When everyone expected failure… image

When everyone expected failure…

"Mawwiage," Peter Cook famously declares in the classic film The Princess Bride, "is wot bwings us togevva today." I would love to think that maybe, just maybe, Justin Welby opened this week's gathering of the Primates of the Anglican Communion with those words. I'm sure he didn't, but as far as I can tell from the reports coming out of it, that's about the only thing that could have made the week any better. Which is as much a surprise to everyone as that line is to those experiencing the film for the first time.

The presenting issue was the doctrine of marriage and the differences in understanding of the biblical position of it developing across certain arms of the Anglican Church in recent years.

Yet the definition of marriage was not the question on the agenda, as Ian Paul makes very clear in his excellent and very helpful analysis of the statement put out by the Primates at the end of the week:

...the Primates had not gathered to debate or discussion the doctrine of marriage, as they had on previous occasions. The agenda this week was quite specifically, given we currently have different views, how do we continue in love together and how do we resolve our differences and come to a common mind?

What a wonderful approach, and one that it would be great to see repeated in all kinds of other church conflict situations.

The commitment of the primates is to continue in relationship with one another, even though that relationship has been harmed by unilateral action and trust is at low ebb.

I’m praying for some situations at the moment where relationship has been harmed by unilateral action, and where trust is at a low ebb, and I have to say, I’ve been praying with lots of desire but very little hope that anything can change. The result of this week of discussions has sparked a new hope in me. If God can do it in the Anglican Communion, where else could he do it? The possibilities are endless!

But how is this possible? How can brothers and sisters learn to live together in unity when there are such huge differences of opinion and interpretation creating a yawning gap between them?

Ian Paul continues:

How has this remarkable settlement come about, when everyone expected failure? It is impossible to discount the importance of prayer. Prayer was Justin Welby’s first commitment as he took up office, and the young people spending a year at Lambeth spent the week in Canterbury praying for the process.


But the process has also reflected Justin Welby’s commitment to reconciliation and the importance of remaining in relationship with those with whom we disagree. It is worth revisiting his words in Monday’s opening address:

“All of us here need a body that is mutually supportive, that loves one another, that stoops to lift the fallen and kneels to bind the wounds of the injured. Without each other we are deeply weakened, because we have a mission that is only sustainable when we conform to the image of Christ, which is first to love one another. The idea is often put forward that truth and unity are in conflict, or in tension. That is not true. Disunity presents to the world an untrue image of Jesus Christ. Lack of truth corrodes and destroys unity. They are bound together, but the binding is love. In a world of war, of rapid communications, of instant hearing and misunderstanding where the response is only hatred and separation, the Holy Spirit whose creative and sustaining gifting of the church is done in diversity, demands that diversity of history, culture, gift, vision be expressed in a unity of love. That is what a Spirit filled church looks like.”

Prayer, and an unwavering commitment to unity, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The only recipe for success in the face of almost certain failure.

Or to put it in the words of The Princess Bride,

- Do you think it will work?
- It would take a miracle.

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