From The Living Church:
In what was described by Australian Archbishop Phillip Aspinall as a “day of intense listening” characterized by “graciousness, patience and care,” the primates gathered at a hotel near Dar es Salaam heard an address by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, received a report from an advisory group appointed by the joint standing committee of the primates and Anglican Consultative Council on The Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report, and heard presentations from three American bishops and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori.
In his opening remarks, described as “moving” by one listener, Archbishop Williams welcomed the primates and spoke to the importance of their work and collegiality. He also spoke to his great affection for The Episcopal Church.
The Archbishop of Canterbury recounted his experiences on Sept. 11, 2001 when he and other Episcopalians at Trinity Church Wall Street in lower Manhattan were trapped for a number of hours by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers. This experience had given Archbishop Williams a deep affection for the United States and The Episcopal Church and had led to a bonding with the people with whom he shared the day’s experiences.
The primates heard a presentation on The Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report. In reviewing the main points of the document, Archbishop Aspinall said the report concluded The Episcopal Church had conformed to “two out of three of the Windsor Reports requests, with more work to be done.”
General Convention “probably did the most that could have been done” on the question of a moratorium on the consecration of non-celibate gay clergy to the episcopate. However, Archbishop Aspinall said the report’s authors were “not convinced” that the response by General Convention to the Windsor Report’s request that The Episcopal Church bring to a halt public rites for the blessing of same sex-unions was adequate.
The Episcopal Church’s expression of regret adopted at General Convention did not provide a “full satisfaction” as it did not “use the precise language” of the Windsor Report. But it was concluded that it was “sufficient to meet the requests of the primates.”
The report had been completed approximately six months ago, conference spokesmen noted, and had been delivered to the primates today. Archbishop Aspinall stressed that “no decisions have been taken” on the report and that the task of the primates over the coming days was to make a “collective response” to the report.
The opening session was one of “process,” agreed Canadian Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, with “civil and cordial” conversation characterizing the morning.
Asked where this report left The Episcopal Church, Archbishop Aspinall said “the question has to wait until tomorrow,” but that it was “fair to say that more work needed to be done.”
At 12:15 p.m. the primates broke for noonday prayers. A corporate Eucharist was not celebrated, Archbishop Aspinall said, with the primates participating in a service of “penitence” led by the conference chaplains, the bishops of Western Tanganyika and Dar es Salaam.
The Global South primates will not celebrate the Eucharist with the Presiding Bishop, one primate told a reporter for The Living Church. They continue to stand behind their September declaration that they would “not be able to recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate at the table with us.” The “table” he noted, is the language used for an altar as found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
When the meeting resumed after lunch, the primates concluded their reception of the advisory group report, and began a three-hour session devoted to presentations on The Episcopal Church made by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana, and the Rt. Rev. C. Christopher Epting, Presiding Bishop’s deputy for interfaith and ecumenical relations.
Gathered in a circle in the chapel area, the primates listened first to Bishop MacPherson, then bishops Duncan, Epting and Schori, with the total presentation lasting approximately an hour. There followed approximately two hours of discussion and questions to the American bishops.
Archbishop Aspinall said the bishops “explained their constituencies” and “frankly and passionately” described the state of The Episcopal Church. The views raised by the four bishops ranged from pain and confusion on the part of those who do not share the majority position to criticism of “unwanted and uninvited” interventions by Global South primates into the United States. The lengths of the presentations varied from 10 to 20 minutes, with one listener remarking that Bishop MacPherson spoke with particular passion.
The four bishops offered a number of potential scenarios that would enable The Episcopal Church to “explore a way for the primates to create a space for healing and reconciliation in the United States,” Archbishop Aspinall said, adding that during the follow-up discussion “no decisions” were reached and “no specific proposals” were “debated in detail.”
The four American bishops were charged to keep silent by the primates about their presentations until the meeting’s close on Monday. Bishops MacPherson and Epting return to the United States on Friday, while Bishop Duncan will remain in Dar es Salaam at a nearby hotel through the end of the conference.
Primates and conference staffers from across the theological spectrum agreed the day had been a productive start to the debate over The Episcopal Church, but that no clear course of action had taken hold of the meeting.. However, “whatever happens, we still will be friends,” Archbishop John Chew of South East Asia concluded.
(The Rev.) George Conger