Dr. Jenny Te Paa on the Episcopal Church’s proposed response to the Windsor Report

Dr. Jenny Te Paa, Principal of College of Saint John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand (in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia)

was a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, which produced the Windsor Report. SHe’ll be joining us in Columbus as a guest preacher at one of the Eucharists during General Convention.

We asked her recently what she though of One Baptism, One Hope in God’s Call, the document which contains the 11 resolutions proposed by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in response to the Windsor Report.

She responded in thoughtful detail, and we’re happy to have the opportunity to share her response with you.

Click below to read it all.

My dear friends,

As you know many Aotearoa New Zealand Anglicans (including myself) feel indebted to the Episcopal Church for your pastoral embrace of those of us privileged to have undertaken theological studies in US seminaries and Colleges (even as we recognize that we too have made our own special and at times significant contributions to the life and times of those same institutions!). Many Aotearoa New Zealand Anglicans feel indebted to the Episcopal Church for your mission outreach programs within which many of us have either participated or given witness to (even as we have at times worried at the increasing perception of mission masking at times, little more than benevolent imperialism). Many Aotearoa New Zealand Anglicans have been profoundly enriched by inter-Anglican encounters with Episcopalians at leadership and Church governance levels, through Anglican Communion Network activities, through shared participation in any number of global Anglican meetings, Commissions, Ecumenical and Inter-faith meetings, through theological educational exchange programs, through Women’s or Youth gatherings – in all of these moments, deep and abiding friendships and enduring collegial relationships have been formed. While I write now with support and encouragement of this group of friends and colleagues, this is essentially a personal note from me as your sister in Christ and also as a member of the Lambeth Commission privileged to have served our Church and therefore obligated to share freely the gifts and the challenges of that experience.

Because of the closeness of our relationships it is only natural that many of us have been deeply conscious of and concerned about the Communion wide effects of decisions you took at your last General Convention. It is only natural that we your friends, would consider it important to tell you in all honesty what happened for our Church as a result of your actions, what we witnessed happening to others and therefore what we think ought to happen in future. This we have done in a variety of ways and at various levels of engagement. It is also natural that because we are friends, we would consider it important to say to you and to show you that we continue to care very deeply for you even as many among you have been subjected to all manner of insult, condemnation and marginalization by members of our beloved Church family – from both inside and outside of your Province.

We your friends, intend to continue to stand alongside you in your struggle now to regain your composure. We consider it imperative that you be allowed to take all the time you need to consult widely and carefully among yourselves and that you be encouraged and supported along the journey toward what may be new beginnings.

The various steps you have taken thus far are to be commended – preparatory for Nottingham, the publication of To Set our Hope on Christ, the various statements and plans emanating from the House of Bishops and the Executive Council and now the report of the Special Commission.

I took time to read the Report over the Easter period and as I read it, two things struck me. Firstly, it was so reminiscent of my first full reading of the Windsor Report itself (bearing in mind that members of the Lambeth Commission only had the final version of the Windsor Report ourselves just 24 hours before the world!). What was always so significant for me as a Lambeth Commissioner was not so much being finally able to consider the words of the published report but it was in recognizing with deep appreciation and awe just how it was possible for such a diverse group to even produce a report at all, let alone a consensus one.

I have been drawn time and again to reflect with gratitude and with love on the process of having met as a small group of God’s people drawn from across the expanse of God’s world, drawn from across the expanse of theological understanding, doctrinal belief, liturgical practice and being able to surmount the obstacles of ‘difference’ in order to first serve our beloved Church in a very specific and urgently needed way.

Meetings processes allow for those privileged in time and space to be set aside to prayerfully, carefully and compassionately study the serious matters set before the Church? The words which at the end form the final report, have emerged out of the various encounters of a group of God’s people, each bringing to the process a depth of sincerity, of passion, experience, fallibility, vulnerability, hope and of commitment to God’s truth. To merely focus on the words in isolation from the hearts and minds, indeed the ‘spirit’ of those responsible for their production is to deny the fullness of our God given humanity and it is to underplay, possibly even deny the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling ‘especially good works’!

The challenge of achieving a measure of consensus, harmony, compromise, agreement among even the smallest number of human beings is always a fraught experience – the challenge of achieving the same among a group of Anglicans, let alone a group of Episcopalian ‘Anglicans’ especially given the extant ecclesial environmental realities would be extraordinarily fraught! And yet there in the actual text and in the subtext of the Special Commission Report is the evidence of the Spirit with which God’s people came together to produce this report. ‘By God’s grace’ is a phrase, which appears frequently. ‘Seeing ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ’, is another. “As one Body [seeking] to live more fully and deeply into our Baptismal Covenant, unity in Christ, and participation in God’s mission in the world’ is yet another.

The process of the Lambeth Commission was itself a challenge of bringing together a group of people with vastly different ecclesial and life experiences, theological and doctrinal understandings and then seeing if it was possible for us as individuals to still relate in meaningful and mutually respectful ways within a common framework of worship, work and church order, in spite of the very real and significant differences which life and history across the entire geographic and ecclesiological span of our Church has produced. As Commissioners we were struggling as a microcosm of the larger Communion to see if we were able to hold together authentically as ‘diverse’ Anglicans in spite of huge and critical differences of belief and practice that existed among us.

