"At the end of our time together, many people, especially some of the newer bishops, said that they had been surprised by the amount of convergence they had seen," the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, stated in a letter sent Tuesday to the bishops of the Anglican Communion, one of the world's largest Protestant bodies.
"And there can be no doubt that practically all who were present sincerely wanted the Communion to stay together," he stressed.
Hundreds of Anglicans had gathered in Canterbury, England, for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference on July 16-August 3. Some 200 conservative Anglican bishops did not attend as they boycotted the meeting partly over the attendance of pro-gay clergy and those involved in the 2003 consecration of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Amid divisions over Scripture and homosexuality wracking the Communion, organizers of the 2008 Lambeth Conference chose not to draft resolutions or make laws this time and instead to focus on conversation and rebuilding relationships.
"The Conference Design Group believed strongly that the chief need of our Communion at the moment was the rebuilding of relationships – the rebuilding of trust in one another – and of confidence in our Anglican identity," said Williams in his letter, adding that the conference was also designed to allow every bishop's voice to be heard.
"I believe that the Conference succeeded in doing this to a very remarkable degree – more than most people expected," he said.
At the same time, however, the Anglican spiritual leader acknowledged the challenge that still lies ahead for unity within the Communion and even the possibility of further division.
The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, believes a split is inevitable.
He said he believes a "negotiated orderly separation" is the best way forward for the Anglican Communion, emphasizing that the global body "cannot hold in tension convictions and practices that are incompatible, and so not patent of 'reconciliation.'"
Staying together could "damage the life and witness of Anglican churches as much in the Global South as in North America and in other provinces that have followed the lead of The Episcopal Church," he added in a comment earlier this month after the Lambeth Conference. The Episcopal Church is the American arm of Anglicanism and its actions are at the heart of the divisions in the worldwide Communion.
At the conclusion of Lambeth, the majority of Anglican bishops agreed on a moratoria on the ordination of openly gay persons, same-sex blessings and cross-provincial interventions. Still the diversity of opinion particularly on the issue of homosexuality poses a challenge to the Communion's continued efforts to stay together.
"How far the intensified sense of belonging together will help mutual restraint in such matters (as same-sex blessings) remains to be seen," Williams noted.
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