The Windsor Report 2004

On elections to the episcopate

  1. Anglicanism has always maintained that a bishop is more than simply the chief pastor to a local church. Bishops are consecrated into an order of ministry in the worldwide Church of God. They represent the universal to the local, and the local to the universal[81]. Their acceptability to the wider Church is signified through 'confirmation of election' undertaken by the metropolitan bishop in consultation with the other bishops of the province[82]. In modern Anglican polity, provision is made for this confirmation in the constitutions of the provinces in a variety of ways, often involving synodical processes[83]. In the Episcopal Church (USA), such confirmation is undertaken by the consents of Diocesan Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction, or by General Convention[84].

  2. There are some areas in which the issue of acceptability is unclear. For example, practice varies across the Communion in relation to divorce and remarriage: there are provinces where it would be unthinkable to appoint a bishop who had been divorced and remarried; there are others where this would be regarded as a secondary issue. The fact of divorce and remarriage would therefore not seem per se to be a crucial criterion[85].

  3. There are some matters over which the Communion has expressed its mind. As we have seen[86], the contentious issue of ordaining women as bishops was the subject of extensive debate and discussion in the Communion for some considerable time before a common mind was reached. After lengthy deliberation, the Instruments of Unity concluded that although the ministry of a woman as bishop might not be accepted in some provinces, that represented a degree of impairment which the Communion could bear[87].

  4. The Communion has also made its collective position clear on the issue of ordaining those who are involved in same gender unions[88]; and this has been reiterated by the primates through their endorsement of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution[89]. By electing and confirming such a candidate in the face of the concerns expressed by the wider Communion, the Episcopal Church (USA) has caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion.

  5. We do not believe that those involved in the election of a bishop to the See of New Hampshire and the consent to the election are entirely or exclusively blameworthy in relation to this: not everyone involved in the processes will necessarily have been fully acquainted with the contents of the resolutions we have quoted. Since there is no doubt that in terms of its constitutional proprieties, the Episcopal Church (USA) was at liberty to take the steps that it did[90], it will not have been straightforward for those involved to weigh up the criteria that they should apply. It seems to us that this reinforces the need for much greater awareness around the Communion of the views expressed by the Instruments of Unity, and of the impact of decisions taken in one church upon another.

  6. However, it remains true that bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) subsequent to the Primates' Meeting in October 2003 must be taken to have acted in the full knowledge that very many people in the Anglican Communion could neither recognise nor receive the ministry as a bishop in the Church of God of a person in an openly acknowledged same gender union. This inevitably raises the question of their commitment to the Episcopal Church (USA)'s interdependence as a member of the Anglican Communion to which its own Constitution and Canons makes reference[91].

  7. In terms of the wider Communion, and our wider relationships with a number of key ecumenical partners, the consecration has had very prejudicial consequences. In our view, those involved did not pay due regard, in the way they might and, in our view, should have done, to the wider implications of the decisions they were making and the actions they were taking. We believe that there is an important lesson here, which has implications for the process of appointment and election throughout the whole Communion.

  8. In our view, all those involved in the processes of episcopal appointment, at whichever level, should in future in the light of all that has happened pay proper regard to the acceptability of the candidate to other provinces in our Communion; the issue should be addressed by those locally concerned at the earliest stages, by those provincially involved in the confirmation of any election, and not least by those who, acting on those decisions, consecrate the individual into the order of bishop. The question of acceptability could be posed in a number of ways. Is there any reason to expect that the appointment or election of a particular candidate might prejudice our relations with other provinces? Would the ministry of this individual be recognised and received if he or she were to visit another province? Would the individual be 'translatable'?[92]

  9. The Commission does not believe it necessary to introduce any new tier of formal process, or forum in which these questions should be addressed, but we take seriously the question of acceptability, and would want to emphasise that it goes far beyond the question of homosexuality. What is needed is a change of outlook on the part of those involved in the process of appointment to take account of our bonds of affection and interdependence.

  10. We accept and respect the position taken up by the Archbishop of Canterbury in relation to the current incumbent of the See of New Hampshire[93]. In view of the widespread unacceptability of his ministry in other provinces of the Communion, we urge the proposed Council of Advice to keep the matter of his acceptability under close review. We also urge the Archbishop, unless and until the Council of Advice (or, if the Council should not come into being, the Primates' Meeting) indicate to the contrary, to exercise very considerable caution in inviting or admitting him to the councils of the Communion.

  11. Mindful of the hurt and offence that have resulted from recent events, and yet also of the imperatives of communion - the repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ - we have debated long and hard how all sides may be brought together. We recommend that:
    • the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion

    • pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We urge this in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion. We advise that in the formation of their consciences, those involved consider the common good of the Anglican Communion, and seek advice through their primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We urge all members of the Communion to accord appropriate respect to such conscientious decisions

    • the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.

  12. Finally, we recommend that the Instruments of Unity, through the Joint Standing Committee, find practical ways in which the 'listening' process commended by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 may be taken forward, so that greater common understanding might be obtained on the underlying issue of same gender relationships. We particularly request a contribution from the Episcopal Church (USA) which explains, from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ. As we see it, such a reasoned response, following up the work of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA), and taken with recent work undertaken by the Church of England[94] and other provinces of the Communion, will have an important contribution to make to the ongoing discussion.