Archbishop Rowan Williams Saddened by Divisions between Churches
LWF General Secretary Noko convinced that Anglicans and Lutherans will continue to walk together
STUTTGART, Germany/GENEVA, 2 August 2010 – The general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, thanked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for his presentation to the Eleventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Stuttgart, Germany, which had a “sacramental character.” Noko told him, “You have reminded us that we can never start from a point of self-sufficiency, because we need God.”
In this context, Noko also referred to the statement by the LWF Assembly asking forgiveness of Mennonites for the persecution carried out against their Anabaptist forebears by Lutherans in the 16th century.
Noko further emphasized that Anglicans and Lutherans want to continue walking together in future. This unity of purpose was affirmed by LWF President Bishop Mark S. Hanson in his final words of thanks. He welcomed the fact that Williams had “stirred delegates up to be risk-takers,” always the mark of a community living in the power and promise of the resurrection.
Williams had given the keynote address, interpreting the Assembly theme, “Give us today our daily bread,” in a spiritual sense, and then responded to the many questions submitted by delegates.
The Archbishop began his replies by stating that, after the positive developments of the Porvoo Agreement, he would be grateful if Anglican–Lutheran relations could be developed more deeply in Africa. There were many good experiments and a lot of mutual discovery at the local level which he would love to see extended to the whole continent.
“The more our churches work together, the better,” Williams urged. They should particularly seek the welfare of women and children, he said, taking up examples of injustice in Africa so vividly described by Jeanette Ada, a delegate from Cameroon, in her response to the keynote address.
In the context of ecumenical dialogue, the church must be willing to acknowledge its past sins and ask for forgiveness. The archbishop called on the churches to declare their collective sense of responsibility and to be as honest as they can with one another. That is why we should also confess belief in the “repentant church,” he declared. “We make progress in ecumenical dialogue by being as honest with one another as we can.”
Ultimately, “the most important steps forward in dialogue and beyond dialogue are in serving together and in taking risks together for the sake of the gospel. When we join hands to take risks—for the sake of Jesus Christ— then our unity enters a new level.” The Church of England had also recently declared corporate responsibility regarding the “hideous legacy of slavery,” he added
Regarding eucharistic hospitality, Archbishop Rowan Williams expressed regret that historic Christian churches had “deeply held theological reasons” for not seeking “unrestricted eucharistic sharing” until agreement is reached on what divides us. He was saddened at that position held by Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, since sharing the Eucharist “is one of those things that creates a depth of common faith and hope.”
Asked about Israel-Palestine relations, Williams spoke of his longing for a “robust, creative agreement and relationship” between Israelis and Palestinians and deep commitment to justice in that region.
The Archbishop of Canterbury then turned to the topic of “loneliness as a challenge to human dignity.” Since “churches are places where we are reminded day after day that our identity is with one another,” they must identify “isolated and helpless individuals in our society” and also “lonely and isolated” communities, who “have no voice and no way into public discussion.” It is extremely important that “in both our communions there are increasingly strong voices and strong networks raised on behalf of indigenous peoples,” declared the Archbishop. “In every context a Christian ought to be casting an eye around saying, ‘who is not being included in this conversation, in this process of making decisions?’”
With respect to globalization, Williams noted that the last two years had seen “a body blow delivered to some of the assumptions of unrestricted capitalism.” The churches should use the opportunity that “more people [are] ready to ask difficult questions” than five years ago. “We must make room for real exchange and hard, demanding reflection on what the economy is really about,” he said. In fact, “economy is always about ecology, the balance and interaction and interdependence in human society and the whole of our environment.”
In connection with a question about the Anglican position on the present economic system and its problems, the Archbishop noted that “in the history of the early 20th century in the UK some of the people who began to shape the vision of the welfare state and think through the implications of economic and social justice came from an Anglican background.” He was proud to be part of that Anglican legacy, he admitted.
Asked about the challenges of mission: “As churches we have to demonstrate to the world that we truly are a Christian community that is absolutely not prepared to believe that one part of the human race can be at peace, wealthy and secure when any other part of the human race is poor and vulnerable and at risk. That is at the heart of our gospel.”
On the question of care for creation, particularly in view of climate change, Williams recalled that Christians and Westerners had contributed to “insulting and injuring the life of God as it is shown in the created order. Our repentance ought to include an acknowledgement of that.” He summed up a fervent plea for both realism and humility with the biblical insight: “The beginning of sin is when we pretend to be God.” (957 words)