Live, breaking: a Holy Office to call our own?

updated most recently at 9:20 a .m., EDT, to include quotes from Archbishop Williams and some additional commentary at bottom.

By Jim Naughton

The Windsor Continuation Group has endorsed a strong centralizing agenda that elevates the role of the Primates Meeting, diminishes the influence of the Anglican Consultative Council, and endorses the establishment of an “Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission.” The proposal, which is sure to face stiff resistance, is the strongest signal yet that this important body intends to recommend wide ranging changes in Communion governance.

The recommendations, contained in part two of the group’s “preliminary observations” says the survival of the Communion may depend on “communion with autonomy and accountability.”

The Communion suffers from an emphasis on “independence at the expense of interdependence in the Body of Christ,” the report says. “This has led to internal fragmentation as well as to confusion among our ecumenical partners.”

Resolving the current controversy over the morality of homosexual relationships will require “a common understanding of the place and role of the episcopal office within the sensus fidelium of the whole Church.

The members of the committee, all but one of whom are bishops, and none of whom supports the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, said that the Lambeth Quadrilateral, which once provided the framework of Anglican unity now required “strengthened” instruments of communion to stand “alongside” it to hep the Communion “regain a sense of Anglican identify.”

“It is a flag raised to see who salutes at this stage,” said the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.”I think there is a kind of head of steam behind [it], said Williams, adding that he was “quite enthusiastic” about the proposal.

He said without additional governing structures “we shall be flying further apart.”

“There have to be protocols and conventions by which we recognize one another as churches,” Williams added.

In discussing the instruments of unity, the Windsor group found fault with the role of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is currently the only instrument of communion to include clergy and lay people.

“There are questions about whether a body meeting every three years, with a rapidly changing membership not necessarily located within the central structures of their own Provinces, can fulfill adequately the tasks presently given to it.

“Not all believe that a representative body is the best way to express the contribution of the whole of the people of god at a worldwide level. There are many ways in which the voice of the whole body can be heard: diocesan and Provincial synods, networks, dialogues and commissions.”

The Primates Meeting, meanwhile, is described as a body whose “great virtue” is that its members “are in conversation with their own House of bishops and located within their own synodcial structures. They are, therefore, able to reflect the breadth and depth of the conversations and opinion in the Provinces.”

The group supports the continuation of the listening process, and the Scriptural hermeneutics province currently underway within the Communion, as well as a deadline for completion of work on the next draft of the proposed Anglican covenant.

“The Common Principles of Canon Law Project…gives a sense of integrity of Anglicanism to and we commend the suggestion for the setting up of an Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission that could give guidance on the ecclesiological issues raised by our current ‘crisis.’

Bishop Clive Handford, former primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, walked into the media centre by mistake not long after the report was made public. In an impromptu he said the bishops had received the report before hearings held on Wednesday: “On the whole it has been received well,” he said. “Certainly the process has been received well.”

He said part of the group’s charge was to “stimulate conversation.”

“We are trying to encourage people to talk, not just to us.”

Asked how the bishops had received the proposal for a Faith and Order Commission, he said: “It was noted. As far as I know, one person said that it would be a good thing and that he would welcome it.”

Ruth Gledhill is also on the story.

Okay, news is over, now some commentary. I gave Ruth (who is pounding away at her keyboard a few seats away) the following quote, which I think she has used: “It’s troubling, but perhaps unsurprising to see a group composed almost exclusively of bishops, and advised by Anglican Communion Office bureaucrats recommending new structures for the Communion that strengthen the role of bishops and bureaucrats at the expense of clergy and lay people.”

This is a politically skillful move on the part of moderate conservatives in the Communion who have been working hard to marginalize the Episcopal and Canadian churches. There are enough dioceses led by moderate conservative bishops to form a substantial American province in communion with Canterbury if the Episcopal Church decides it cannot sacrifice its convictions on homosexuality to maintain its membership in the new, rapidly centralizing, bishops’ club previously referred to as the Anglican Communion.

The much-admired Bishop Gary Lillibridge of West Texas, a key moderate conservatives, is a member of the Windsor Continuation Group.

Three bishops I ran into on the campus said they had not heard about the proposal. One was categorically opposed to it; one wanted more details than I could provide, and one said that if the new commission were charged with truly working through the theological issues confronting the communion in an unhurried way than he could support it.

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