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.