Thinking Anglicans

Advent letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury

from Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has sent the following Advent letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches.

photographic copy of the letter as sent on paper (PDF)

Full text as a web page

The following three paragraphs are the ones most likely to provoke discussion:

6. Along with such signs of hope, the Communion still lives with numerous tensions. A number of Primates felt unable in conscience to attend the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin early in the year. However, two-thirds of the Primates were present to pray and take counsel together. In addition to a number of strong statements in defence of various Christian communities in situations of suffering and stress, and a very clear commitment to work together on issues of gender-based violence, the meeting produced a carefully considered statement on what those present believed was the proper role of a Primates’ gathering; and it was clear in the discussion that the position and powers of the Primate were very different in different Provinces. These differences affect opinions over the sort of powers a Primates’ Meeting could and should have. They still need more careful and dispassionate discussion, and a sustained willingness on the part of all Provinces to understand the different ways in which each local part of the Anglican family organizes its life.

7. This of course relates also to the continuing discussion of the Anglican Covenant. How it is discussed, the timescale of discussion and the means by which decisions are reached will vary a lot from Province to Province. We hope to see a full report of progress at next year’s Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting. In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. It sets out an understanding of our common life and common faith and in the light of that proposes making a mutual promise to consult and attend to each other, freely undertaken. It recognizes that not doing this damages our relations profoundly. It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function. I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.

8. These questions are made all the more sharp by the fact that the repeated requests for moratoria on problematic actions issued by various representative Anglican bodies are increasingly ignored. Strong conscientious convictions are involved here. No-one, I believe, acts out of a desire to deepen disunity; some believe that certain matters are more important than what they think of as a superficial unity. But the effects are often to deepen mutual mistrust, and this must surely be bad for our mission together as Anglicans, and alongside other Christians as well. The question remains: if the moratoria are ignored and the Covenant suspected, what are the means by which we maintain some theological coherence as a Communion and some personal respect and understanding as a fellowship of people seeking to serve Christ? And we should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.


  • Jonathan says:

    It’s probably impossible to maintain theological coherence throughout the Communion on any controversial point, however relationships can still be maintained quite easily as long as provinces and dioceses get together to discuss issues of mutual interest. Getting together is also probably the only way to reassure others that one isn’t heretical on many points just because one has come down on the other side of any current controversy.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    I can’t help thinking that there is a lot of handwringing here. I wonder why the ABC doesn’t understand that the horse has bolted. It’s too late to catch it. He seems to be saying that if only there wasn’t so much ignoring of the ‘moratoria’ then things would be ok and anyway the Covenant isn’t designed to ‘excomunicate’ any one who disagrees or diverges. Yet he ignores the fact that some groups, for whom it was designed, have rejected it already as not being prescriptive enough and diocese are rejecting it precisely because they belive that it WILL lead to excomunication of provinces. It’s just a bit sad and perhaps more than a little delusional?

  • Prior Aelred says:

    The final sentence quoted baffles me.

  • Rod Gillis says:

    This section of the ABC’s letter caught my eye “In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion …..With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all.”

    A guess we have a stand off, because As reported in from the Canadian House of Bishops in the Anglican Journal, “Section IV continues to be the sticking point in this document, designed to deal with dissent within the Anglican Communion. “There are no difficulties with sections I to III. The language sounds very relational and very Anglican,” said the archbishop. “Section IV also starts off relational but begins to sound juridical, and that creates a problem.” While upholding autonomy, this section also makes it clear that the exercise of autonomy has consequences. “My personal concern is what happens when the direction you move in is not in accordance with the standards of the communion. You’re out. It does not end on a note of restoration or hope, so I say it falls short of the Gospel,” Archbishop Hiltz said.”

  • Pardon, but it is the Archbishop, if I’m not mistaken, who introduced language of two tracks or two “tiers” for the future of the Communion; and invitation not to participate in, or be suspended from, one or more of “the Instruments”; and unspecified “relational consequences” concerning the actual status of communion between members churches, is part of the Covenant as written (4.2.5, 4.2.7) — and if these are not “change to the structure of the Communion” then what are they? It seems to me they are fundamental changes to the only structure we have. Archbishop, does this help you see the Covenant in a different light?

  • Randal Oulton says:

    What is meant by “Moderators of the United Churches?”

