By Jim Naughton
Expect a flood of journalistic activity today a little after 5 p. m. Canterbury time. (That’s noon on the East coast of the US.) That’s when the bishops will release the most recent draft of their reflections, and when they will begin a previously unscheduled hearing, which will be their last real opportunity to influence the reflections that will be released near the end of the conference tomorrow.
The hearings and indaba conversations have become more contentious in recent days, as some of the bishops push for a reaffirmation of Lambeth 1. 10. Conference organizers say it is highly unlikely that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will alter the conference agenda to permit any sort of vote, so those who want to produce such a statement may have to draft it and then seek signatures.
Alternatively groups of bishops –united regionally, or perhaps ideologically—may issue statements of their own. The Primates of Bangladesh, North India, South India and Pakistan have just released a statement. It commends the Archbishop of Canterbury for organizing the Walk of Witness in London, calls upon the Communion to take seriously the challenged of restoring the “dignity of the exploited and abused humanity,” and urges the communion “to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed religious minorities and work for equitable justice to all especially women, children and the dalits of South Asia.”
On sex, it “acknowledges the biblical norms on human sexuality and urge that within the Anglican communion this may be upheld for the effective witness of the Gospel.
“We desire that the matter may be resolved by a continuing process of listening and healing where we may be willing to forgive and accept one another generously and move towards true reconciliation.”
** A member of the Brazilian media here told me that his primate The Most Rev. Mauricio Andrade has had a preliminary conversation with Bishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone about Venables decision to claim the Brazilian province of Recife as his own. Venables has also had a conversation, perhaps two, by now, with Bishop James Mathes of San Diego in whose dioceses Venables has claimed parishes. I don’t want to read too much into this yet. File it under vaguely, provisionally encouraging until we know more.
** The Times of London has teamed up with Religious Intelligence on a survey that captures Anglican bishops attitudes on a number of crucial questions. This gives me an opportunity to say how much I have been impressed by the way the Rev. George Conger of the Church of England Newspaper and Religious Intelligence goes about his business. He and I probably wouldn’t agree whether it was raining if we were standing in a downpour, but he’s a pro, and he conducts himself like a pro in the media centre and asks good questions in the press conferences. So I like to think that in that notional downpour, we could share an umbrella.
Meanwhile, perhaps influenced by the survery noted above, The Times has given Rowan Williams and the Lambeth Conference a rave review:
By focusing on the Anglican Communion as a Christian community and not as a political organisation, he has ensured that the bulk of the discussion has been on those issues where Christians believe their message to be vital: poverty, global harmony, faith, prayer and charity.
Raw politics has been avoided, and the most contentious issue – Anglican attitudes to homosexuality – has, rightly, not been allowed to monopolise episcopal time and attention but kept in the context of beliefs, and commitments seen as core to the 38 self-governing provinces.
**Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion spoke to the press this morning. He said the bishops today would be dealing with the issues of ”the three moratoria” (gay blessings, gay bishops and cross border interventions) and the issue of the Pastoral Forum proposed by the Windsor Continuation Group, a proposal that , at this point, is “fairly vague,” Kearon said.
Remember no one on that five-member continuation group supports the ordination of gay clergy, and its chair, the Rt. Rev. Clive Handford, former primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East has previously backed the formation of a separate conservative province within the Episcopal Church.
The bishops have also received a questionnaire from the covenant design group, chaired by Drexel Gomez, who has also endorsed the formation of a separate conservative province in the Episcopal Church, asking them for their opinion on the appendix to the St. Andrew’s Draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant. There is a special self-select session today on the appendix called the Devil is in the Details.
He said that the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council will meet in November to consider the Reflections document to be published tomorrow.
The questions a bishop should ask himself in reading the Reflections document is not whether he or she agrees with it, but “do you recognize your voice in that.” However, he added, the “listening group” that is drafting the reflection is trying to determine whether to include comments heard from only a small minority of bishops.
A few other notes:
Was the conference a success?
KK: I think all sorts of people on all sorts of issues feel they have really been heard. And they have really listened.
Is it fair to say that the value of the conference lies primarily in giving extensive feedback to the Windsor Continuation Group and the Covenant Design Group?
KK: I think both of these groups will get a very strong steer out of the Lambeth Conference, but the major force that is going to come out of this is the experience the bishops have had.
**And one last thing Kearon said almost in passing: “The ACC (Anglican Consultative Council, the only one of the Instruments of Communion that includes the voices of people who are not bishops) needs to be strengthened.”