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This brought into higher relief what was becoming apparent through our thematic work – that it was not possible to separate matters of ecumenism from matters of doctrine, ecclesiology, liturgy, or any other aspect of Anglican life. (In this vein, the 2008 Lambeth Conference also acknowledged the theological core that lies at the quest for unity.5) It is the totality of Anglican belief and practice which others perceive, and with which they engage. More than this, the questions asked of us by ecumenical partners can often prompt us to deeper self knowledge and draw out clearer enunciation of who we understand ourselves to be. Thus we found that inevitably we had to trespass into other fields, and our interactions with other Anglican bodies’ prime areas of responsibility are recorded in Chapter 11.
In consequence, as the mandates of both IASCER and of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (IATDC) neared their end, we recommended that any successor body concerned with doctrine and ecclesiology should also address ecumenism. Chapter 14 sums up our conclusions in this area and offers some reflections on the future work of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) which succeeds IASCER, and will indeed have a comprehensive remit.
Drawing Conclusions The work of IASCER addressed only a short phase within the far longer journey of God’s people towards the unity which is God’s will. We began our Part One • The Work of IASCER work in the middle of the life-time of many ecumenical dialogues. Though the mandate of IASCER has concluded, these relationships continue, and ecumenical understandings and methodologies will keep evolving. The Commission recognised that many of the decisions taken and conclusions reached might represent little more than milestones along the way, and will soon be overtaken as the progress for which we prayed and laboured continues.
Even so, we tried to identify signposts that could assist us as we journey forward. Chief among these was the development of a set of ‘Principles of Anglican Engagement in Ecumenism’ setting out an Anglican understanding of, and approach to, the pursuit of the full visible unity of God’s Church. At the request of IASCER, these were developed by Gregory Cameron, Director of Ecumenical Affairs at the Anglican Communion Office, from a snap-shot description he had previously presented to a multilateral ecumenical gathering. Though these Principles were the final fruit of IASCER’s work, they also express our fundamental starting point, addressing the goal, task, processes and content of ecumenism. Therefore they form the heart of Chapter 2, which sets out a comprehensive account of Anglican engagement with ecumenism as the context for all that follows in this volume.
Some Lessons Learned For the most part, the conclusions that IASCER reached on particular issues are reflected in the decisions, resolutions, and various other documents that are printed in this book. However, there are more general insights that have been recorded within the commentary contained in each chapter. Some observations are only tentative, and they are offered for further consideration and development by IASCUFO.
Reflections on the Life of IASCER An account solely of ecumenical principle and practice would be only a partial description of all that IASCER was, and did, and aspired to be. What follows is a more personal reflection on the life and work of the Commission, and how these were shaped by who we were and the contexts in which we operated – both our own corporate sharing in worship and fellowship, and our engagement with our brothers and sisters in Christ, Anglican and others, in the places we met.
Those who first gathered in Nassau in 2000 arrived armed with the Report and Resolutions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, a two-inch thick file of documents, and the dawning realisation that our remit ran very wide indeed.
Part One • The Work of IASCER
While three of our number, together with the Secretary, had served on the Ecumenical Advisory Group and could provide an invaluable measure of continuity, it was also clear that developments within the ecumenical movement now called for a fresh and more comprehensive approach. The bishops at Lambeth had identified a range of questions and concerns. It was now for us to address them.
Initial appointments to IASCER were made for three years, with a distinction between ‘members’ who represented the various international dialogues involving Anglicans, and ‘consultants’, who brought particular expertise – perhaps in a region, or to provide a link with other Anglican bodies (such as the Theological and Doctrinal Commission or Liturgical Consultation). Over time, as dialogues concluded, began, or entered new phases with different participants, and as some of our own group moved to other responsibilities, resigned, retired, or died, the distinction between members and consultants was dropped. New members were brought in as replacements or to ensure adequate representation of geography, dialogues and expertise, while the original appointees, where possible, continued to serve as it became apparent that the task before us would require sustained commitment. A full list of members is given at the back of this book. Six stalwarts stayed the course for every one of the nine meetings and a number of others served from start to finish. This allowed us to reflect on the important balance between continuity and evolution in our ecumenical endeavours.
Membership was primarily composed of bishops (entrusted with a particular vocation to promote and care for the unity of the Church), full-time ecumenists and academics. All were ordained. This brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise, particularly of engagement in formal ecumenical forums on matters of faith and order, without which our work would not have been possible. IASCER was also enriched by the fresh perspectives of those with other backgrounds and rather less experience in the details of ecumenism – sometimes a question for clarification on some matter taken for granted by the ‘experts’ could open up new and productive avenues of debate.
