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After Lambeth, world’s Anglican seek means to hold together

In August Rt Rev Victoria Matthews was installed as the bishop of Diocese of Christchurch, one of the seven dioceses of Tikanga Pakeha in the Anglican Church.

Victoria is from Canada and she says her first priorities in her new role are to get to know the clergy and parishes in her diocese and to prepare a vision and strategic plan for March synod.

In 1998 Victoria helped plan Lambeth Conference, the worldwide Anglican Communion’s gathering of bishops which happens once a decade. She had a facilitating role at this year’s Lambeth Conference, and, she says the two Conferences were quite different.

"About 800 bishops come together at Lambeth. For the first three days there is traditionally a huge amount of talk and community building. The last week of the conference is then devoted to resolutions and reports.

"In 1998 that is when the conference ceased to be fun. We had a huge fight about homosexuality and therefore we were on the front pages people know anything about Lambeth got the impression that the only thing we talk about is sex.

"The time Archbishop Rowan Williams decided there would be no resolutions and no formal reports at Lambeth. The idea was that resolutions have not solved our differences in the past. This time there would be no winners and losers, and the community would have a chance to come together."

Victoria says the bishops spent the first three days of Lambeth in a retreat at Canterbury Cathedral. After that they engaged in a series of deep discussions. The conference was therefore an educational experience in which people developed a deeper understanding of one another and Christ’s mission in the world.

"I facilitated one of the discussions and at one point I heard an American bishop say to an African bishop ‘When I hear about the personal danger you face on a daily basis I have to wonder if I am engaged in mission at all," she says.

At the end of Lambeth there was an informal consensus among the bishops on three moratoria. 1) There would be no more interventions in which bishops in one diocese assume authority over a congregation in another diocese. 2) Diocese would no longer bless same-sex unions. 3) There would be no further consecration of bishops who are in non-celibate gay relationships.

While two of those three have already been breached, Victoria believes there is a huge commitment to keep the Anglican Communion together whatever it takes.

"The Anglican Church is the only international body that is attempting to engage the question of human sexuality across all cultures. It is no surprise that there are enormous difficulties.

"There are still parts of the world where people believe gays and lesbians have different genitalia than other people. This sits side by side with the cultural understandings of place such as San Francisco."

She draws a contrast with controversies that arose over the ordination of women. The difference is that all male members of the Church have relations with women as mothers, sisters or wives.

"In the 1988 Lambeth Conference the Anglican Communion said not everyone could agree with the ordination of women but we recognise some may move ahead with it and we will not stop you. This isn’t the case with same gender relationships.

"Some bishops are saying that if you recognise openly gay bishops in your part of the world it makes it impossible for me to preach the Gospel in my part of the world. This is the case in some Islamic countries, for example.

"On the other hand, in places like Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco and New York the bishops say if we cant’ be an inclusive church and we cannot affirm the sexuality of our members and recognise them as equal in all respects then we can’t proclaim the Gospel.

"While extremist on both sides go on and on, most people recognise that not all those who are against same-sex unions are homophobic idiots, and not all those who are in favour of them are non-believing liberals. Given that, I believe we will find a way forward."