that our ecumenical partners are looking to us not only to strengthen our bonds of ecclesial community and the coherence of our Christian witness, but also to show a hopeful and Christian spirit in resolving our current problems….
It would appear that the Archbishop continues to seek advice on who will be invited to Lambeth. This gives the Primates a considerably stronger role in the matter than is warranted. Inclusion in the Anglican Communion is, for most purposes, determined by the list of member churches kept and agreed on by the Anglican Consultative Council. It is sometimes argued that they indeed have become the agent for admission of Provinces, and one might assume, the agent for removal from the list. In the case of the Lambeth Conference, some (including myself) have argued that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the sole determining agent, since he is the one doing the inviting. Still, I suppose, he can consult with others on the matter.
The problem in this whole thing is that the Primates are being given much too much power – to determine agendas, who attends, who is included in and who is expelled. At some point in the future the Primates will determine their chair, and therefore the “titular” head of the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury might find himself no longer the holder of the position as “focus of unity” in the Communion.
But more pressing and to the point: It is distressing to have the ABC write, “I have decided not to withhold an invitation.” The assumption is that he was considering doing so at some point.
It is distressing to have him write that he is proposing to invite “contributors” – that is people from the Network – to attend at least part of the Primates Meeting. This plays into the hands of the Moderator whose long term strategy is to make sure that he is invited to every meeting where the Presiding Bishop is invited, as part of a larger strategy to lay claim on being the head of the “real” and the “constituent” Anglican body in America. The object is to take over or supplant the Episcopal Church.
This of course is my worse read. In my better moments I think the Archbishop is genuinely interested in finding a way forward in which the Episcopal Church remains the Province. He believes that having “contributors” at a meeting of the Primates would be useful, and I am sure that might be, particularly given the shameful way the Network folk poked about at the last meeting. And perhaps a face to face discussion with all the players in the room would be of some value.
The trouble with all this is that the Primates are heads of churches, and the meetings they have are a meeting of equals. The Moderator of the Network is no equal to the Primates, nor are member bishops of the Network. The Presiding Bishop is our Primate, and everyone else from these shores is either part of the Church of which she is Primate, or are part of some other Province, and have another person as Primate. But in either case, they are not themselves Primates and do not have equal footing with the Primates at such meetings.
What that means is that those of us who believe that the Episcopal Church is indeed about the work of the Church, and that the Presiding Bishop is indeed the Primate of this Church, need to be absolutely clear that our Primate is accorded every honor and respect due her office. Period.
What is going on here? I want to believe it is the Archbishop doing his best and to a good end. But it doesn’t look so good. We will see.