The beginning of John Richardson’s comments on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter [p. 19]
If thirty-plus years in ordained ministry in the Church of England has taught me anything, it is that everyone wants a lead from the bishops, until they actually give one. Something like this may now be happening with regard to Rowan Williams, and specifically his Advent Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion.
It is the Archbishops definitive statement of where he thinks the Communion is today, and where it ought to be going, up to and including the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Compared with some of his earlier pronouncements, this is different. It indicates a clear resolve, and an expectation that others should both accept his authority and, to a certain extent, conform to his vision. All may not like it. There are things about it I do not like. But to be a leader is to lead, and it is surely better for an organization to be led imperfectly than not to be led at all.
Dr Williams’ letter begins with a definition of the unity of the Anglican Communion which depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognize that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate, who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments.
There are three key elements to this mutual recognition, the first of which is the priority of Scripture. To this, he adds that we need to read the Bible together. Thus, ‘Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone.’ The important word here is change: it is The Episcopal Church and its supporters who, Williams recognizes, are seeking to change the way the Bible is read on a fundamental issue.
The other two elements which allow mutual recognition are ‘The common acknowledgement of an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament,’ and ‘The common acknowledgement that the first and great priority of each local Christian community is to communicate the Good News.’
It is the first of these which undergirds Dr Williams’ opposition to cross-border interventions: ‘The principle that one local church should not intervene in the life of another is simply a way of expressing this trust that the form of ministry is something we share and that God provides what is needed for each local community’
He is also clearly unhappy at the tendency to polarize the Church between ‘those who are ‘for’ and those who are ‘against’ the welcoming of homosexual people.’ But he acknowledges the current crisis is about being ‘recognizably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church concluding that, ‘Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.’