The first meeting of the Lambeth Commission was held at Windsor Castle from 9-13 February 2004. The Commission released a statement expressing regret at the actions of Provinces which have declared “impaired communion” with the Episcopal Church of the United States of America and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada. The Commission also expressed its sadness over the “strident language” being used in the debate now besetting the Anglican Communion over the issues of openly gay clergy and same sex unions. In a statement following its first full plenary meeting under the chairmanship of the Most Revd Robin Eames, the Primate of all Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, at St George’s House, Windsor, the commission sets out its work-plan for the next few months.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, sent a letter to the Commission, wishing them “every gift of discernment and courage” on a deeply complex subject. “There are profound biblical principles involved in all the points so far mentioned.” He charged the members to be “diligent in discharging this weighty task” and to work together for the good of “our communion”. He also urged them to present “a model of cooperation in love and charity” so that Anglicans worldwide could “take heart”.
The Archbishop said that more caution was needed between those so staunchly opposed to one another over the issue. “The question is how we hold together the belief that membership in the Church is God’s gift, so that communion always pre-exists ordinary human agreement, and the recognition that a Church faithful to the biblical revelation has to exercise discipline and draw boundaries if it is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and not its own concerns.”
The Archbishop advised the Commission that the primates “have repeatedly asserted that they wish to remain a Communion, rather than becoming a federation of churches. The difficult balance in our Communion as it presently exists is between the deep conviction that we should not look for a single executive authority and the equally deep anxiety about the way in which a single local decision can step beyond what the communion as whole is committed to, and create division, embarrassment and evangelistic difficulties in other churches.”
Due to report to Archbishop of Canterbury in September 2004, the commission has organised small working groups to study and reflect on five key topics.
The subject areas are:
Issues of process in the Anglican Communion
The nature and purposes of Communion
The obligations of Communion
The role of the instruments of unity in preserving fellowship
The commission states, “The commission is saddened that tensions within the Communion, exacerbated by the use of strident language, have continued to rise in recent months, (and) requests all members of the Anglican Communion to refrain from any precipitate action, or legal proceedings, which would further harm ‘the bonds of communion’ in the period whilst it completes its work. Mission and ministry, including prayer for unity, remain the priorities.” The statement also says that the members of the commission “are united in their commitment to preserving the unity of the Anglican Communion, and to finding a way forward.”
The commission heard various presentations from theologians including one from Dr Mary Tanner, former Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. A full record of presentations may be found on the Lambeth Commission web site, web address below. The commission has received submissions from around the world and further submissions should be sent to the Commission Secretary: Revd Canon Gregory Cameron at the same address.
The next meeting of the Lambeth Commission will be held in the USA in June 2004, which is being billed as vital for getting to the heart of the matter.