From the Presiding Bishop: A Word to the Church
Some preliminary reflections regarding the Windsor Report
St. Luke’s Day
Monday, October 18, 2004
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I write to you from London where I am attending a meeting of the Primates’ Standing Committee. I have had a matter of hours to review the Report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, thus I will now offer only some preliminary observations. It will take considerable time to reflect upon the Report, which consists of some 100 pages. Over the next months it will be discussed in a number of venues, including the Executive Council meeting in November and the Winter Meeting of the House of Bishops in January.
After an opportunity for further study and reflection, I will have more to say about the Commission’s work. The members of the Commission, chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames, clearly have worked with care and great diligence, and the fact that they have unanimously put forward the Report, which individually may give them pause, is no small accomplishment.
The Commission was obliged to consider a number of sometimes conflicting concerns, and therefore in these next days the Report will doubtless be read from many points of view and given any number of interpretations. It is extremely important that it be read carefully as a whole and viewed in its entirety rather than being read selectively to buttress any particular perspectives.
As Anglicans we interpret and live the gospel in multiple contexts, and the circumstances of our lives can lead us to widely divergent understandings and points of view. My first reading shows the Report as having in mind the containment of differences in the service of reconciliation. However, unless we go beyond containment and move to so me deeper place of acknowledging and making room for the differences that will doubtless continue to be present in our Communion, we will do disservice to our mission. A life of communion is not for the benefit of the church but for the sake of the world. All of us, regardless of our several points of view, must accept the invitation to consider more deeply what it means to live a life of communion, grounded in the knowledge that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.”
Given the emphasis of the Report on difficulties presented by our differing understandings of homosexuality, as Presiding Bishop I am obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry. Other Provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret that there are places within our Communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are.
The Report will be received and interpreted within the Provinces of the Communion in different ways, depending on our understanding of the nature and appropriate expression of sexuality. It is important to note here that in the Episcopal Church we are seeking to live the gospel in a society where homosexuality is openly discussed and increasingly acknowledged in all areas of our public life.
For at least the last 30 years our church has been listening to the experience and reflecting upon the witness of homosexual persons in our congregations. There are those among us who perceive the fruit of the Spirit deeply present in the lives of gay and lesbian Christians, both within the church and in their relationships. However, other equally faithful persons among us regard same gender relationships as contrary to scripture. Consequently, we continue to struggle with questions regarding sexuality.
Here I note the Report recommends that practical ways be found for the listening process commended by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 to be taken forward with a view to greater understanding about homosexuality and same gender relationships. It also requests the Episcopal Church to contribute to the ongoing discussion. I welcome this invitation and know that we stand ready to make a contribution to the continuing conversation and discernment of the place and ministry of homosexual persons in the life of the church.
The Report calls our Communion to reconciliation, which does not mean the reduction of differences to a single point of view. In fact, it is my experience that the fundamental reality of the Episcopal Church is the diverse center, in which a common commitment to Jesus Christ and a sense of mission in his name to a broken and hurting world override varying opinions on any number of issues, including homosexuality. The diverse center is characterized by a spirit of mutual respect and affection rather than hostility and suspicion. I would therefore hope that some of the ways in which we have learned to recognize Christ in one another, in spite of strongly held divergent opinions, can be of use in other parts of our Communion.
As Presiding Bishop I know I speak for members of our church in saying how highly we value our Communion and the bonds of affection we share. Therefore, we regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our Communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans.
In a “Word to the Church” following the meeting of our House of Bishops in September we wrote as follows. “We believe our relationships with others make real and apparent God’s reconciling love for all of creation. Our mutual responsibility, interdependence and communion are gifts from God. Therefore, we deeply value and are much enriched by our membership in the Anglican Communion. We also value Anglican comprehensiveness and its capacity to make room for difference.”
One section of the Report recommends the development of a covenant to be entered into by the provinces of the Communion. This notion will need to be studied with particular care. As we and other provinces explore the idea of a covenant we must do so knowing that over the centuries Anglican comprehensiveness has given us the ability to include those who wish to see boundaries clearly and closely drawn and those who value boundaries that are broad and permeable. Throughout our history we have managed to live with the tension between a need for clear boundaries and for room in order that the Spirit might express itself in fresh ways in a variety of contexts.
The Report makes demands on all of us, regardless of where we may stand, and is grounded in a theology of reconciliation and an understanding of communion as the gift of the triune God. It is therefore an invitation for all of us to take seriously the place in which we presently find ourselves but to do so with a view to a future yet to be revealed.
Here I am put in mind of the words of Archbishop Eames in the Foreword to the Report. “This Report is not a judgment. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation.” It is my earnest prayer that we will undertake this pilgrimage in a spirit of generosity and patient faithfulness, not primarily for the sake of our church and the Anglican Communion but for the sake of the world our Lord came among us to save.
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA