Wednesday, 20 October 2004

a small cheer

Thinking Anglicans writer David Walker offers a first view on the Windsor Report.

Twenty four hours into reading and reflecting on the Windsor Report I guess I feel ready to give it a small but heartfelt cheer.

I say small, not because it doesn’t agree completely with my own position — I wouldn’t expect it to — but because its publication means once again that some of my fellow Christians will experience its words as licensing a rejection of their deepest selves and beliefs. No matter how lightly we tread, we are treading on people’s souls, and that should always be done with both reluctance and genuine sadness.

But I am cheered.

I’m cheered firstly because a group as diverse as the Commission has been able to sign up, unanimously, to a report that offers a middle way between papal centralism and unfettered localism. I pray that the members of the Commission will each now take responsibility for holding those whose views they represent to the process it sets out.

I’m cheered because homosexuality is recognised as only one presenting problem. The Report notes that the work of engaging with it as an issue is still at an early stage. Rather than seek to answer the questions posed by sexuality (which was never its brief) Windsor maps out structures that will be (must be) equally important in holding any other local church to account should it seek to develop in ways that are both novel and unacceptable to the wider Communion. It is particularly timely in setting a context in which the response to any moves towards Lay Presidency at the Eucharist must be formed. I pray however that the Report will in itself forestall any such moves.

I’m cheered because the Report works hard to be even handed in the criticism it offers to those who have offended the wider Communion — whether it be through participating in a consecration, authorising a public rite or usurping another province or bishop’s proper authority. There is one small lapse in the logic in this respect. All are called to express their regret; all are called to desist from repeating the offending action; but curiously only the first two appear to be invited to withdraw from unspecified church councils until they do so. In practice this may be a moot point if expressions of regret come quickly and from all sides. I pray that they will do so.

I’m cheered because there is the opportunity for Anglicans of all types to spend the next few years working on what unites us rather than divides us. Formulating a Covenant and bolstering our Instruments of Unity may not be as exciting for the media as a battle over sexuality, but it’s where I would much rather be.

Where division occurs, the Report is clear that we go forward by using our time-honoured structures. The provision for those who feel alienated from their parent diocese or province is to be worked at together across the divisions. Any extended oversight is to be a last resort, and is described as “conditional”, “temporary” and “delegated”” — much closer to the Resolution C route familiar and largely accepted (or at least tolerated) in England than a formal separation. In particular the proposals set out by ECUSA are commended as “entirely reasonable”. All of this would seem directly applicable to the present Church of England debate about the ordination of Women to the Episcopate. Indeed it would be contradictory were the C of E to endorse Windsor but follow a very different route over this specific issue.

Finally, I am glad to note that the Report retains its even-handedness over dissent. The proposals offered are just as applicable to a liberal minority in a conservative diocese or province as they are to a conservative minority in a more liberal setting. There can be no monopoly over conscientious dissent, and the Report leaves us with a framework that will continue to allow the prophetic tradition to operate within the church in whichever direction the Spirit may take it.

A cheer then, not of triumph for one cause or another in a deeply divided debate, but for a way forward that uses Anglican structures and polity to address an Anglican problem. And that offers us all a way of remaining authentically Anglican.

Posted by David Walker on Wednesday, 20 October 2004 at 12:29pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Thank you for ths wonderful analysis.

Posted by: Andrew Grimmke on Wednesday, 20 October 2004 at 3:24pm BST

W/ the caveat of "yes, it could have been worse," I'm still mystified by this comment:

"No matter how lightly we tread, we are treading on people’s souls, and that should always be done with both reluctance and genuine sadness."

Just how would one explain this to the Lord? "It's true that we're treading on the _infinitely precious_ souls that You, in Your Wisdom, created, redeemed and sustain . . . but we're doing so very lightly, so No Big."

But this is the essence of the conflict, isn't it? One side is judged for their *souls* (souls they didn't have any hand in creating), the other for their *power* (abusive power, which they did).

And since it's those _souls_, and not the power, which apparently contiminates, I guess it's no surprise why only one side is "requested" (the fist in the velvet glove, in good Anglican fashion) to stay at home, and not spread the infection.

[Methinks that the logic is, "It's only if you consecrated +Gene, that you're likely to have an episcopal intrusion---staying away thereby spares the intruders from having to look into the eyes of the apostle whose home they invaded."]

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Friday, 22 October 2004 at 1:38am BST

What the WR actually says about the American Bishops' proposals for delegated oversight is that they are "entirely reasonable, if they are approached and implemented reasonably by everyone concerned". Emphasis on "if" -- for reason is exactly what the extremist core of liberal bishops in the USA and Canada -- rigidly intolerant of dissent by faithful Episcopalians and Anglicans -- conspicuously lack. It is precisely because they are not 'reasonable', that many conservatives are seeking alternative oversight. If one could count on them to be reasonable, there would be no need for DEPO. The WR falls into naivety in this recommendation -- British churchmen perhaps finding it incredible that American and Canadian bishops should act in the fashion that in fact they do, and the official representatives of the North American church happy to maintain their illusions. Asking the liberal bishops to make the critical decisions about oversight, is like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop.

Posted by: G. Dunbar on Tuesday, 26 October 2004 at 10:14pm BST