of the Anglican Communion in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I want to share some preliminary thoughts after the recent meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Dar es Salaam. I am not seeking to address the issues and substance of the communiqué of the Primates, or the implications of it. Rather I want to suggest a frame work for faithfully, carefully and pastorally walking through this moment of history in our world and church.
First, while this may seem self evident, I encourage us all to read very carefully, and indeed, prayerfully, the documents and statements that have emerged from the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion. In moments of deep conviction and difference I find it helpful to step back, slow down, breathe deeply, and ponder slowly. It is important to hear what is and isn’t being said. Further, the communiqué is a highly nuanced document, and it will take some time and reflection by us all to understand a reasonably shared interpretation of what it is actually saying.
At this point there are four key documents, all of which can be found on the Anglican Communion News Service and Episcopal News Service. Links to these can be found at the conclusion of this letter.
1. The Primates Communiqué
2. The February 20, 2007 press conference of the Archbishop of Canterbury
3. The Reflection of the Presiding Bishop following the meeting
4. The draft of the Anglican Covenant
In particular I encourage us all to read the careful reflection of our Presiding Bishop and Primate, Bishop Katherine. One of the reasons I will not make premature public judgments about the meaning of all of this is that it will be important for me to hear directly from our Primate, as she was present at the council, and also, as I trust her wisdom and judgment. Hearing and discernment of the mind of Christ happens in the community of the body of Christ. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Mt. 18:20) Therefore I look forward to hearing from our Executive Council which meets from March 2-4, and await the assembly of the House of Bishops, March 17-22, where my ears will be open and my voice will be heard.
Second, we must prayerfully and carefully allow the councils of the Episcopal Church, the House of Bishops and the Executive Council to think through, deliberate, pray over and seek to discern that which is a faithful response for us to the actual, not the perceived, request of the Windsor Report and the Primates Communiqué. Through our various councils working together, we as the Episcopal community, seek to hear the voice of Jesus and follow our best understanding of his way and will. We must trust these councils of the church.
Third, and this is a more extended reflection, I am convinced that we must see this in a broader context of our church struggling to be faithful to its gospel calling to be a church that is truly catholic. This struggle may, as similar struggles in the past, lead us as the church to a new awareness of God’s purposes among us. Let me say a bit more about that.
Earlier this morning I was re-reading an essay reflecting on the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s book, The Gospel and the Catholic Church. It has been some years since I first read Lord Ramsey’s book, and my copy has been lost. Unfortunately it is out of print. But this essay reminded me of one of the Archbishop’s clear insights and affirmations. The church catholic has been called into being and given life by the Gospel, the Good News of God, disclosed in Jesus the Christ.
That is part of the message of the Day of Pentecost. On Pentecost people of various tribes and nations, representing the whole of humanity, were enabled by the Spirit to hear and declare the Good News of God in their various tongues (Acts 2:11). In that experience the church catholic, a community of faith embracing and yet transcending the varieties and differences, all sorts and conditions of our humanity, was born. The living out of the Gospel of Jesus is what gave rise to the catholic church.
This was a stunning and critical moment in human history, but the implications of that only unfolded over time, with great struggle and difficulty. For example, the inclusion of Gentiles in what was essentially a Jewish movement provoked a major crisis in the church. In this act of inclusion ethnic, social, cultural and religious boundaries, customs and traditions were crossed. Read the accounts of that struggle to include Gentiles (Acts 10-15).
In time it became clear that the Spirit of God unleashed in the teachings and life of Jesus, clearly challenged prevailing understandings of the traditions of Judaism to move beyond the surface of the tradition to the depth of the tradition where God’s purpose and intention might be discovered. That crisis was not resolved quickly, or easily, or without great pain. One need only read Paul’s tension filled narrative composed years later, recounting his clash with Peter over how to practically live out the catholic impulse of the Gospel in terms of how Jewish and Gentile Christians should relate to each other (see Gal. 2:11-21).
That early crisis, in time, led to a stunning breakthrough, the emergence of the church catholic, the body of Christ, embracing and including a variety and diversity of nations and peoples, transcending social, ethnic, cultural, national, tribal, ideological differences in a unity born of baptism into the body of Jesus Christ.
We may be living through a very similar period in the history of the church, and indeed in the life of the world. Now the living out of our catholicity as a church may be in tension with itself. On the one hand to be a catholic church means that we are part of the body of Christ, universal, embracing, through baptism into Christ, many peoples and nations. This catholic conviction of the Gospel is what lies behind the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19, 20). Our Anglican heritage and expression of catholic Christianity is our way of participating in the church catholic.
And yet, on the other hand, that very Gospel based catholic impulse is the one that calls us to be a community that welcomes, embraces and includes all the baptized holding the faith of Jesus. “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28) Seeking to live out this very gospel based conviction of our catholicity in the American context has brought us as the Episcopal Church in tension with many of our brothers and sisters in the world wide Anglican Communion.
We are in the midst of trying to work out what it means and how to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Jesus Christ. We are struggling, as Peter and the first church did, to figure out the way that follows in the footsteps of Jesus. We are laboring to be what Jesus intended when he said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” (Mk. 11:17)
That Gospel vision is not one quickly attained or easily realized. The arduous task of faith in a time such as this is to labor on diligently in the daily work of the Gospel that is ours, to engage prayerfully the issues before us in our church, and at the same time to wait patiently.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Your brother in Christ,