Expressing their unanimous desire to walk together, a majority of primates January 14 asked that The Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
Their call, said the primates in a statement, was in response to the decision by The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in June 2015 to change its canon law definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman and allow same-sex marriage.
“I was deeply mindful that our Church will deal with the first reading of a proposed change of a similar kind in our canon on marriage at General Synod in July 2016,” said the primate in an initial statement released on the church’s website, anglican.ca. “There is no doubt in my mind that the action of the Primates’ meeting will weigh into our deliberations.”
Hiltz said he would comment further and issue a reflection on Monday, January 18, about the issue of same-sex marriage and a host of “other critical global issues” discussed at the Primates’ Meeting, held January 11-15, in Canterbury, England.
At a press conference earlier this morning, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was noncommittal about what consequence, if any, there would be for the Anglican Church of Canada should its General Synod allow same-sex marriage.
Welby acknowledged, however, that the Canadian church’s upcoming vote on whether or not to change its marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage was discussed at the Primates’ Meeting. “We discussed [the Canadian church vote], and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said at a press conference held at Canterbury Cathedral. He also said that there are “another two or three” provinces that are looking at taking action on same-sex marriage.
Welby was responding to a question about whether the Canadian church would meet the same fate as The Episcopal Church, which had been asked by the primates to not take part in decision-making related to issues of doctrine and polity, following its decision in June 2015 to allow same-sex marriage. In an announcement posted on the Primates’ Meeting website, the primates said that “given the seriousness of these matters,” The Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, should “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, [and] should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee…”
In a communiqué released after its meeting, the primates expressed their unanimous desire to walk together and said that their decision was made following a recommendation by “a working group of our members which took up the task of how our Anglican Communion of Churches might walk together and our unity be strengthened.”
The Episcopal Church’s decision represents a “fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” said the communiqué, adding, “possible developments in other provinces could further exacerbate this situation.”
In his statement, Hiltz said that primates remain committed “even in the face of deep differences of theological conviction concerning same-sex marriage – to walk together and not apart.”
He said that primates had “struggled with the fragility of our relations” in response to The Episcopal Church’s decision. “We talked, prayed and wrestled with the consequences considered by the meeting. Some of us wept,” said Hiltz.
Their conversations also reflected “the truth that, while the Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous Churches in communion with the see of Canterbury, we live by the long-held principle of ‘mutual responsibility and inter dependence in the Body of Christ’,” said Hiltz. “While our relationships are most often characterized by mutual support and encouragement, there are times when we experience stress and strain and we know our need for the grace of God to be patient with each other. Such was the experience of the primates this week.”
Hiltz asked Canadian Anglicans to pray for all the primates as they travelled back to their provinces. “I know some are returning to very challenging situations beset with extreme poverty, civil war, religiously motivated violence and the devastating effects of climate change.”
The Primates’ Meeting, he added, “reminded me once again of the servant style of leadership required of the primates of the Churches of The Anglican Communion. As Jean Vanier reminded us in his reflections at our closing Eucharist, ‘We are called to be the face of Jesus in this world. Pray with me that all of us be faithful in this calling.'”