Welby urges reconciliation, not agreement, among Anglican leaders

January 11, 2016

[Episcopal News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is hoping that senior Anglican leaders meeting in Canterbury, England, this week might be able to find a path towards reconciliation rather than schism over deeply held differences of opinion concerning human sexuality issues.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program ahead of the Jan. 11-16 meeting, Welby said, “Certainly I want reconciliation. Reconciliation doesn’t always mean agreement; in fact it very seldom does. It means finding ways of disagreeing well and that’s what we’ve got to do this week.”

Of the 38 Anglican leaders attending this week’s Primates Meeting, a handful of African archbishops have threatened to leave the meeting unless Welby meets their demands to discipline the Episcopal Church and other provinces whose actions they dispute.

“There’s nothing I can do if people decide they want to leave the room,” Welby said. “… but we want to stay together, to listen to each other in the service to Jesus Christ, and to focus on not only the issue of sexuality but also the huge issues that are affecting people around the world – conflict, persecution, religious violence.”

In an effort to avert a boycott from conservative African archbishops such as the one that occurred at the last Primates Meeting in 2011, Welby has invited Archbishop Foley Beach, the leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), to gather with the leaders for conversation prior to the official meeting in Canterbury. ACNA is composed largely of former Episcopalians who chose to break away from the Episcopal Church. Some African primates have declared their affiliation to ACNA.

“The church is a family, and you remain a family even if you go your separate ways,” said Welby in the radio interview. “We have to work out how we live with that and how we serve God faithfully in a way that shows that you can disagree profoundly and still love and care for each other.

“A schism would not be a disaster – God is bigger than our failures – but it would be a failure,” he added. “It would not be good if the church is unable to set the example to the world of showing how we can love one another and disagree profoundly, because we are brought together by Jesus Christ, not by our own choice. This isn’t a formal club or a political party. This is something done by God.”

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be attending his first Primates Meeting since his installation as presiding bishop and primate last November.

Curry and many of his fellow primates have called for prayers as the leaders gather for the first time in five years.

“I invite Episcopalians to join me in prayer for this gathering, that God will be fully present with us and that we may follow our Lord Jesus in the ways of His love and in so doing be part of God’s blessing to the world,” said Curry in a Jan. 7 statement.

Following his election as presiding bishop and primate in June 2015, Curry said the Anglican Communion is as much about relationships and partnerships as it is about structure and organization. “We’ve got some work to do; we’ve got some Jesus work to do,” he said. “This world is crying out for us and it needs us, and the Anglican Communion is one way that God uses us together to really make this a better world.”

Ahead of the Primates Meeting, more than 100 Church of England ordained and lay leaders, including bishops and cathedral deans, wrote an open letter to the archbishops of Canterbury and York calling on the church to repent of its “second class citizen” treatment of Christians over issues of sexuality.

Among the signatories is the Very Rev. David Ison, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “I believe that it’s imperative for us to remember that whilst we seek to engage honestly, lovingly and respectfully with our differences of context and scriptural interpretation, our discussions are actually about the lives of sisters and brothers who have often been rejected and victimized on the grounds of their sexuality,” he said. “The Church should be the first place that they feel they can come to, to find love and acceptance rather than judgment.”

Since the letter’s release late last week and the organizers invitation to others to sign on to it, more than 3,200 Anglicans and Episcopalians have done so.

A website has been launched with resources pertaining to the meeting and will include collects and prayer requests as the primates gather.

Primates are the senior archbishops and presiding bishops elected or appointed to lead each of the 38 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion. They are invited to the Primates Meetings by the Archbishop of Canterbury to consult on theological, social and international issues.

The Anglican Communion Primates Meeting is one of the three instruments of communion, the other two being the Lambeth Conference of bishops and the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion’s main policy-making body. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as primus inter pares, or “first among equals,” is recognized as the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.

Each province relates to other provinces within the Anglican Communion by being in full communion with the See of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls the Lambeth Conference, chairs the meeting of primates and is president of the ACC.

In some Anglican provinces the primate is called archbishop and/or metropolitan, while in others the term presiding bishop – or as in Scotland, primus – is used.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also invites to the primates meetings the moderators who lead the united ecumenical churches of North India, South India and Pakistan.

In 1978 Archbishop Donald Coggan, the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, established the Primates Meeting as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.”

The primates have met in Ely, England, in 1979; Washington, D.C., in 1981; Limuru, Kenya, in 1983; Toronto, Canada, in 1986; Cyprus in 1989; Newcastle, Northern Ireland, in 1991; Cape Town, South Africa, in 1993; Windsor, England, in 1995; Jerusalem in 1997; Oporto, Portugal, in 2000; Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, North Carolina, in 2001; Canterbury, England, in 2002; Gramodo, Brazil, in May 2003; London, England, in October 2003; Newry, Northern Ireland, in February 2005; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in February 2007; Alexandria, Egypt, in February 2009; and Dublin, Ireland, in January 2011.

The provinces and primates of the Anglican Communion are listed here.

Visit the official Primates 2016 website

Follow @Primates2016 on Twitter

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.