Archbishop dismisses suggestion of schism within Anglican Communion


BRITAIN:A quarter of all Anglican bishops have stayed away from the Lambeth Conference, writes Patsy McGarry

SPECULATION ON a likely schism in the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference has been dismissed by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.

"If it's the end of the Anglican Communion, I don't think anyone told the people here," he said in the University of Kent, near Canterbury, yesterday.

He acknowledged that this conference, held once every decade, was "a huge challenge".

In a presidential address on Sunday night he described it as "one of the most severe challenges to have faced the Anglican Communion in its history".

Approximately a quarter of the Communion's bishops have boycotted the conference in protest at the manner in which the 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire in the US, was dealt with. Referring to those bishops who stayed away, Archbishop Williams said yesterday: "We're sorry they are not here. To have their views would be a helpful and healing thing."

Approximately 670 bishops are attending the conference, while a parallel spouses's conference is being attended by 550 women and six men.

The conference format has been radically altered from previous occasions, with bishops meeting in 15 groups of 40. They gather in closed session each day, selected on the basis of geography, gender and language.

Described as "indaba" groups - from a Zulu word meaning "a gathering for a purposeful discussion" - the bishops will talk on a number of topics. Yesterday it was "the bishop and Anglican identity".

A written summary will be prepared at the end of each indaba discussion. After two days of meetings, each group will nominate a member who will bring their views to a "listener" who, along with colleagues from the other 14 indaba groups, will prepare a common text under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Perth, Dr Roger Herft.

Preliminary drafts of this text, or a "Reflections document", will then be circulated back to the indaba groups at intervals during the conference, while the listening group which prepared it will meet in open session with any bishop who wishes to comment. These latter sessions are scheduled to begin next Monday. The intention is that every bishop at the conference will have an opportunity to have direct input to the final Reflections document, which it is intended will be published on the last day of the conference.

Commenting on this rather cumbersome system, Archbishop Williams said "quite a few people have said that the new ways we're suggesting of doing our business are an attempt to avoid tough decisions and have the effect of replacing substance with process. To such people I simply say, 'How effective have the old methods really been?'

"The old methods were not terribly successful. This way will allow, in particular, every voice to be heard."

He also said that the three days of retreat attended by the bishops last week had "achieved a level of spiritual cohesion. I think it was an important building block for the conference." He was also asked why those American bishops who had consecrated Bishop Robinson had been invited to Lambeth.

He said that some of the bishops had expressed regret at having consecrated him, some had retired, and that as a body they had asked for forgiveness, which a majority in the Communion had agreed to grant them.

All 12 bishops from the Church of Ireland are attending the conference, though a meeting they were scheduled to hold yesterday, according to the conference programme, did not take place.

Bishop of Limerick Most Rev Trevor Williams said yesterday that "coming from Northern Ireland, I know how easy it is for difference to lead to division".

The challenge was "to devise ways whereby differences can be held while holding a common commitment", he said.

Bishop of Clogher Most Rev Michael Jackson said the new indaba process was a way of addressing matters which were unresolved. He also indicated there were people present from some Communion Provinces which had boycotted the conference. The absence of others was a source of "tremendous pain" to those in attendance, but he hoped that all present would take away the experience of a genuine attempt to enable understanding.

Meanwhile Bishop Robinson, who was not invited to the conference, was at the University of Kent yesterday, though he did not attend any indaba sessions. "I am not making any attempt to attend any session which is for bishops only," he said.