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 communique 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.
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 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’ communique 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.
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.
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.
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.”