THE WINDSOR REPORT / PRIMATES’ COMMUNIQUE
A RESPONSE FROM THE COLLEGE OF BISHOPS
The College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church was grateful to receive the Windsor Report and congratulates those who produced it in achieving unanimity in the recommendations which they make. They have also received the Communiqué of the Anglican Primates’ Meeting in February, and at the recent College of Bishops’ Meeting received a report on it from the Primus. The College acknowledges the difficulty of the situation in which the Anglican Communion is at present placed, and recognises that we will all be faced with making difficult decisions concerning the future direction which Anglicanism should take as a worldwide communion.
Unlike many branches of the Anglican Communion the Scottish Episcopal Church, through its history, does not owe its existence to the development of the British Empire, and the spread of worship from the Church of England into those parts. We are conscious that this means that within Scotland there is perhaps a greater “scepticism” about the importance of the Anglican Communion than may exist elsewhere and provincial autonomy is highly rated. However, as a College we would wish to affirm that we value our place within the Communion and will certainly be seeking to work to preserve the unity of that Communion.
Likewise the history of our relationship with the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while he has no authority in Scotland we would affirm the respect and affection we have for him. We have valued the ministry of successive Archbishops of Canterbury that has been exercised informally in the Communion. We would agree with the Primates’ Communiqué that we are “cautious of any development which would seem to imply the creation of an international jurisdiction which could override our proper provincial autonomy”.
As a province we would hope to continue to take our obligations to other provinces in the Anglican Communion seriously, and as a College of Bishops we would not be against some aspects of this being enshrined in our Canons as a result of a framework provided by an inter-provincial covenant. This does not mean to say that we would agree with all that is in the draft covenant in the Windsor Report, and note from the Communiqué that this is a view shared by others in the Communion. Taking seriously our obligations to other Provinces has always been part of our life. When the Scottish Bishops acted to consecrate Samuel Seabury in 1784 as bishop of Connecticut, they certainly acted independently, but only after informal consultation with the then Archbishop of Canterbury. More recently in our own life we considered an ecumenical development which could have raised problems for our relationship with other provinces, and so we invited comment from the Anglican Communion Office before we proceeded significantly in our discussions on that. Such consultation is already part of our life, but arranged informally. We can see little difficulty in that being slightly more formalised but would not want to see the development of any form of central Anglican structure for this.
On the matters of sexuality which occasioned the Report we are conscious that, like any province within the Anglican Communion, there is in our life significant diversity of view on both the matter of the consecration of Gene Robinson and the authorisation of liturgies for the blessing of same sex unions.
The Scottish Episcopal Church has never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry. Indeed, the Windsor Report itself in suggesting that a moratorium be placed on such persons being consecrated bishops, itself acknowledges the existence of many such relationships within the Church.
The Scottish Episcopal Church has, even before the 1998 Lambeth Conference, sought to be welcoming and open to persons of homosexual orientation in our congregations, and to listen to their experiences. This has on occasion led clergy to respond to requests to give a blessing to persons who were struggling with elements in their relationship, and who asked for such a prayer. We were glad to note that the concern of the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Communiqué was not with such informal pastoral responses to individual situations, and was about the official authorisation of a liturgical text for the blessing of such unions. We do agree that the whole area of debate in this matter is of such a fluidity, within which many different understandings exist, that it would certainly be premature to move formally to authorise such a liturgy.
The College of Bishops is conscious that the pressures within the debate on matters of sexuality vary from one province to another. Within our Province the debate tends to focus on matters to do with scriptural authority and human rights and justice. We sense that we are privileged in that we are a small province, and discussion across differences may be more easily achieved in our life than in other parts of the Communion. We hope that as a result of the publication of the report discussion across difference will take place, rather than a consolidation of opinion among the like minded. We welcome therefore the commitment of the Communiqué “to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process” and each of us will seek to facilitate discussion across differences within his diocese as recommended in Lambeth 1:10.
Members of the College indicated to the Primus that while acknowledging the significant pressures the Primates were under to arrive at a statement that would preserve the Communion, they personally regret the decision in the Communiqué to request the voluntary withdrawal of ACC members of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.
We are conscious that as a Church we are much indebted in our life both to a significant presence of persons of homosexual (lesbian and gay) orientation, and also to those whose theology and stance would be critical of attitudes to sexuality other than abstinence outside marriage. We rejoice in both, and it must be our prayer that discussion following the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Meeting will enable the energy of both to be harnessed to serve the Church and the proclamation of the gospel.
March 4, 2005