"The Highest Degree of Communion Possible": Initial Reflections on the Windsor Report 2004

Article excerpt

The Lambeth Commission on Communion's Windsor Report 2004, released in October 2004, analyzes the current situation of sustained controversy and makes numerous recommendations as to how the Anglican Communion can restructure itself in order to preserve "the highest degree of communion possible." Beyond its recommendations for dealing with the events that prompted the appointment of the Commission, the Windsor Report proposes strengthening the "Instruments of Unity" in a way that would, it is hoped, limit the amount of divisiveness in future controversies. However, these proposals pose significant theological and ecclesiological problems: they attempt to curtail the work of the Holy Spirit in leading the church into all truth, and they give too much weight to agreement in a church that has cherished and promoted diversity of theology and practice in all but the most important areas of the faith.

On October 18, 2004, the Anglican Communion released the Windsor Report 2004, the report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to the situation that has developed in the Anglican Communion in the wake of decisions in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church relative to homosexuality, and the decisions of a number of provinces to declare they are now or may soon be no longer in communion with the Diocese of New Westminster or the Episcopal Church. The Lambeth Commissions charge was specifically not to consider issues of human sexuality as such, but rather to focus on how Anglican churches might maintain "the highest degree of communion possible"1 in what is a serious and widespread situation of conflict.

The Windsor Report has numerous recommendations. The headline grabbers are three invitations:

1) The Episcopal Church has been "invited" to make a statement of regret for the damage it has done to the Communion in consecrating Bishop Eugene Robinson.

2) The Diocese of New Westminster, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Episcopal Church have been "invited" to make a similar statement of regret for authorizing same-sex blessings.

3) Various conservative elements have been "invited" to make statements of regret for the damage they have done to the Communion by escalating rhetoric and by uncanonical crossing of diocesan boundaries.

In all three cases, there is also an "invitation" to enter into a moratorium on all such future acts.2 These "invitations" have teeth. The Report both declines to speculate, and also notes that in any situation of conflict among human groups or organizations, there are approximately four options, in escalating degrees of seriousness: mediation and arbitration; removal of invitation to attend important meetings as participants; invitations to attend these same meetings as observers only; and finally revocation of membership (para. 157).

These are serious matters. They require a great deal of careful thought, diligent prayer, and sustained though difficult discussion and debate. More important than the headline grabbers, however, are some of the other more general recommendations that both indicate a particular view of the church and also propose how the church might go about embodying that view. That is what I will focus on: changes in ecclesiology and ecclesial practice that require very careful consideration not only to assess the benefits of such changes, but also to assess what they may cost. These have to do with fundamental perennial tensions in our understanding of church-tensions between unity and diversity, and between autonomy and communion. Along with these is always the question of who and what has what kind of authority. These are tensions that must be held for any ecclesiology to be sound theologically, and also for it actually to work in practice.

The Windsor Report deals with these tensions and the underlying questions of authority by giving clear priority to unity over diversity, to community over autonomy, and to the centralization of authority at the international level, as well as to various bishops and colleges of bishops. …