Primates Commit to Walk Forward Together

By Mark Michael

Archbishop Justin Welby praised this week’s Anglican Primates’ Meeting as “the most constructive and creative” he had led at a press conference held at the close of the gathering on January 15.  The tone, he suggested, pointed the way for next summer’s Lambeth Conference to “draw a line under some of the inward-looking approach of the past,” and added that the large number of new primates weren’t “bringing along with them some of the baggage of previous meetings.”

There was, Welby said, “a real sense of people trying to walk together, to build up the life of the church and to look forward together.”  Archbishop Michael Lewis of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the host primate, described it as “a grown-up meeting,” adding “it has not been bland. People have spoken from the heart and from the head.”

Thirty-three of the leaders of the Anglican Communion’s 40 provinces gathered January 13-15 at a hotel near the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. The primates of Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda refused to attend and the others were not present “by virtue of vacancy, illness or other difficulty.”  In a communique on the final day, the primates said that they “were acutely aware of the ongoing tensions within the Anglican Communion. However, we were also profoundly conscious of the Holy Spirit in our midst, drawing us to walk together.”

The primates, Welby said, “accepted and welcomed” a report from a task group commissioned among their members in 2016 to “maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”  They commended it for consideration by next summer’s Lambeth Conference and by the Anglican Consultative Council’s next gathering in 2022.

The report’s contents have not yet been released, but Welby said that it “looks at how we can strengthen the bonds of affection across the Communion,” and noted that “it enabled different voices to be heard.” The primates’ communique focused on the task force’s summons of churches across the Communion “to set apart the Fifth Sunday of Lent (29 March 2020) as a day to focus on the prayers of repentance produced by the Task Group.”

Archbishop Philip Freier of Australia, a member of the task group, told The Church Times that the report also recommends “the possibility of a Communion-wide eucharistic liturgy as a way of embodying our unity,” and “affirms work that has been done in a number of places to better describe the theological characteristics of Anglicanism.”

The Primates’ Task Group had taken up its work after the 2016 meeting outlined “relational consequences” for the Episcopal Church after its decision to allow same-sex marriage in violation of Lambeth Resolution 1.10. The determination that the church “should not take part in decision making about issues pertaining to doctrine or polity” or have representation on Communion-wide faith and order bodies was extended to the Scottish Episcopal Church at the 2017 primates’ meeting.

But similar consequences were not handed down by the primates in the aftermath of the Episcopal Church of Brazil’s similar actions in June 2018. In response to a reporter’s question about GAFCON’s recent consecration of a missionary bishop to serve traditionalist Anglican congregations in New Zealand, Welby indicated that the primates had not shown much interest in such disciplinary and boundary-defining action. “We didn’t specifically discuss the formation of churches like that church,” he said. “Funnily enough, there was very little discussion or desire to discuss some of those negative aspects.”  He said later in the press conference that the meeting’s agenda had been developed through a consultative process with all the primates.

Archbishop Lewis added that the primates had engaged in a “clear and honest” discussion of several aspects of Anglican identity, including “the fact that Anglicans are those who are in communion with the See of Canterbury.” This principle was at the root of the 2017 statement by the primates, “It was confirmed that the Anglican Church of North America is not a Province of the Anglican Communion.  Lewis hinted at a more conciliatory approach, noting that the primates had also discussed “how to be as generously inclusive of all who would claim the name of Anglican within the framework just outlined.”

The communique also noted that the primates had granted approval to the creation of a 41st province out of what is now the Communion for Anglicans in Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. It will be called the Province of Alexandria, taking its name like its mother province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, from the ancient patriarchal see of the region.  Because the creation of the province had already been approved by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council, steps toward the inauguration of the province can now proceed.

There has also been progress, the communique said, toward developing a province of Sri Lanka, where two Anglican dioceses currently form the semi-autonomous Church of Ceylon. When British colonies in South Asia were partitioned in the mid-twentieth century, Sri Lanka’s Anglicans were not deemed numerous enough to constitute their own province. Currently the Church of Ceylon, along with a few other Anglican dioceses widely dispersed around the world, remains under the nominal oversight of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The communique mentioned extensive discussion of a number of challenges faced by Anglicans in different parts of the world, including the effects of climate change and concerns in many places about the safeguarding of vulnerable children and adults. The plight of persecuted Christians was highlighted, and the primates affirmed that “we are, as a body, strengthened by the resilience and faithfulness of these, our brothers and sisters.” They expressed particular concern about the unwelcome takeover of the historic Anglican mission foundation Edwardes College by the local secular authorities in the state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

The agenda for the Lambeth Conference was discussed by the primates at length, and they also strategized about how to effectively communicate the conference’s themes in their home regions.  The communique explained, “We explored how the bishops, gathered together in conference, might ‘invite’ the church and the world to join us as we collaborate in God’s mission of building God’s Church for God’s world.”

Archbishop Justin Badi Arama of South Sudan said at the press conference that he and his fellow bishops were “looking forward to the fellowship, coming together as bishops from all over the communion. It will be a great encouragement to each bishop that as we stay together and worship together, each bishop will go back energized, with a new energy to continue in the mission.”


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