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Anglicans Online last updated 13 October 2019

Some Questions and Answers about the Lambeth Commission
by Simon Sarmiento
Anglicans Online Europe correspondent
12 September 2004

Which commission is this?
There has been confusion over its name. Originally (e.g. in ACNS 3713) it was referred to as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission; frequent reference is made to it as the Eames Commission, after the name of its chairman, but it has latterly adopted the title of Lambeth Commission on Communion.

What issues was the commission considering?
As the latest press release ACNS 3881 on 10 September 2004 states:

It was established by the Archbishop of Canterbury in October 2003, to make recommendations to the Primates of the Anglican Communion on how to maintain the highest degree of communion possible following developments in North America.

Those “developments” concerned sexuality, but the commission has not been considering any of those issues. It is limited to the consideration of questions of communion between Anglicans.

What the Primates Meeting originally requested on 16 October 2003 (see ACNS 3633) was:

We have noted that the Lambeth Conference 1998 requested the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a commission to consider his own role in maintaining communion within and between provinces when grave difficulties arise . We ask him now to establish such a commission, but that its remit be extended to include urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers we have identified at this meeting will have to be addressed. We request that such a commission complete its work, at least in relation to the issues raised at this meeting, within twelve months.

The Archbishop of Canterbury subsequently acted and the formal terms of reference and full membership of the commission were announced in ACNS 3652 on 28 October.

The Commission later (18 December) issued in ACNS 3713 this list of Key Questions that it would be considering:

Taking into account work on issues of communion carried out by Lambeth Conferences 1988 and 1998, and the views of the Primates Meetings since 2000:

1. What are (a) the legal and (b) the theological implications flowing from ECUSA decision to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops? (See LC 1998 Res. I.10)

2. What are (a) the legal and (b) the theological implications of the decision of the diocese of New Westminster to authorise services for use in connection with same sex unions?

3. What are the canonical understandings of (a) communion, (b) impaired communion and (c) broken communion? (What is autonomy and how is it related to communion?)

4. How (do and) may provinces relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion?

5. What practical solutions might there be to maintain the highest degree of communion that may be possible, in the circumstances resulting from these two decisions, within the individual churches involved? (eg [alternative] episcopal oversight when full communion is threatened)

6. What practical solutions might there be to maintain the highest degree of communion that may be possible, in the circumstances resulting from these two decisions, as between the churches of the Anglican Communion? (eg [alternative] episcopal oversight when full communion is threatened)

7. Under (a) what circumstances, (b) what conditions, and (c) by what means, might it be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of pastoral oversight, support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province to maintain communion between Canterbury and that province? (see LC 1998, Res. IV.13)

8. Under (a) what circumstances, (b) what conditions, and (c) by what means, might it be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of pastoral oversight, support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province to maintain communion between that province and the rest of the Anglican Communion? (see LC Res. IV.13)

Earlier, on 17 October 2003, Gregory Cameron had issued a further useful document, available as ACNS 3695: What happened at the Primates Meeting? A guide for our ecumenical partners.

Has the commission now finished its work?
Yes. Its final meeting was held last week, and its report will be completed and submitted to the archbishop at the end of this month. A huge amount of information about the work of the commission, and a vast number of documents that have been submitted to it can be found on the web pages of the commission starting here.

There seemed to be a lot of excitement a week ago, why was that?
That was caused by the press release issued just prior to the start of the final meeting. Although Archbishop Eames had previously issued other messages, first in a letter to primates issued on 29 April and then in an interview on 7 July published in ACNS3850, this one seems to have raised more alarm bells.

What happens next?
The report will be published on 18 October. The first group to consider it will be the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets from 18-21 October in London. It will then be discussed at the next meetings of the two parent bodies:

What recommendations is the Commission likely to make?
Speculation on the precise content of the report is pointless. However, it would be surprising if the report failed to address each of the Key Questions listed above. Recommendations are therefore likely to address at least two practical matters:

Concerning the first point, ECUSA bishops have already offered Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight as described here which is broadly similar to what is provided in the Church of England under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 in relation to those disaffected by the issue of Women's Ordination. There appear to be two problems in the ECUSA context: not all diocesan bishops are willing to participate, and many of those disaffected regard the plan as inadequate in scope. Essentially they want to establish parallel geographic jurisdictions, with their own bishops who will have complete juridical authority over them.

A further serious problem is that individuals, and even parishes, in ECUSA and New Westminster are already taking action to seek alternative oversight from bishops in other provinces of the communion, or even external to the communion, and LC 1998 V.13 is being ignored, as for example in the recent case of three Los Angeles parishes seeking oversight from a Ugandan bishop.

Concerning the second point, there have been numerous proposals made by various groups as to the detailed form of discipline. At provincial level the proposals typically involve the exclusion, initially for a defined period of time, of provincial representatives from meetings of the Instruments of Unity such as the Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference. Although there has been some discussion about avoiding this by means of adopting a "federation" model similar to that of the Lutheran World Federation, there seems to be little support so far for that concept.

Again, a serious problem is that any such proposal now made by the commission will appear as a "fudge" to those (for example in Nigeria and Uganda) who, despite the pleas for restraint made by the Primates Meeting itself, and repeated by Archbishops Williams and Eames, have already formally stated that they have unilaterally broken communion with ECUSA and/or New Westminster, and who appear unlikely to reverse that position now. Moreover, whatever discipline is eventually agreed and imposed, it appears that it will only be lifted when those provinces or dioceses completely reverse the actions they have already taken, and at present it appears most unlikely that either ECUSA or New Westminster will agree to that. Additionally, a body has already been formed "within" ECUSA, called the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes which gives every indication of wanting to replace ECUSA as the church body in the USA recognised by the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Would these recommendations be applicable to situations involving issues other than homosexuality?
It is hard to see why they would not be. The most obvious current example is the refusal of the Diocese of Sydney to accept the view held by most of the Anglican Communion concerning the practice of Lay Presidency at the Holy Communion.

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