Monday, August 4, 2008

Rowan wraps up reflections

Excellent excerpts from Archbishop Rowan's final presidential address to Lambeth 2008"Christian unity : first and above all, this is union with Jesus Christ; accepting his gift of grace and forgiveness, learning from him how to speak to his Father, standing where he stands by the power of the Spirit. We are one with one another because we are called into union with the one Christ and stand in his unique place - stand in the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our unity is not mutual forbearance but being summoned and drawn into the same place before the Father’s throne. That unity is a pure gift - and something we can think of in fear and trembling as well as wordless gratitude; because to be in that place is to be in the light of absolute Truth, naked and defenceless. St John’s gospel has been reminding us that the place of Jesus is not a place where ordinary, fallen human instinct wants to go. Yet it’s where we belong, and where God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ want us to be, for our life, our joy and our healing.

That’s the unity which is inseparable from truth. It’s broken not when we simply disagree but when we stop being able to see in each other the same kind of conviction of being called by an authoritative voice into a place where none of us has an automatic right to stand. Christians divided in the sixteenth century, in 1930’s Germany and 1980’s South Africa because they concluded, painfully as well as (often) angrily, that something had been substituted for the grace of Christ - moral and ritual achievement, or racial and social pride, as if there were after all a way of securing our place before God by something other than Jesus Christ."

"Does this mean that we are all restricted by each other’s views and preferences, incapable of arguing or changing? It was a problem familiar to St Paul, and you have already, in this Conference, heard something of how he dealt with it. But let me try to say how this affects our current difficulties. A fellow-Christian may believe they have a profound fresh insight. They seek to persuade others about it. A healthy church gives space for such exchanges. But the Christian with the new insight can’t claim straight away that this is now what the Church of God believes or intends; and it quite rightly takes a long time before any novelty can begin to find a way into the public liturgy, even if it has been widely agreed. Confusion arises when what is claimed as a new discernment presents itself as carrying the Church’s authority."

"The theological ground for a plea for moratoria is the need to avoid this confusion so that discernment continues together. The Resolution of Lambeth ’98 was an attempt to say both ‘We need understanding and shared discernment on a hugely complex topic,’ and ‘We as the bishops in council together are not persuaded that the new thoughts offered to us can be reconciled with our shared loyalty to Scripture.’ Perhaps we should read that Resolution - forgetting for a moment the bitterness and confusion around the debate and acknowledging that it remains where our Communion as a global community stands - as an attempt to define what a healthy Church might need - space for study and free discussion without pressure, pastoral patience and respect, unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from Scripture and tradition. And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding. To say that the would-be innovator must be heard gratefully and respectfully is simply to acknowledge the debt we always owe to those who ask unfamiliar questions, because they prompt us to explore our tradition more deeply."

"The vision of a global Church of interdependent communities is not the vision of an ecclesiastical world empire - or even a colonial relic… The global horizon of the Church matters because churches without this are always in danger of slowly surrendering to the culture around them and losing sight of their calling to challenge that culture. The Church of England was, for a long time, so involved in the structures of power in this nation that it had little to say that was properly critical : part of its awakening in the last century and a half is due to its slow but steady recognition that it had come to belong to a global fellowship.

But, more sharply still, think of those churches struggling to keep alive a truthful Christian witness in situations of profound social corruption and disorder. In recent years, we have seen one element in a local church so allied to an oppressive regime and a culture of violence that it became a matter of scandal for all Christians in the country. I’m talking, of course, about Zimbabwe; and I think it is true to say that part of the wonderful recovery of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe was due to the passion of Zimbabwean Anglicans to stay united with the rest of the Anglican family - and refusing to accept that justice, human rights and public welfare could be defined differently in Zimbabwe from how they were understood everywhere else in the world."

On specific steps in the immediate future Archbishop Rowan says this:

"We have quite a strong degree of support for a Pastoral Forum to support minorities, a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work, and a recognition - though still with many questions - that a Covenant is needed. We have a strongly expressed intention to place our international development work on a firmer and more co-ordinated footing. Where will the work be done? Before the ACC meeting next year - which will be a significant element in implementing our vision - I intend to convene a Primates’ Meeting as early as possible in 2009. I shall look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum, and I shall ensure that the perspectives of various groups looking at the Covenant and the Windsor process, as well as the Design Group for this Conference help to shape the implementation of the agenda outlined in the Reflections document, and are fed into the special meeting in November of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. We may not have put an end to all our problems - but the pieces are on the board. And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages. Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here."

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