As primates from across the Anglican Communion prepared for next week’s meeting in Canterbury, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said Thursday he hoped a spirit of mutual openness and affection would prevail at the talks.
The primates, Hiltz said, “need to address openly and honestly the tensions in our common life. We need to confess any and all ‘uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbours and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,'” quoting from the Book of Alternative Services’ Litany of Penitence for Ash Wednesday.
“We need to hear afresh St. Paul’s appeal to be reconciled in Christ and to devote ourselves to that work however hard it may be, and however long it may take,” he said. “We need to be eager in renewing the bonds of affection that draw us together in mission.”
Anglican primates and moderators from across the world will gather in Canterbury January 11-16 at the invitation of Archbishop Justin Welby-their first formal gathering in five years. On the eve of his departure for the meeting, Hiltz issued a statement on the nature of the meeting, including his own reflections and a call for prayer.
Much of the primates’ time, he said, will be devoted to discussing “matters of concern within the Church and the world identified by the primates themselves.”
While the issue of same-sex marriage has strained relationships within the Anglican Communion, there are still many reasons to be confident about its current state, Hiltz said.
Within the Communion, “the matter of the blessing of same sex marriages continues to be controversial,” he noted. “Recent developments within the Episcopal Church in the United States, and conversations of varying depth and extent within a number of other Churches in the Communion including our own, are having a significant impact on our relationships.”
At its General Convention last July, The Episcopal Church voted to authorize its clergy to perform same-sex marriages. Soon thereafter, Welby issued a statement expressing his “deep concern” over the decision, and predicting it would “cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole.”
The Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod will be voting on the blessing of same-sex marriages this summer.
Despite this tension, Hiltz expressed confidence in the state of the Communion; he prayed, he said, that in their talks the primates would not “be overwhelmed by the rhetoric of some who think it is all so fragile.”
Rather, he continued, “I hope that we will be overjoyed by the multiple expressions of the vitality of the Communion and its commitment to God’s mission through which many networks, commissions, dialogues, alliances and companion diocese relationships enable us to faithfully live out The Marks of Mission.”
Seven primates boycotted the last Primates’ Meeting held in Dublin in 2011 to protest the blessing of same-sex unions in some dioceses in the Canadian and American churches and the 2009 consecration of the first openly lesbian Episcopal bishop, Mary Glasspool, in the U.S.
The primates, belonging to the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) confirmed their attendance at this year’s meeting, but also said in a statement that “their continued presence will depend upon action by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a majority of the Primates to ensure that participation in the Anglican Communion is governed by robust commitments to biblical teaching and morality.”
At the Dublin meeting, he said, primates expressed the hope that subsequent meetings would be “a primary forum for the strengthening of the mutual life of the provinces, and be respected by individual primates and the provinces they lead as an instrument through which new developments may be honestly addressed.”
The gathering of primates is not a decision-making body; its task is not to make resolutions, Hiltz told the Anglican Journal last month.
The meeting is expected to begin with a day of fasting and prayer in Canterbury Cathedral, he said, with Welby giving opening remarks about “who we are, what we are called to be for the Communion, and how we fulfill that vocation together.”
Hiltz said he also expected the primates, at Welby’s request, would discuss the roles of the “Instruments of Communion,” including the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). The primates will also likely do some planning of the next Lambeth Conference and be updated about next April’s planned meeting of the ACC in Zambia. Also on the agenda are talks on “matters of global concern,” including sustainable development, religious extremism and violence, interfaith relations (especially Christian-Muslim) and climate justice.
One highlight of the meeting, Hiltz said, promises to be a talk by Canadian Roman Catholic theologian Jean Vanier, who will be joining the meeting at Welby’s invitation. Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a global network dedicated to developmentally disabled people, is expected to talk about “servant leadership through the lens of John’s Gospel,” Hiltz said.
The primates will release an official statement at the conclusion of the meeting, he said, adding that he would also issue a written reflection of his own.
Hiltz’s statement concludes with an assurance of his “deep gratitude” for the prayers of Canadian Anglicans, in whatever form they take, that the primates “be as lights in the world, reflecting the love and peace of Christ.”