Covenant: the Redemption of Solitude (Update)

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a major address at the Lambeth Conference today, seeking to prevent the sundering of the Communion. Here is an excerpt:

We are here at all, surely, because we believe there is an Anglican identity and that its worth investing our time and energy in it. I hope that some of the experience of this Conference will have reinforced that sense. And I hope too that we all acknowledge that the only responsible and Christian way of going on engaging with those who arent here is by speaking from that centre in Jesus Christ where we all see our lives held and focused.And, as I suggested in my opening address, speaking from the centre requires habits and practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone not because something alien is being imposed, but because we know we shall only keep ourselves focused on the centre by attention and respect for each other checking the natural instinct on all sides to cling to one dimension of the truth revealed. I spoke about council and covenant as the shape of the way forward as I see it. And by this I meant, first, that we needed a bit more of a structure in our international affairs to be able to give clear guidance on what would and would not be a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a local church. While at the moment the focus of this sort of question is sexual ethics, it could just as well be pressure for a new baptismal formula or the abandonment of formal reference to the Nicene Creed in a local churchs formulations; it could be a degree of variance in sacramental practice about the elements of the Eucharist or lay presidency; it could be the regular incorporation into liturgy of non-Scriptural or even non-Christian material.Some of these questions have a pretty clear answer, but others are open for a little more discussion; and it seems obvious that a body which commands real confidence and whose authority is recognised could help us greatly. But the key points are confidence and authority. If we do develop such a capacity in our structures, we need as a Communion to agree what sort of weight its decisions will have; hence, again, the desirability of a covenantal agreement.Some have expressed unhappiness about the legalism implied in a covenant. But we should be clear that good law is about guaranteeing consistence and fairness in a community; and also that in a community like the Anglican family, it can only work when there is free acceptance. Properly understood, a covenant is an expression of mutual generosity indeed, generous love, to borrow the title of the excellent document on Inter-Faith issues which was discussed yesterday. And we might recall that powerful formulation from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Covenant is the redemption of solitude.

The entire text is available on Ruth Gledhill's blog, followed by diverse comments.Update:Over at Macy*s (I mean the America blog), the redoubtable Austen Ivereigh discerns two potent influences on Rowan William's make or break speech. Intriguingly, both are Roman Catholics: the late Chiara Lubich and Ren Girard. Mr. I's reflections are well worth a walk "downtown."

Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is a longtime Commonweal contributor.

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