I would be very surprised if the Special Commission did not share a similar experience? Certainly I found the declaration, ‘we have experienced the richness of Christ-centred fellowship with one another’ to be indicative and familiar. This is after all the only sort of fellowship which can be as freeing of the individuals who are members of the group, as it is simultaneously empowering of the collective membership of the whole group. The introductory comments from pages 4 – 7 of the report are surely, instructive for the wider Church!

The second most significant impact I experienced as an, ‘interested’ reader of the Report is the tenor of the document – it is as Presiding Bishop Griswold claims in his introductory message, an irrefutably theological document. I say this because such great care has been taken with Scripture. The texts that are so appropriately woven throughout the report provide insight into what I can only describe as palpable yearnings of the Commission for restoration, for reconciliation, for ‘rightness’ in relationship to prevail for all time.

Sections II & III of the Report are especially valuable providing as they do accurate data on the actions to date, taken by the leadership of the Episcopal Church within the official bounds of your own polity. I now know from my ‘Windsor’ experience that the jurisdictional and decision-making limitations, which impact particularly the role of the Presiding Bishop’s office, were not always clearly understood by all members of the Lambeth Commission. I regret the mistaken assumptions that often arose as a result of not fully appreciating the structural arrangements by which the Episcopal Church orders itself. Most of these were to do with ‘assuming’ (erroneously) that the Presiding Bishop was as ‘free’ to function with the highest level of autonomy as is so evidently the practise (even if not the ecclesiological case) in some of the Communion’s Provinces.

Section III introduces a very helpful dialogical style engaging as it does with many of the findings of the Windsor Report. It enables further development and useful critique of concepts and ‘instruments’ so central to building and maintaining right relationships – ‘interdependence’; ‘unity’; the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the ‘focus of unity’; ‘bonds of affection’, all are very helpfully discussed.

I found Section IV to be admirably temperate considering the relentless demands of some around the Communion for the Episcopal Church and in particular its leaders, to be exemplifying a form or forms of repentance where apparently nothing less than public flagellation, humiliation and indefinite exclusion would suffice! The Special Commission very clearly expresses the imperialist dilemma now confronting the Western Church and especially the Episcopal Church, but I would caution very strongly against the tendency to essentialise the resultant behaviours of both those dominating and those previously dominated.

Section V opens with the enduring challenge of how we can ever hope to achieve Communion wide consensus – how can we ever be sure that what touches us all is able to be decided by us all? What is the process for achieving this glorious ideal, which is truly just and therefore truly Catholic? Our organizational structures and decision-making processes are somewhat lacking. Nowhere is this ‘insufficiency’ highlighted more dramatically than in the very next section dealing with Elections to the Episcopate. Not unexpectedly there are (as with Windsor), more questions than answers in this entire section but there is also an insistent urging for caution as these desparately critical questions are worked at.

There is a very helpful corrective at Para 53, corrective at least of the unhelpful misinformation concerning the 2003 ruling by General Convention on the blessing of same-sex unions. In hindsight I can see now how over time this misinformation became part of an extensive and still somewhat prevailing mythology concerning the extant actions and attitudes of the Episcopal Church. Members of the Lambeth Commission would have been greatly helped to have this clarification during the life of the Commission.

Perhaps the most welcome and touching inclusion to the Special Commission report is that of the Millennium Development Goals. Certainly for the women of the Church this two-paragraph mention of the matter of life or death for so many millions of women and children is a very significant and necessary addition. Whilst at one level it almost appears as incongruous, I am so encouraged to see God’s central mission reappearing at long last, as it ought.

Equally it is encouraging to see the UNCSW mentioned as exemplary evidence of the possibilities for deepening Communion among Anglicans. As a participant for the last three years in this international consultation where the confronting issues are those of poverty, violence, inequality, HIV Aids, climate change, corruption, war, refugees, it has been abundantly clear that the women of the Communion present at UNCSW have become increasingly exasperated and understandably outraged at the preoccupation of male Church leaders with their prior struggles over matters of power and authority which have come at the expense of the matters of God’s mission and therefore of God’s justice. The women of the Communion have remained determined to show by our own example that is not only possible but it is mandatory for us to remain fully ‘in communion’ if ever we are to be authentically responsive to the needs of those who suffer. I have never yet met an Anglican woman anywhere in the world who wishes to discuss the prospect, let alone the implications of schism!

The affirmative response of the Special Commission toward the Covenant proposal from Windsor was especially encouraging. While the Windsor report is not overly comprehensive in its outline for a Covenant many members of the Commission share a view that in the process of shaping such an instrument, any group would by instinct and of necessity employ the language, the spirit and the sentiments of faith inherent in covenantal desire and understanding. Some of this preliminary conversation is already very helpfully begun in Section VI.

Returning to Scriptural injunctions by way of conclusion provides an appropriate and touching indication of the working priorities of the Commission itself.

The Special Commission report is a document to which I will return time and again – especially as I prepare to be with you in June at the General Convention. The invitation I have been extended is now assuming a level of importance, which is at once terrifying in its prospects as much as it is profoundly truly humbling in its reality.

My dear friends – for now, I offer my comments to you in the spirit of God’s love and with the greatest affection as your sister, colleague, and friend . . . arohanui . . . Jenny.

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