A number of literary sayings crossed my mind when I saw that the Archbishop of Canterbury has (finally, today) issued a statement in response to the actions of the Episcopal Church's General Convention, which ended ten days ago. The first thought that came to me was a paraphrase of T.S. Eliot's line, "This is the way the Communion dies, not with a bang but a whimper." Because, although I pray that I am wrong, there isn't nearly enough in Rowan Williams' statement to reassure me that this isn't the Anglican Communion's fate. Indeed, the very weakness (and studied ambiguity) of Dr. Williams' statement may be a factor in pushing the Communion toward that end.
Regarding the Archbishop's delay in issuing his response, I have no doubt that he has spent most of the past ten days laboring and consulting with trusted advisers on this statement. It might well be the defining statement of his career. But when it comes to the actual effect this statement might have on the Communion he is supposed to lead, the saying that comes to mind is, "The mountain labored and brought forth a mouse." The statement is thoroughly considered, carefully crafted, finely nuanced--and, in the end, says very little and accomplishes even less.
When a sizable majority in both houses of the Episcopal Church's General Convention passed resolutions ending restraint in the matter of consecrating non-celibate homosexuals to the episcopate and agreeing to provide a "generous pastoral response" (i.e., blessing marriages) for gay and lesbian couples, it was not a matter of making merely hypothetical statements. There are bishops and deputies who are coming away from the General Convention intending to act on those resolutions.
There is nothing in Rowan Williams' statement that would deter those in the liberal camp from acting on those resolutions; and his words are cold comfort to conservatives who have been deeply wounded by their passage, and who will be further wounded and alienated when their intent is carried out.
To be sure, the statement from Canterbury could say something. When Rowan starts down the path of "there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance" it could mean that his relationship to the Episcopal church has suffered damage, just as the fabric of the Communion has been torn by the Episcopal church's unilateral actions. It could even mean that he is going to turn around next week and recognize the Anglican Church in North America and/or the Communion Partner dioceses as a separate ecclesial reality. It could mean all that--but I would be astounded if it did.
Of course, the Covenant to which Rowan alludes could be in place and could be already defining the "Anglican Future" with which Rowan seems concerned. Except that--oh, my--Rowan himself saw to it that the Covenant didn't make it out of the Jamaica conference, but was given to the Joint Standing Committee, from which it will almost certainly emerge as a gelding and not a stallion.
On second thought, I am going to go back to my first thought: This is the way the Communion dies, not with a bang but a whimper.