[Episcopal News Service — Canterbury, England] A positive spirit has swept through the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral this week as primates from most of the Anglican Communion’s 39 provinces gathered to address issues of common interest, with many saying they feel renewed in their ministry.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, attending his second Primates Meeting, spoke about his sense of the meeting being a “holy convocation.”
“We concluded our time together washing each other’s feet, following the teaching and the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Curry said in a video message to the church.
“This wasn’t just a meeting. This was not just a gathering. This was, as a friend of mine often says, a holy convocation. We gathered in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and we did our work together in agreement and disagreement, following and in his spirit.”
Curry said most of the conversation in the meeting was focussed outside of the church. “We spent most of our time, to be very honest, not talking about internal things in the church but, things external where the church can bring her ministry of following Jesus to bear,” he said.
A communiqué issued at the end of the Oct. 2-6 meeting reiterated the primates’ overwhelming desire to walk together in unity, albeit from a distance when faced with differences over issues of human sexuality, such as marriage equality, in their respective provinces.
Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong said during an Oct. 6 press conference that of the five Primates Meetings he has attended this one has been the best. “The best because everyone present was sincere, was committed, was honest to each other, and I could sense everyone…felt uplifted, encouraged and … we are committed not only to walking together but even walking together much closer because there is a purpose for us together; the purpose of having the Communion, which is to be relevant in the world God has called us to serve.”
The primates said they “endorsed” and “will continue with renewed commitment” the 2016 meeting’s “clear decision to walk together while acknowledging the distance that exists in our relationships due to deep differences in understanding on same-sex marriage.”
The communiqué reports that the primates “reaffirmed commitments made in 2016 regarding the LGBTI community, specifically the Communion’s sorrow for previous failures to support LGBTI people and its condemnation of homophobic prejudice and violence.”
Those close to the meeting say they are deeply moved by the positive expressions of many primates who say they feel renewed and revitalized by their experiences this week. The primates concluded their communiqué by noting that they were leaving Canterbury “enriched by the communion we share and strengthened by the faithful witness of Anglicans everywhere.”
The primates spent the better part of the meeting’s first two days discussing marriage equality and the decisions by the Scottish Episcopal Church last June and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 2015 to remove the definition from their canons that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Those decisions have paved the way for both churches’ congregations to offer same-sex marriage ceremonies, but have resulted in a set of consequences, requested by the primates, that restrict those two provinces from participating on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, from being appointed or elected to Anglican Communion standing committees and from taking part in decision-making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity. The consequences were first applied to the Episcopal Church at the primates January 2016 gathering and to the Scottish Episcopal Church during this week’s meeting.
The primates’ communiqué also acknowledged the pain that has been caused by cross-border interventions when a representative of one province or diocese acts in another without permission. The majority of such interventions have been orchestrated by disaffected Anglicans and former Episcopalians who’ve colluded under the umbrella of breakaway groups, such as the Anglican Church in North America or the Global Anglican Future Conference.
The primates said they agreed that the principles governing cross-border interventions have been “clearly stated from the Council of Nicaea onwards and in the 1998 Lambeth Conference.”
There are opportunities for joint initiatives and mission partnerships for the benefit of the gospel where these are agreed between provinces, the primates said in their communiqué. However, they said, consent was critical and it is “essential that courtesy and love should be extended to provinces at all times.”
The primates urged that attempts to deal with breaches of consent and courtesy should be made in regional Primates Meetings and only referred to the secretary general and the archbishop of Canterbury as a last resort.
“We recognized that persistent and deliberate non-consensual cross-border activity breaks trust and weakens our communion,” they said. “We recognized that there is a need for a season of repentance and renewal including where interventions may have happened without prior permission having being sought.”
Most of the characters who’ve attempted to influence previous meetings from the sidelines seemed to have stayed away this time. However, an ACNA representative held a media briefing earlier in the week and attempted to infiltrate the final press conference. Cathedral police escorted him off the premises.
In their communiqué, the primates confirmed that the ACNS is not a province of the Anglican Communion, adding that “we recognized that those in ACNA should be treated with love as fellow Christians.”
In its ongoing efforts towards reconciliation, the Episcopal Church has maintained that the door remains open for former Episcopalians who’ve departed over recent disagreements about biblical authority and theology, primarily centered on the full inclusion of women and LGBT people in the life of the church to return.
Three primates – Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda, and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda – did not attend this week’s Primates Meeting because of the developments in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Another three – Archbishop Sturdie Downs of Central America, Archbishop Jacob Chimeledya of Tanzania, and Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Myanmar – missed the meeting due to a mixture of practical, health and internal country concerns, according to the Anglican Communion Office.
In other business, the primates discussed evangelism and discipleship strategies across the Anglican Communion’s 39 autonomous provinces, and addressed concerns about the persecution of religious minorities, refugees and migration. They also heard from their colleagues about how climate change and concerns about the environment are affecting their provinces.
The dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev. Robert Willis, led the primates on a late-night candlelit tour of the cathedral, stopping at the floor engraving of the Compass Rose (the symbol of the Anglican Communion) the site of the martyrdom of 12th Century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, and the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs, which commemorates more recent Christian martyrs from around the world.
Archbishop Moon Hing of South East Asia, one of 16 new primates appointed or elected since the previous Primates Meeting in January 2016, told the Anglican Communion News Service that he’d read a lot of social media comments that the meeting is a waste of time. “But then when I come, I realized that all of us primates are actually very lonely. And it is really a good time to encourage one another … There is a whole bunch of us doing the same thing, and struggling the same way, and sometimes crying to [God], calling up to him.
“We are not alone. There are others. And now we can connect with one another and we can actually build upon the strength of one another and strengthen the weaknesses of each other. That is wonderful.”
— Matthew Davies is advertising and web manager for the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, interim managing editor of the Episcopal news Service, and the Anglican Communion News Service contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at noon EDT Oct. 6 with more information from the primates’ communiqué. This story was also recast at 12:25 EDT Oct. 6 to add comments by Archbishop Paul Kwong.