As we begin the last week, as always, the Lambeth Conference is a mixed bag. The daily Bible studies and Eucharists are splendid, the “indaba” discussion groups less than successful. They are a “westernized version” of the African conversation model with way too much “process,” smaller group work and even newsprint! Some groups have rebelled a bit, but more of us are making the best of it with some minor alterations.
The “reflections” process will produce some kind of paper at the end of the Conference, but with the wide variety of topics and approaches, it’s hard to see how it will be anything but pretty bland and generic. Or, alternatively, sharp and hurtful to some. Not a good alternative.
The “Windsor Continuation Group” is the most problematic from my perspective. I could probably sign off on “the Covenant” (though we will not be asked to here) pretty much as is, with some simplification of the “process” steps in the Appendix, but the Windsor Continuation Group is tasked with managing things until the Covenant process is complete in several years time.
I have no real problem with the Communion-wide “Faith and Order Commission.” It is not intended (as the press had said) to be like the Vatican “Holy Office” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) with all kinds of powers to censure and discipline. It is simply the rolling together of the current International Anglican Doctrinal Commission and the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (upon which I serve).
I don’t think merging them is a great idea — there is more than enought theological and ecumenical work for both Commissions — but this has been a done deal for some time, partly because of the cost of both Commissions. We need some kind of clearing house to which to refer matters of doctrine and discipline for discussion. The fact that we have not had such a thing in the past is why The Episcopal Church did not do more “consultation” in matters theological dealing with issues of human sexuality years ago.
The suggested “Pastoral Forum” is more problematic. It’s to be chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury and serve as an advisory group to the various Provinces when there are internal disputes and difficulties which affect the whole Communion. Such schemes have been tried (or at least floated) in recent years and have always failed. I’m not sure why this one will have any greater chance of success.
I believe we should ask everyone to do the best they can to honor the spirit of the Windsor Report while the Covenant process continues and ‘cut each other some slack’ until that time. All of us are working hard to maintain Communion while responding faithfully and fairly to our local contexts. That’s what Anglicanism is supposed to do and be, it seems to me.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to have this a “non-legislative” Conference was a very wise one. If we were “voting” on such matters this week, we would leave here as divided and wounded as we were in 1998. As it is, we will discuss all the ‘hard issues,’ give our input, and leave the matter for cooler heads to digest and deal with through the “Covenant Design Group” and the “Windsor Continuation Group.”
As always, any final decision will have to come through our separate Provincial structures (in our case, General Convention) for a vote by all the people of God, not just bishops and Primates! Thank God for a Communion which is “episcopally-led” but finally “synodically-governed!”