franciscan - September 2005
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2005
Brother Samuel SSF, Minister Provincial of the First Order Brothers, European Province, writes:
The past several months have seen the Anglican Communion enter a period of deepening crisis. With the publication of the Windsor Report on Communion in October 2004 and the subsequent request by the Anglican Primates earlier this year to the representatives of the North American Churches to withdraw from meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, we face the possibility, perhaps even the probability, of a formally divided Communion. The crisis has been focussed around the authority of individual Anglican provinces to make decisions about the consecration of a bishop in a gay relationship and the blessing of same sex unions, but there are other underlying issues causing division: the relation of the Church to its surrounding culture, the place of the ministry of women and the appropriate understanding and use of the Scriptures.
In SSF we are not unaffected by all this; not only do we live and work in provinces of the Communion which have radically different perspectives on these issues, but within our Society we sometimes find ourselves on opposites sides of the debate from our own brothers and sisters. There are occasions when members of a house, with sadness and pain, are unable to receive communion together, and there hangs over those of us who are members of the Church of England, the question of what would happen to our life together if a 'third province' is established.
Against this background we hear again the voice which called to Francis in the ruined church of San Damiano outside the walls of Assisi, 'Repair my house'. Francis set to work with stones and helpers but soon discovered a wider mission to summon the Church to renewal in the life of the Gospel. In this mission, which we also share, we have two particular Franciscan 'gifts' which we inherit from Francis himself. The first is the gift of brotherhood/sisterhood; no matter how much we may disagree with each other on issues of theology and ecclesiology we are committed to a deep respect for the other, an attentiveness to one another's needs and well-being, and a desire to work together for the sake of the Gospel in every way that is possible. This often takes the form of small, humble acts of kindness and generosity; a refusal to undermine or denigrate the other, a willingness to bear with difference even when it makes life difficult, and above all a sense of proportion - and of humour!
The other gift is Francis' very clear commitment to the Church, to the life of the Body of Christ and to those called to responsibility and authority within it. Despite the corruption of clergy and his own rejection of any situation of power in the Church, Francis determined to work within rather than without the institution; his relation to Jesus Christ bound him in humble, reverent fellowship with all creatures, and most especially with those who were baptised in Christ. Likewise, we ourselves are bound into the Body; the failings of the Church are essentially our own failings. We work for deeper understanding, for peace and for reconciliation; we seek to cross boundaries between traditions and we try to avoid being caught up in the language of victim-hood and distrust which so often characterises the debate; and we pray for those called to leadership in the Church at this time, most especially Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury; may God give him and us wisdom, patience, persistence, and the joy of the Kingdom.
Pax et bonum - Peace and all good. f
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