Letter from the General Convention 2006: Friday June 16.
It is still not clear when the resolutions referring to the Windsor Report will move through the legislative process. We have heard that there is no consensus amongst the members of the Special
Commission Committee as to the way forward, and despite the myriad of opinions volunteered no-one is really able to guess the outcome. One thing is clear: the bonds of affection between members of this church are deep and sincere and there is little desire for fracturing the body.
Yesterday we attended an interesting seminar on the baptismal covenant hosted by the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. In their response to the resolutions relating to the Windsor Report they refer to the assertion in the Prayer Book of ECUSA that “the bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” and go on to call attention to the fact that “Baptism into our one Lord, and the regular renewal of that covenant in Holy Communion, form the basis for all communion within the Body of Christ. Thus ‘bonds of affection’ are properly understood as the fruit of this very real unity, rather than the essential sign of, or basis for communion among Anglicans Baptism is the sole basis for communion among Anglicans.”
The baptismal covenant, which unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection and seals us with the Holy Spirit, is “the sacrament of once-for-all admission into membership in the catholic church, a particular expression of which is the local eucharistic community.” With this understanding as the basis for church life it is, at the very least, presumptuous to declare who is and who is not in communion across the boundaries of the church. The intervention of the Bishop of Durham at the eleventh hour has surprised and confused many people here, and we have heard more than one person say that it seems to be a clear attempt to subvert the process of reception of the Windsor Report. It has certainly reaffirmed the determination of some to powerfully assert the communion of all the baptized.
The Episcopal Church has an understanding of the baptismal covenant that permeates every aspect of its life, defining its liturgy, ecclesiology and polity. It heightens the contrast between ECUSA and the Church of England and it is hard to overestimate its significance for the present discussion on communion. If the covenant we share as Anglicans is indeed the covenant of our baptism, what is the purpose of the proposed Anglican Covenant other than to create a new way of regulating our common life that is inconsistent with our Anglican understanding?
In some senses there is a far stronger understanding of Anglicanism present here than one would find in any large gathering of the Church of England. This is a church which people have chosen: in England association and commitment to the CofE is less clearly defined, for good and obvious reason. It perhaps explains why there is a degree of frustration here when Anglican commentators still talk about the ‘appointment’ of bishops, and why the Primate is called Presiding Bishop rather than Archbishop. Power is far less hierarchical in ECUSA and the ignorance of our different polities is sobering.
Many people ask us if the General Synod is in any way similar to the General Convention, and the simple answer is no. There is simply no equivalent gathering in the Church of England where people gather to celebrate, pray and deliberate on what it means to be church. The warmth of welcome we are receiving is deeply moving, and a sign of what our communion could and should be like.
Everywhere there is a sense that bit is time to move on. The ONE Campaign (the equivalent of our Make Poverty History) has wide support here and many wish this could receive at least the same attention being given to issues of human sexuality. This is undoubtedly a time for decision and we wait to see where the Holy Spirit leads.