Lambeth Conference backs spirit of unity in first business plenary

4 August 1998 • Persistent link:

The Lambeth Conference sent a strong message of commitment to church unity Tuesday (August 4, 1998).

In its first plenary session to debate resolutions, the bishops recommitted the international Anglican church to journey towards “the full, visible unity of the Church as the goal of the Ecumenical Movement,” and voted to strengthen the role of its own major ecumenical agency.

“As bishops, the visible unity of the Church is a vital part of our ministry,” said Bishop Jabez Bryce of Polynesia, who introduced the report and resolutions from the conference’s Section Four. The section, comprised of approximately 200 bishops, has been discussing the theme, “Called to be One,” for the past two weeks.

After reaffirming the Anglican commitment to unity, Resolution IV.1, approved by the conference, goes on to encourage the Anglican provinces that have already formed close inter-church relationships to continue to fine tune those links. (In ecumenical circles, “visible unity” can show up in steps such as common confession of the creeds, sharing of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, recognition of each other’s clergy and joint decision-making.)

Dealing with “untidiness”

The same resolution goes on to recognize that in moving toward full visible union between the churches, certain “anomalies” may arise that are evidence of “untidiness,” which “may be bearable” for the sake of achieving unity. The report lists as an example of such anomalies the problem of “overlapping jurisdictions,” that is, when the territory overseen by the bishop of one church body overlaps with the territory of a bishop of another church body.

Such a situation exists in parts of Europe, for example, as the result of the 1996 Porvoo Declaration, an ecumenical agreement between the Anglican churches of Great Britain and the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, which establishes communion between those churches.

Bishop Bryce asked: “Do Anglicans still share a common commitment to visible unity and is there behind the many ecumenical endeavours a shared vision of that unity which is God’s gift to us and our vocation to play our part in bringing it into being?”

The section’s report also raised issues which “took the Conference into uncharted waters with a consideration of the pastoral and ecumenical issues which arise out of Anglican experience of new churches and independent Christian groups,” he said.

Bishop Bryce noted that, as the report was drafted, “we were aware that our ecumenical vocation is carried out in the context of the encounter with people of other faiths and none. If our witness is to be credible it requires that Christians are united.”

Role for new commission

In other business at the plenary, the conference voted to set up a new international commission (Resolution IV.3) that will not only monitor the range of official inter-church dialogues around the Anglican world, but also intervene “to ensure theological consistency in dialogues.”

Under the terms of the resolution, when a proposed new inter-church agreement between an Anglican province and another denomination “affects the life of the communion as a whole,” the new commission would “refer the matter to the Primates Meeting . . . before the Province enters the new relationship.”

The proposal to establish the new Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations came from the church’s current agency, known as the Ecumenical Advisory Group.

Unified tone to first ‘debates’

The spirit of ‘unity’ also was evident in the pace of the plenary’s business. The plenary proceeded with such a spirit of consensus that bishops completed their scheduled work on resolutions from Section Four and moved on to the reports and resolutions of Section Two, which has been considering the topic “Called to Live and Proclaim the Good News.”

Two of the three Section Four resolutions (IV.1 and IV.3) presented for debate passed on a show of hands with no visible objections. The third resolution, which proposed an expanded role for the Archbishop of Canterbury in resolving internal conflicts within Anglican provinces, will be incorporated with another resolution and brought back to a conference business session later this week.

Bishop Wilson Mutebi of Mityana diocese (Uganda) had moved to amend the resolution, suggesting an expanded role for the Anglican Consultative Council instead of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Mutebi argued that giving special powers to the See of Canterbury was a departure from Anglican tradition. The amendment was defeated.

“Agreed list” resolutions approved

Tuesday’s plenary also approved without debate 20 resolutions from Section Four’s “agreed list” stating that the Lambeth Conference:

(The content of a number of original resolutions drafted by this section were incorporated into resolutions put forward by other sections of the Lambeth conference, and so are not listed here.)

Randall Lee, E.T. Malone Jr., Susie Erdey and James Thrall contributed to this story.