Concluding his visit with the House of Bishops, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams sought to diminish expectations and the implication that there are consequences for The Episcopal Church for failing to provide the assurances sought by the Anglican Communion’s primates last February.
Archbishop Williams spoke at a press conference Friday as he wrapped up a day and a half of private conversation in New Orleans with the House of Bishops and representatives from the joint steering committee of the primates and the Anglican Consultative Council,
“Despite what has been claimed, there is no ‘ultimatum’ involved,” Archbishop Williams said, reciting from memory a written statement distributed to reporters. “The primates asked for a response by September 30 simply because we were aware that this was the meeting of the house likely to be formulating such a response. The ACC and Primates Joint Standing Committee will be reading and digesting what the bishops have to say, and will let me know their thoughts on it early next week. After this I shall be sharing what they say, along with my own assessments, with the primates and others, inviting their advice in the next couple of weeks.”
In response to a question about the significance of his brief visit, Archbishop Williams said it “probably would not make much difference on the whole,” adding that he came away greatly encouraged by the bishops’ determination to continue together in relationship. Archbishop Williams also said there was “room for maneuverability” in an acceptable response from the bishops.
“Unfortunately [the primates’ requests in the communiqué] have been seen as demands and intrusions” by many of the bishops, he noted.
The House of Bishops’ meeting is scheduled to adjourn next Tuesday. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the bishops would continue working on their response to the primates and that The Episcopal Church was committed to remaining in “full communion.”
The morning session included individual addresses by four joint standing committee members. One meeting participant said the four addresses varied in substance, but each made the point that their church had not been consulted before The Episcopal Church proceeded to consecrate a partnered homosexual as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire in 2003 and that their faith communities had suffered to one degree or another as a result.
Archbishop Williams said he remained convinced that the best solution would be found by working within the existing structures and he was not persuaded of the need to postpone the next Lambeth Conference of Bishops, scheduled for July 2008.
“I am not sure what an adequate cooling off period would be like,” he said. Postponing the conference would be unfair to conference planners and the smaller provinces which have already made commitments based on the assumption that the conference would be held at the announced time.
“I don’t feel that putting off difficult problems forever is the best approach either,” he said.
Archbishop Williams said several times that he believed the best way forward was for The Episcopal Church to devise a solution that was acceptable to its own members and its overseas partners. He said the consecration of missionary bishops by overseas provinces was complicating the situation by creating a “canonical muddle.”
The struggle to keep Anglican Communion intact was worth the effort, he said. Such a seemingly intractable problem of theological conscience would be a powerful witness of reconciliation to the world. “If we are able to get this right with integrity in some way, that would be helpful to Christians everywhere,” he said.