    Guess it shows how a common language divides, lol. As a Canadian, I’m thinking “Moderator of the United Church (of Canada)” but all the plurals must indicate something else.

  • Hal says:

    The question of how we “maintain some theological coherence as a Communion” presupposes that we should. This is out of step with the historic character of Anglicanism — founded, let’s not forget, in the midst of appalling violence and theological disunity — in creating a ‘common prayer’ unity which allows profound theological disagreements to exist in tension within the framework of Christian charity.

    To throw some Christians under the bus through endless moratoria, and listening processes with no conceivable point of resolution is not to be Anglican, or to unify the Body of Christ; it is merely to create a more polite, more English magisterial curia.

  • There is some speculation that,as New Zealand will be the scene of the next meeting of the A.C.C., we might be embarrassed by the fact that the ACANZP Province probably may not be totally in favour of the Covenant process. However, this factor may be helpful to the members of ACC, in deciding whether or not to go forward with that process.

    They will be able at first hand to speak with our Maori people – and others who are wary of the Covenant process – about the specific reasons for questioning it’s value for our Province. We already have our own method of dealing with diversity, in the Three Tikanga (cultural strands) structure of the local Church. Each of the Three Tikanga – Maori, Pakeha and European – has its own internal Constitutional General Synod, while the whole Church meets together on the basis of our common Anglican roots, without a Covenant!

  • Peter says:

    Moderators of the United Churches

    This would cover the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the Church of Pakistan, and the Church of Bangladesh.

    These are all unions of the local Anglican church with other denominations. Who the other denominations are varies but Congregational, Methodist, Reformed and Presbyterian are usually part of it.

    These Churches are part of the Anglican Communion although not purely Anglican in make up or history.

  • I do not think for a moment that the GAFCON Primates will ever think it profitable for them to respond to Archbishop Rowan’s Letter by agreeing to join in the process of The Covenant. It has to be changed – either to appease them, or to suit the Provinces of the Communion who are genuinely interested in staying together – despite differences in ideas about gender and sexuality. Simple really.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    “those who had suffered appallingly” in the world’s gay community

    “the great challenges” faced by LGBT people in religious communities, from their own community

    “still suffering from the absence of peace, the threats of terror” are a daily reality to gay couples in many places.

    Remembering our fellow gay Anglicans we should “give all the support they can to those who live with these daily trials.”

    Because of our Church gay people “have suffered from renewed violence”

    And when gay people are murdered, tortured and imprisoned for their love we must “keep alert to these challenges and make sure that our brothers and sisters ……. are properly supported, not least by advocacy with our own governments where possible and appropriate.”

    Due to persecution of gay people “in Nigeria, ……. there is much suffering”

    “the vulnerability of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan remains a matter of deep concern; I have been grateful for the chance to speak with representatives of our church and other churches there, and also with members of the Pakistani Government about these matters.”

    We remember the special hatred Mugabe has for lesbian and gay people and standing alongside this community “that felt isolated and exposed in Zimbabwe reinforced powerfully for me the need to stand together with one another.”

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    “This would cover the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the Church of Pakistan, and the Church of Bangladesh.”

    Yes Peter, and it is interesting that India announced immediately the Covenant document was launched that it had no mechanism to consent to it.

    Instant “two track” – by Primatial fiat.

  • Rod Gillis says:

    I cribbed this quote, attributed to Angela Merkel, from an article on Reuters, about the EU, but it jumped out at me, as something pro-covenanters might say about the so called covenant, no?

    “The lessons are very simple: Rules must be adhered to, adherence must be monitored, non-adherence must have consequences,” she said today. ”

  • Chris Smith says:

    Christian Fundamentalism brings dangerous results: Exclusion from the Table, and hatred for others who are different. It is difficult for me to understand why the Archbishop of Canterbury has such FEAR of the Religious Right in the Anglican Communion. We need to see some backbone from him by standing up for those who are disenfranchised and those who would suffer great pain from such a “covenant”. Oh, Rowan, why must you be so afraid?

  • JCF says:

    While I’m loathe to post a “What he said/ditto” post, Martin R (at 10:09am) spoke for me perfectly.

  • Savi Hensman says:

    I agree, JCF.

  • Meh says:

    RW’s naivete will make the Nigerian Anglican pawns and their ACNA sugar daddyos crap in their cassocks laughing.

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