“An interim solution that will certainly fall very far short of resolving all the disputes that are before us but will provide a way of moving forward with integrity.” That’s Archbishop Rowan Williams’ take on it. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori described it as “a season of fasting – from authorizing rites for blessing same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other.” And from my own Bishop Dorsey Henderson: “The Episcopal Church has been both affirmed and challenged.”
They are all commenting on the The Communiqué Of the Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam 19th February 2007. During the past week, the Primates of the Anglican Communion (the presiding bishops of the various national churches in communion with the Church of England) have been meeting in Tanzania to wrestle with the future of the Episcopal Church. And in usual Anglican ambiguity, they tried to come to the middle. I am hopeful about their work, but realistic enough to know that it’s just another cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
The Communiqué orders the Episcopal Church to agree with its terms by September 30, though what if happens if it doesn’t is unclear. Those terms include:
· A permanent moratorium on consecrating non-celibate gay bishops
· No Episcopal authorization of Rites of Blessing for same-sex couples
· Establishment of “a primatial vicar” to offer oversight to conservative dioceses under the authority of Presiding Bishop Schori
· Ending civil litigation over property disputes
There are no winners here, but there are two sets of clear losers: Gay and lesbian Episcopalians who hoped that their time for justice and dignity had arrived and conservatives who wanted the Episcopal Church either excommunicated from the Anglican Communion or chopped up into two overlapping Provinces, one “conservative” (though in this case, that would be radical, not conservative, since Anglican polity would be destroyed) and one “liberal.”
Ironically, the Primates, as a part of their meeting went to the site of a former slave trading bazaar in Zanzibar to pray for “forgiveness for the past, mercy for the present, and humility for the future.” That’s because a couple of hundred years ago, the Anglican Communion thought that buying and selling Africans was a perfectly acceptable Christian thing to do. Someday, another group of Anglicans may go back to Dar es Salaam and offer another prayer of forgiveness, this time for the way it treated gay and lesbian people.
We’ve got seven months to bring our Church around, which will require a special convened meeting of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. They will have to take steps that they could not take seven months ago. This will be a long season of fasting, a Lent in Ordinary Time.