The Communion Partners gathered recently for our annual meeting to take counsel with each other for the good of the Anglican Communion and, pray God, the wider body of Christ. Our meeting took place within the context of prayer and the celebration of the liturgy and brought together leaders from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, with two guests from the Church of England.
We heard from bishops of the Episcopal Church regarding the implementation of General Convention Resolution B012 (2018). This Resolution made liturgies for same-sex marriage available for all congregations that wish to use them, as authorized by their rectors or priests-in-charge; and it provided for bishops who hold the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage to call upon other bishops to exercise supplemental episcopal pastoral care in congregations wishing to use the liturgies. As the Communion Partners of the Episcopal Church wrote in the Austin Statement, B012 has provided a structure that “creates a helpful space of differentiation, set within the wider communion of baptism and faith that we continue to share, however imperfectly” (§9).
Even so, much remains to be done to normalize and regularize the differentiated consensus of B012, which work the Task Force on Communion across Difference, called for by the 2018 General Convention, took up at its first meeting in March. The goal of the task force is to “seek a lasting path forward for mutual flourishing consistent with this Church’s polity,” both for those who hold the traditional teaching and those who seek to include same-sex couples. We believe that identifying such a path, and learning to walk along it, will occupy Episcopal leaders well beyond the current triennium — the more as our scouting and traversing can only converge with the same pilgrim journey of the Anglican Communion as a whole. This is what we said last summer: “Like the call of all Anglicans to walk together along a common road in one communion, however duly differentiated, Episcopalians are seeking a way of living together imperfectly as Christians in the one Body, while respecting differences of teaching and practice.”
We also discussed at our meeting the upcoming General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada this July. It will take up the proposal to change the marriage canon to include same-sex couples. The resolution was first passed by General Synod in 2016. A second vote will be required in 2019 to finalize the change. Those who hold the Church’s traditional teaching are seeking formal recognition that the received view remains valid and that they will be free to teach and preach without hindrance. Should the resolution pass in July, traditionalists will need structural accommodation to enable their flourishing long term. That said, just before Easter, the Council of General Synod released an amendment to the resolution that would grant recognition and freedom in teaching to traditionalists provided they also accept the validity of the new teaching on same-sex marriage. Special freedom will be given to aboriginal members to resolve these issues themselves and for their own churches. Meanwhile, some are seriously discussing the possibility of avoiding a final vote on the main resolution. Perhaps a non-legislative approach could leave the marriage canon untouched but issue a formal statement acknowledging theological divisions and the permitting of same-sex marriage by some bishops notwithstanding the present canon.
Along with many others, we are mindful of preparations for the Lambeth Conference, the periodic gathering of bishops scheduled for July of 2020. As Communion Partners, we pray that the Conference will lead to a strengthening of the ties of fellowship that connect the Churches of the Communion. The walking together of member Churches should properly occasion an intensification of relationship, as the Anglican Covenant recognized (Introduction, §5): to enter more deeply into the common life and communion that is Our Lord’s prayer for his visible Body on earth. Here we would reclaim, and place before our colleagues across the Communion, the inspiring desire and call of the 1920 Lambeth Conference, until the work is completed. As the bishops wrote: “Because our [Communion] has spread over the world, and still more because we desire to enter into the world-wide fellowship of a reunited universal Church, we must begin now to clear ourselves of local, sectional, and temporary prepossessions, and cultivate a sense of what is universal and genuinely Catholic, in truth and life” (Encyclical Letter). In our day, a critical part of Catholic truth and life in need of upholding and defending is the institution of Christian marriage. We pray that next year’s conference will address marriage directly and clearly, both in order to reiterate the Catholic faith and to respond wisely to pastoral questions that have arisen in a new cultural situation. As the oldest instrument of Anglican conciliarity, the Lambeth Conference remains the best vehicle for the development of a common episcope that is personal, collegial, and communal “in accountable relation to the whole Church, both local and universal” (Virginia Report 5.11).
We heard with rejoicing a report on the Radical Vocation Conference, held in September in Dallas, sponsored by Communion Partners, the Diocese of Dallas, and the Church of the Incarnation. This event brought together over 400 clergy, seminarians, and other students discerning a call to ordination or other service in the Church. The conference is part of the fulfillment of our pledge to raise up a new generation of leaders and scholars for the Church. We are particularly grateful for Archbishop Welby’s participation in the conference, and for his recognition of Communion Partners. As he expressed in his sermon at Evening Prayer and in subsequent correspondence, “full communion” with Canterbury should remain a commonly held goal of all Anglicans, even amid struggles over serious matters and impaired relationships.
For our part, we continue to wrestle with the fractured relationships within Anglicanism in North America. We commit ourselves again to pray and work for reconciliation in every way possible with our own provinces, and also with those who have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to form new Anglican Churches.
We formalized the governance of Communion Partners at this meeting, choosing a convener and steering committee. The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith (North Dakota) is the convener. Steering committee members are the Rt. Rev. Greg Brewer (Central Florida), the Rt. Rev. Michael Hawkins (Saskatchewan), the Rev. Fariborz Khandani (Athabasca), the Rev. Leigh Spruill (Tennessee), Sharon Dewey Hetke (Ontario), and Christopher Wells (Dallas).
We are grateful to God for his blessing in the work that we have undertaken. We continue to pray, in keeping with longstanding Anglican commitment, that God will act powerfully to heal all divisions in the Church and guide the faithful into a fullness of visible unity. May God grant the leaders of the Anglican Communion courage, clarity, and strength to play our part in this holy work, “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).