Bishops set their sights on a more united future on Sunday as their global conference drew to a close with appeals from the Archbishop of Canterbury for all Anglicans to walk the road forward together.
In his final presidential address at the once -a-decade Lambeth Conference on Sunday, Dr. Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader for the Anglican Communion, said there was “wide support” for the suspension of ordinations of gay people, blessings for same-sex couples and cross-border interventions.
"If the North American churches don't accept the need for moratoria, then to say the least, we are no further forward," Williams said after the conference concluded. "That means as a communion we continue to be in grave peril.”
The 77-million member Anglican Communion has been wracked with division, particularly since the 2003 consecration of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. More than 200 conservative bishops boycotted the conference in protest of the presence of pro-gay bishops, including some of those involved in the consecration of Robinson. They held their own meeting, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), in Jerusalem in June.
In his strongest public acknowledgement of GAFCON to date, Williams said he would look for ways to “build bridges” with bishops in the movement, who include Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi, Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, and a number of UK bishops, including the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev Michael Nazir-Ali.
Williams said he would send out a pastoral letter to each of the GAFCON bishops as a first step, but added that the bridge-building process would need some “teasing out” in the coming months.
On Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury also expressed support for the formation of a Pastoral Forum that would oversee conservative parishes and dioceses that break from their regional denomination, saying it would help to “avoid further ecclesial confusion.”
He went on to reaffirm his support for the Anglican Covenant, saying that it had the potential to make Anglicans “more of a church; more of a ‘catholic’ church in the proper sense, a church, that is, which understands its ministry and service and sacraments as united and interdependent throughout the world.”
Responding to critics who said this year’s Lambeth avoids tackling the controversial issues wracking the global Communion, Williams insisted that bishops at Lambeth had “not evaded” the difficult questions, although he conceded that some in the Communion had not received the answers they were hoping for.
Unlike previous Lambeth conferences, there was no legislation at this year’s meeting. Anglican leaders said they wanted to hold talks to better understand one another and build relationships, rather than create “winners and losers” through a parliamentary procedure, U.S. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori had said.
Despite the divisions and protests leading into the conference, Williams said he “could not have prayed for more” success as he reflected on the achievements of this year’s meeting.
The Archbishop said he would convene a Primates’ meeting in early 2009 to take the outcomes of the Lambeth Conference further.
“We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board,” he said.