General Synod gives Archbishop standing ovation after plea for church factions to unite

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The Independent Online

The Archbishop of Canterbury received a lengthy standing ovation from the General Synod yesterday after an impassioned plea to the factions of the Church of England to heal their differences exposed by the Jeffrey John affair.

The length of the ovation led Dr Rowan Williams to indicate that the synod members should resume their seats, although some delegates from the evangelical wing remained sitting throughout.

In a call to treat the controversy over the gay priest as a watershed, Dr Williams said the Church needed to move towards a "mixed economy" in which the various groups within it learnt to communicate better and live with each other. At the moment, he said, each faction considered itself a "persecuted minority".

The Church has been riven by argument since the decision by Dr John to withdraw his acceptance of the post of Bishop of Reading because of protests from church traditionalists angry at his open homosexuality. Dr John has said he is in a lifelong, but now celibate, relationship.

Without directly mentioning the row, Dr Williams said: "It's been said often enough in recent weeks that we have too often been seen as a community that rewards dishonesty or concealment. It's been said also that some are intimidated in raising critical questions for fear of being stigmatised as fundamentalist and bigoted.

"These levels of mutual fear and mistrust are cause for grief and repentance. If all the pain of these weeks can in some way prompt us to see more clearly what we do to each other, why we threaten each other so, we shall have grown a little - grown a little into the space God has made, the new and living way.'' He hoped the synod could "lift its eyes" from the recent traumas.

The various groups within the Church did not communicate with each other effectively and they needed to learn how to do this better. He added: "I now have a really remarkable collection of letters which say, 'Every Christian I speak to, and most people I know outside the Church, agree that ...' - whatever view it is that the writer holds. And these views are dramatically incompatible.''

The Rev Colin Coward, from the pro-gay clergy group Changing Attitudes, described the speech as "absolutely sensational", saying it was "full of humanity and wisdom".

The Rev David Banting, chairman of the traditionalist Reform group, described the speech as "masterly" and that he "did not see it as an attack".

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