Through our corporate learning, IASCER could also strengthen the Communion’s own resources in ecumenical expertise. (It is intended that the composition of IASCUFO, a larger body, will enjoy an appropriate balance of specialisation, gender, age, geography and church tradition, as well as ordained and laity, and have a concern for developing expertise across the whole Communion.) With only three members in our initial meeting engaged in parish ministry, and none of those present at our final gathering, IASCER was aware of the risk (that runs far wider than Anglicanism) of a ‘professionalisation’ of Part One • The Work of IASCER ecumenism that can distance it from the clergy and people of our congregations – the great majority of whom are likely to have little awareness of what is under discussion or of the significance of the issues being debated and the fine distinctions being drawn. Such distance brings two major drawbacks. It can hinder the ability of local ecumenism to benefit from the riches of formal dialogues and agreements. It can also impede the churches’ ability effectively to harness the energies of local ecumenical activity, which may be very extensive in terms of person-hours and the breadth of encounter, in support of institutional relationships. (Thus the Indaba Reflections, 80, recorded the question raised at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of whether future ecumenism should be considerably more ‘bottom up’.) IASCER was assisted in addressing this concern through its engagement with the local Anglican (or Episcopal) churches in the places where it met (listed at the back of the book). We were also helped by grounding our meetings in worship, often shared with our hosts. Some provided chaplains to lead Morning and Evening Prayer or preside at the Eucharist. Everywhere we shared in Sunday worship – from the Cathedrals of Nassau and the Seychelles, to the South African township of Gugulethu or the elegant synergy between Japanese and Western styles of church building and fabric in Nara. Sometimes we went together, sometimes we divided ourselves among many parishes, and often one or more of us preached. We also enjoyed social encounters with local Anglican clergy and lay leaders, and with it the challenge to explain our work, and make connections between our deliberations and parish life. This kept us mindful of local contexts and their needs when we commissioned or produced study guides and other documents to help the fruits of ecumenism be enjoyed at every level of church life.
Meeting only as Anglicans, rather than with an ecumenical partner, allowed us considerable freedom in the choice of venues, and IASCER hoped that through our visits we were able to offer encouragement to those we met, and strengthen their sense of partnership and belonging within the world-wide Communion. Ours was, for example, the first international Anglican meeting of its kind in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan).
Our presence was frequently a catalyst for ecumenical meetings, both formal and informal. So, for example, in Cairo we, with our hosts, were received by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, and His Beatitude Patriarch Antonious of the Coptic Catholic Church; and some members had discussions with His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Co-Chair of the Anglican – Oriental Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC), together with its Co-Secretary Bishop Part One • The Work of IASCER Nareg Alemezian. Each time the Commission met, we also had opportunities to share in more relaxed conversations with our hosts’ ecumenical partners, and representatives from the local communities.
The dynamics of IASCER’s own membership also undermined any tendency towards over-reliance on an ‘ecumenism of the head’ to the detriment of the rest of our humanity. Introducing ourselves at our very first session, we learned that two of our number had recently been bereaved, and the rawness of their grief encountered in conversations and in worship could not be forgotten in the midst of more academic discussion. Companionship in the gospel and in the victory of Christ over life and death was also deepened in the celebration of the marriage between myself and Justus Marcus – and in the loving and prayerful support that surrounded us from the diagnosis of his cancer just before the 2002 meeting through to his death during the course of the 2003 meeting, exactly three years from the day we first made our introductions. For this particular journeying together, my gratitude to these brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the God whose love we shared, cannot be understated.
In all things God works for good, and though this is not the place to write at greater length of the more than sufficiency of the God’s grace even through these sad times, what is certain is that bonds forged beyond the merely professional in these and other ways eased our ability to work constructively together from the first, across great differences of church tradition, background, culture, experience and personality. In the storms that followed developments in North America, though there was often friction among us, there was also considerable freedom to speak frankly, and so perhaps be challenged by a wider and fuller picture with which to wrestle together. It was never easy, but we felt that we could nonetheless pursue our work together with honesty and integrity before God, both despite and through our disagreements and the degree of impaired eucharistic fellowship among us (which also reflected differing views on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate).
Frankness in debate was accompanied by an important commitment to confidentiality. Though we maintained an informal narrative record of our discussions, from the first it was agreed that this was to be shared only among our membership. This freed us in our exchanges to range as widely and as forthrightly as we felt the topic in hand required, which greatly enhanced our work. Thus in this book though the subjects of our discussions are recorded, and their ramifications analysed and reported, no views are assigned to individuals (the exceptions being where thanks are recorded for certain pieces of work). Meanwhile, decisions of our earliest meetings, resolutions Part One • The Work of IASCER (as they subsequently became termed), and other texts are presented as corporately owned and endorsed. IASCER warmly commends this methodology to IASCUFO for consideration.
Though there may have been great diversity among us on various levels, we shared a concern for faithful obedience to our Christian calling – and to our ecumenical vocation as part of this – not only as Anglicans but primarily as members of the Body of Christ. Some of us reflected at our final meeting that our ability both to love the best of all that Anglican tradition offers and yet to sit lightly to it, had significantly benefited our work. Our inheritance could (and should) be seen as stepping stone, more than straitjacket, on the ecumenical journey.
While we considered the content of our ecumenical engagement in considerable detail, there was no intention that IASCER should attempt to micromanage dialogues and agreements. IASCER’s aim was rather to resource and encourage, to ensure that the insights and experiences gained in one place could be shared in others, to offer caution (with detailed explanation) where required, and to provide a broad and balanced context of coherence and consistency against which Anglicans might confidently pursue ecumenical encounter at every level. Those who served on particular dialogues or other Anglican bodies were expected to act as two-way conduits.
Chapter 14, Looking to the Future, includes IASCER’s reflections on outstanding issues and areas where more might be done. I should like to offer some additional personal comments on the challenges and frustrations IASCER has faced.