Pastoral letter from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia
The 2004 Meeting of Bishops the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia has issued a pastoral letter to the Church on the release of the Windsor Report.
The letter that was sent to local churches on 25 October 2004 follows:
A PASTORAL LETTER FROM ALL THE BISHOPS OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND AND POLYNESIA TO THE MEMBERS OF OUR CHURCH
The Windsor Report from the Lambeth Commission on Communion reached the media before the Church it was written for had read it. The debate triggered on the Internet before and after the report's release bears little resemblance to the careful and prayerful process of reception that the Commission proposes.
Much of the media debate has little to do with what the Windsor Report is really about - which is the question of how we stay together as churches within the Anglican Communion and how we keep talking to each other across significant divisions of culture, history, and understanding of Scripture.
The Commission of 19 people from 14 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion included 2 New Zealanders, Bishop John Paterson of Auckland and Dr Jenny Plane Te Paa, Ahorangi of Te Rau Kahikatea. We are grateful to them for their comprehensive 93 page report, and commend it to every local church for study and reflection. Especially valuable in our view is the section on fundamental principles of scriptural authority and interpretation. This section provides a rich resource for us all and contains some challenging proposals for holding the authority of scripture alongside the principle of making decisions as close as possible to the local level, and the discernment of which issues we can disagree about without dividing the Church.
The report contains a number of strong recommendations that will need to be considered by a much longer process of consultation internationally, beginning with the meeting of the Primates in February 2005 and followed by the Anglican Consultative Council which meets in July next year. Our own General Synod in May 2006 will need to address the outcome of this international consultation process and discern what decisions are appropriate for the life of this Church.
The strongest recommendations address the Episcopal Church of the USA, and invite that church to express regret for ordaining the Bishop of New Hampshire without sufficient consultation with the rest of the communion. It also called for a moratorium on the ordination of any further bishops who live in same gender unions until "some new consensus" emerges internationally, among Anglicans.
Bishops were urged not to proceed with approving rites for the blessing of same sex unions. More biblical and theological study of the issue was encouraged, including a need for clarity about the distinction between same sex union and same sex marriage.
A very strong recommendation calls on bishops who believe they should intervene in other dioceses and provinces to express regret and cease any further interventions.
We have yet to hear how those directly addressed by all these calls will respond.
The report is very valuable in the advice it gives on maintaining dialogue across deep divisions which can so easily be jeopardised by precipitous action and demeaning the oversight role and authority of the bishop.
Among the ways ahead that the Commission proposes is a number of recommendations that would strengthen the international role of the Anglican Communion and its councils as “instruments of unity”. A proposal for an Anglican Covenant is offered in order to foster “greater unity and consolidate our understandings of communion”, and a clearer and better supported role for the Archbishop of Canterbury is outlined.
We are encouraged that much of the spirit and direction of this report echoes our own General Synod resolution in May 2004, including the acknowledgement of the ministries and contributions of gay and lesbian people in this Church. We note that discussions following our General Synod have heard a clear call from Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pasifika for more time to work separately in addressing issues of sexuality, both culturally and theologically. We also note that this report does not address the issue of new ordinations of gay and lesbian people, any more than it addresses the question of homosexuality in general. Those matters were outside its mandate. But the work on the same issues that we have called for in our General Synod still remains to be done.
In our deep concern over all these issues and their potential to divide us, we are determined as bishops not to close any doors or drop a portcullis on the debate. Our determination is to keep the dialogue going respectfully in order to win each other over, not to one side or the other, but to the values of the Gospel that we share and that calls us all to account.
In the words of the Windsor Report, “our aim is to work for healing and restoration. The real challenge of the Gospel is whether we live deeply enough in the love of Christ, and care sufficiently for our joint work to bring that love to the world, that we will 'make every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace' Ephesians 4-3.
As the primates stated in 2000, 'to turn from one another would be to turn away from the cross', and indeed from serving the world which God loves and for which Jesus Christ died."
Christ's peace be with you all.