Decision on Lambeth Conference invitations draws reaction
[Episcopal News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to withhold a small number of invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops drew reaction as soon as the announcement was made public May 22.The once-a-decade gathering of Anglican Communion bishops is due to be held July 16-August 4 at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. About 880 invitations are being sent out from the Archbishop, Dr. Rowan Williams.
The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, confirmed to Episcopal News Service that Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Martyn Minns, bishop of the Church of Nigeria-founded Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) are among the “small number of bishops” who have not been invited to the 2008 conference.
Robinson is one of the few duly elected bishops who did not receive an invitation, Kearon said. Williams “intends to explore how Robinson might be present as a guest to the conference,” but he is not contemplating inviting Minns at all, Kearon added.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent a short e-mail message to the House of Bishops urging “a calm approach to today’s announcement regarding 2008 Lambeth Conference invitations, a subject on which I plan to make no formal statement at this time. It is possible that aspects of this matter may change in the next 14 months, and the House of Bishops’ September meeting offers us a forum for further discussion.”
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson also issued a short statement saying that “the Episcopal Church elects bishops and consents to the election of bishops in a democratic and participatory manner. The process is carried out within our Constitution and Canons, both at the General Convention and in our dioceses. The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is a duly elected and consecrated bishop of this Church. Not inviting him to the Lambeth Conference causes serious concern to The Episcopal Church.”
The House of Deputies in 2003 consented (Resolution C045) to Robinson’s election, as did the House of Bishops.
In a statement issued on the New Hampshire diocese’s website, Robinson said he felt “great disappointment” at not being invited.
“At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a ‘listening process’ on the issue of homosexuality, it makes no sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from that conversation,” he said. “It is time that the Bishops of the Anglican Communion stop talking about gay and lesbian people and start talking with us.”
In 2005, the Primates acknowledged that Robinson had been duly elected according to the canons and constitutions of the Episcopal Church, Kearon told ENS.
However, he explained that Williams could not ignore the “widespread objection to Robinson’s ministry in many parts of the Communion” or ignore the advice given in the Windsor Report (paragraph 133), that calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury “to exercise very considerable caution in inviting or admitting [Robinson] to the councils of the Communion.”
“So the Archbishop has not issued Gene Robinson with an invitation, but he intends to explore how he might be present as a guest to the conference,” Kearon said, noting that the details of what it would mean for a bishop to be a guest at the Lambeth Conference have yet to be worked out.
Robinson said he appreciated the acknowledgement that he is a duly elected and consecrated bishop of the Church, but added that “the refusal to include me among all the other duly elected and consecrated Bishops of the Church is an affront to the entire Episcopal Church.”
“This is not about Gene Robinson, nor the Diocese of New Hampshire,” he said. “It is about the American Church and its relationship to the Communion. It is for The Episcopal Church to respond to this challenge, and in due time, I assume we will do so. In the meantime, I will pray for Archbishop Rowan and our beloved Anglican Communion.”
Minns also issued a statement via the CANA website saying that “a great deal can and will happen before next July.”
“While the immediate attention is focused on the invitation list, it should be remembered that this crisis in the Anglican Communion is not about a few individual bishops but about a worldwide Communion that is torn at its deepest level,” he said. “This point was made repeatedly at the Primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam. Depending on the response of The Episcopal Church to the Primates’ Communiqué by September 30, the situation may become even more complex.”
Meanwhile, according to a posting on the website Anglican Mainstream, Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, said that withholding an invitation to Minns “will be viewed as withholding invitation to the entire House of Bishops of the Church of Nigeria.”
He did note that “since only the first set of invitations had been sent, it is premature to conclude who will be present or absent at the conference.”
Akinola also said that his church is committed to the “Road to Lambeth” report commissioned in 2006 by the Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA). That report said that the Anglican Communion faced “a crisis of doctrine and a crisis of leadership, in which the failure of the ‘Instruments’ of the Communion to exercise discipline has called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith.”
In the report, the CAPA Primates said “we must receive assurances from the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury that this crisis will be resolved before a Lambeth Conference is convened.”
“There is no point, in our view, in meeting and meeting and not resolving the fundamental crisis of Anglican identity,” the report said. “We will definitely not attend any Lambeth Conference to which the violators of the Lambeth Resolution are also invited as participants or observers.”
Akinola’s comments were not immediately available on the Church of Nigeria’s website.
Minns was elected for his post in North America by the Nigerian House of Bishops and consecrated August 20, 2006 at the National Christian Centre (formerly National Ecumenical Centre) in Abuja, Nigeria, with three other bishops-elect. Akinola traveled to Virginia on May 5 to install Minns in his post, despite objections from Jefferts Schori and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Kearon said that breakaway groups such as the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and CANA had been grouped together. Neither the AMiA nor CANA is officially recognized as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, Kearon explained.
“In 2000, when the consecrations took place in Singapore on behalf of AMiA, at that time Archbishop George Carey said in a letter that he could not accept the consecrations as regular and that he would not regard himself as being in Communion with the bishops consecrated,” he said. “The Primates, meeting in Oporto in 2000, also distanced themselves from these consecrations and affirmed the content of Carey’s letter.”
The AMiA’s Council of Bishops is listed here. Minns is listed on CANA’s website as the organization’s founding bishop. Retired Diocese of Albany Bishop David Bena is listed as a suffragan bishop while three other Anglican bishops are assigned various titles.
Kearon also confirmed that there are a small number of bishops who have not been invited to the Lambeth Conference whose status is still under scrutiny in their own diocese or province and that “those represent local issues and have nothing to do with the Windsor Report.”
Asked whether Nolbert Kunonga, the controversial Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe, had been invited, Kearon said that there has been a lot of speculation about that, but “it is not far wrong.”
Kunonga has been criticized for his open support for Zimbawean President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party. Zimbabwe is reeling under an economic meltdown with the official inflation rate above 1,700 percent, high unemployment and the majority of the 13 million population unable to afford to properly feed themselves.
Kunonga met with Williams and Central Africa Archbishop Bernard Malango March 7 during which they urged him to develop “an independent voice for the church in response to these challenges.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, the president of IntegrityUSA, said that her organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians and their supporters, is “outraged and appalled” at Williams’ decision not to invite Robinson. She suggested that the Episcopal Church’s bishops ought “to think long and hard about whether they are willing to participate in the continued scapegoating of the gay and lesbian faithful as the price for going to the Lambeth Conference.”
“This is not only a snub of Bishop Gene Robinson but an affront to the entire U.S. Episcopal Church,” Russell said in part. “The Archbishop of Canterbury has allowed himself to be blackmailed by forces promoting bigotry and exclusion in the Anglican Communion. This action shows a disgraceful lack of leadership on Williams’ part.”
The complete IntegrityUSA statement is available here.
The Anglican Communion Office sent an electronic version of Williams’ letter of invitation May 22 to those bishops for whom the office has e-mail addresses. The letter will be sent by mail over the next week or two, Kearon said.
Letters of invitation will soon be sent out to ecumenical guests and to bishops’ spouses, who are invited to participate in a program — led by Williams’ wife, Jane — which will run parallel to the Lambeth Conference.