Theological Reflection: Commitments of the mind and heart: Will the centre hold?

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WHEN A FAMILY is in conflict, avoidance isn’t a good idea, though it may be wise first to improve communication, find better settings to meet, and share confidence-building projects.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams ever supposed that the crisis over same-sex unions could be finessed, surely the boycott of 250 or more evangelical bishops, representing more than half of the Anglicans in the world because of Communion inaction toward dioceses performing same sex unions would have disabused him of that notion.  But he rightly perceived that the Communion and its bishops were not in a good position to deal with the crisis itself.

So Lambeth 2008 was designed in large measure to address those prior tasks as conditions for the possibility of successful resolution.  To replace distrust and rancour with candour and empathy was a goal of the much ballyhooed indaba groups, and many found them effective.  Bishops found common ground around pressing social issues, being moved by the witness of their colleagues in places where faith has a tangible cost, and seeing anew the precious and fragile richness of Anglican global diversity.    

[pullquote]As any spiritual director will tell you, feelings of communion are fine, but the real question is whether they translate into commitments of mind and heart.  What will a feeling for communion in our bishops mean once their bags are unpacked?  Are we ready to pay the cost of communion, whose coin here is constraint on blessing same-sex unions?  

It was made starkly clear by the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG)  that actions moving toward affirming same-sex unions, including those in the Anglican Church of Canada, have increased the danger of fracture in the Communion. The WCG’s call to observe the Windsor Report’s moratorium on such rites, seconded by Archbishop Williams, was widely supported by the bishops. Most of the bishops also seemed to concur with Archbishop Williams’ challenge to receive the Covenant as the best hope for an enduring Communion.  Only as we as a church receive the Covenant positively do we have the best chance of remaining full participants in the Communion. As any marriage counselor will tell you, holding a family together finally means facing hard truths and making sacrifices.

A theme of Archbishop Williams’ addresses was thinking and acting out of “the centre” of our faith.  Such a centre implies accountability to one another in important matters of doctrine and practice on behalf of the Church catholic.  He said this as centrifugal forces of a confessional right and a revisionist left strain at our Communion.   I wonder if Archbishop Williams didn’t have the voice of another melancholic Celt in the back of his mind:  “Things fall apart/ the centre cannot hold…”   

We give thanks for the bishops’ experiences of unity at Lambeth, and for proposed new means to support it.  But will the centre hold?  That depends in part on our own church.  Time may soon tell.

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GEORGE R. SUMNER

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