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ENGLAND: Archbishop Williams meets Gene Robinson - by Ruth Gledhill

Thursday, 03 November 2005
Archbishop meets Gene Robinson

No end to the torment of the Anglican Communion is in sight, it seems. No sooner do the parties look over the brink of schism into the abyss and pull back, in horror at the chaos in the depths, than they rush back towards it again at even faster pace than before.

The latest sensations come from Lambeth Palace itself, and from the diocese of Southwark, where a rebel Church of England 'plant' has imported an African bishop to conduct a 'valid but irregular' ordination of three men into the diaconate.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has held a meeting with Bishop Gene Robinson.The private meeting, described as 'friendly but candid', involved the two discussing the range of problems that have arisen following Bishop Robinson's consecration. The meeting ended with prayer. Lambeth Palace said: 'The encounter came as part of the Archbishop's commitment to listening to the voices of all concerned in the current challenges facing the Anglican Communion.'

Rod Thomas, spokesman for the conservative grouping Reform, told me he was left 'speechless' by the news. 'I am running out of superlatives to describe the outrage that I feel,' he said.

It is right in the interests of dialogue and Christian brotherhood that Dr Williams should have met Bishop Robinson, although a shame that he couldn't have been more open in advance about his intentions. Dr Williams is doing his best to be fair and even-handed in this desperate situation. He also met the deposed Bishop of Recife, Robinson Cavalcanti, during his recent visit here. Bishop Cavalcanti was removed from his post in Brazil by his province after he declared his diocese "out of communion" with the Episcopal Church of the US. He and large numbers of his clergy were recognised instead by the Right Rev Gregory Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone, from his base in Argentina.

English-born Bishop Venables, a friend of Dr Williams, is among the leaders of the Global South grouping that met on the shores of the Red Sea in Egypt last week and was addressed there by Dr Williams. The Global South archbishops are in the process of formalising their structure and, although not in a position to do anything yet, will in due course be working together to offer "oversight" to conservatives who want to distance themselves from liberal bishops but remain part of the Anglican Church.

In England, one clergyman expected soon to be in need of alternative oversight is the Rev Richard Coekin, minister of Dundonald Church in Wimbledon. Mr Coekin, a member of the conservative grouping Reform, which is backing him, faces losing his licence from the Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler for inviting a bishop from South Africa to conduct a "valid but irregular" ordination of three men in his Christ Church, Surbiton. He says Bishop Butler had refused to ordain them himself. Bishop Butler is refusing to comment, other than to admit the situation could have "serious" consequences. When Mr Coekin's licence is revoked as expected, Mr Coekin will appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Williams will then have 28 days to decide what to do. Which not only drags Dr Williams right back into the thick of the debate, but will take us rather nicely to Christmas and New Year. Lucky I wasn't intending to have any more holiday this year.

So as I take up my pen to enter the fray once more and chronicle the eleventh-month chapter of this Miltonian saga, let me take this opportunity to wish all Anglicans out there happiness, peace and joy in the forthcoming season of good will. There might not be too many other chances to do. We are all waiting to see whether the 12th month does now bring redemption or despair for the Church, or just more of the same old purgatory.



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