LAMBETH: Windsor Continuation Group Chairman Says Communion Situation is Rapidly Deteriorating
By David W. Virtue
Saying that the situation in The Anglican Communion is "severe" and that positions and arguments are becoming "more extreme with relationships in the Communion continuing to deteriorate", the chairman of the Windsor Continuation Group told a press conference that there is little sense of mutual accountability and a fear that vital issues are not being addressed in the most timely and effective manner.
The Rt. Rev. Clive Handford, former President /Bishop of the/ Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and Middle East, painted a grim picture of deteriorating relationships in the Anglican Communion saying the gap between promise and follow through seems unbridgeable.
He said there is distrust at all levels - Doctrinal, theological, ecclesiological, ethical, anthropological, cultural, historical, and political, saying the global realities are all dimensions. "There are competing value systems at work and a lack of clarity about a shared value framework."
Acknowledging that these are only preliminary observations on the life of the Communion and the current state of responses to the recommendations of the Windsor Report, he said the Communion appears to remain at an impasse. "There is inconsistency between what has been agreed, and what has been done."
He said the gap is most visible in Resolutions at TEC's General Convention (June 2006), the US House of Bishops at Camp Allen (March 2005), New Orleans (September 2007) with undertakings and affirmations of the primates (Dromantine, January 2005; Dar-es-Salaam, February 2007) showing no sign of a break through. He also pointed at the resolutions and responses by the House of Bishops and General Synod in Canada (2004, 2006, 2007).
Handford said that the reality of our current life is so complex that the presenting issues are not always the issues with which we are actually dealing.
Handford cited the use and abuse of language, e.g. moratorium, "initiating interventions" noting that requests and responses are either not fully thought through or they are disregarded. "The consequences of actions have not always been adequately."
Observing the breakdown of trust, Handford said there are real fears of a wider agenda - over creedal issues ( the authority of scripture, the application of doctrine in life and ethics and even Christology and soteriology). Other issues, such as lay presidency and theological statements, that go far beyond the doctrinal definitions of the historic creeds, "lie just over the horizon."
Attacking the media, he said modern technology has created "active fear-mongering, deliberate distortion and demonising. Politicisation has overtaken Christian discernment."
Taking a swipe at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), he said suspicions have been raised about the purpose, timing and outcomes of this conference and the establishment of the Gafcon Primates' Council and of FOCA, which, with withdrawal from participation at the Lambeth Conference, has further damaged trust.
Handford said there are growing patterns of Episcopal congregationalism throughout the communion at parochial, diocesan and provincial levels. "Parishes feel free to choose from whom they will accept Episcopal ministry; bishops feel free to make decisions of great controversy without reference to existing collegial structures. Primates make provision for Episcopal leadership in territories outside their own Province.
"There is distrust of the Instruments of Communion and uncertainty about their capacity to respond to the situation."
He also criticized what he called the "polarisation of attitudes" in the Churches of the Communion, not just in the current situation, but felt and expressed by conservative and liberal alike.
Highlighting the deteriorating turmoil in The Episcopal Church, he noted both individuals and whole congregations are leaving parishes and dioceses, with some dioceses seeking to leave provinces.
"Parties within the Episcopal Church have sought allies within the wider Communion, who are seen as only too willing to respond.
"Litigation and interventions have become locked in a vicious spiral - each side seeing the actions of the other as provoking and requiring response."
He noted with resignation that divisions in the United States are playing out in the wider Communion, particularly in Canada.
"All this amounts to a diminishing sense of Communion and impoverishing our witness to Christ, placing huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion. Such turmoil affects our relations with our ecumenical partners, many of whom face similar tensions. Some partners are beginning to raise questions about the identity of their Anglican partner. In the light of the ecumenical movement, there can no longer be tensions in one Communion that do not have wider repercussions across the whole Christian family."
He concluded his remarks by saying that the process will continue as these are only initial observations and the ongoing dialogue is a key to the wholeness of the life of the communion. He said the Anglican Communion is still an agent in God's world.
Tom Bair, husband of Rhode Island Bishop Geralyn Wolf, said at the press conference that it would be a tragedy if this communion comes apart.
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