Archbishops reflect on Primates’ Meeting

Primates attend Evensong during their recent meeting in Canterbury, England. Photo: ACNS
Primates attend Evensong during their recent meeting in Canterbury, England. Photo: ACNS
Published January 18, 2016

When the senior archbishops of the Anglican Communion gathered in Canterbury Cathedral last week they did so against a backdrop of complex disagreements. But despite what the Archbishop of Canterbury described as “quite difficult” discussions; the leaders agreed to “walk together” and the Archbishop of Hong Kong said that the atmosphere during the week-long meeting “couldn’t be better.”

“This is my fourth Primates [Meeting]. I must tell you, I must admit, that the atmosphere was much, much better than the previous ones I attended,” Archbishop Paul Kwong from Hong Kong said. Through the process of working through “lots of things to share, a lot of things to talk about, a lot of things to study,” Archbishop Kwong said he had become “very good friends” with the new Primates that he had met for the first time.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said that he was “full of hope for our church and for the world” as he disclosed that the Primates had washed each other’s feet and prayed blessings on each other during the final Eucharist in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral on Friday morning. “We read the passage from the foot washing and we passed the basin around and the towel and we washed each other’s feet,” he said. “That’s a powerful thing of humility. That’s a powerful thing of closeness after a very hard working week.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, explained that the foot washing was the suggestion of Roman Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Community, who had been invited to address the Primates. The healing impact of his talks was enormous,” Archbishop Welby said. “He led us [at the foot washing]. I was quite unravelled by it. It was a very powerful moment.”

The Archbishops of Hong Kong, Cape Town and Canterbury made their comments at a press conference at the conclusion of last week’s meeting. Elsewhere, other Primates have been reacting to the meeting.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, Bishop Michael Curry, told the Episcopal News Service that the Primates statement about TEC was “not the outcome we expected.”

He continued: “While we are disappointed, it’s important to remember that the Anglican Communion is really not a matter of structure and organization. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in a common faith; relationships in companion diocese relationships; relationships with parish to parish across the world; relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever.

“That’s what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward.”

He said: “This has been a disappointing time for many, and there will be heartache and pain for many, but it’s important to remember that we are still part of the Anglican Communion. We are the Episcopal Church, and we are part of the Jesus Movement, and that Movement goes on, and our work goes on.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that “the Primates of the Anglican Communion committed – even in the face of deep differences of theological conviction concerning same sex marriage – to walk together and not apart.

“Our conversations 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’. 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.

“We struggled with the fragility of our relations in response to the actions taken by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in changing its canon on marriage, making provision for the blessing of same sex marriages. We talked, prayed and wrestled with the consequences considered by the meeting. Some of us wept.”

He concluded his remarks by making reference to the final day’s Eucharist, saying: “This week 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.”

Archbishop Philip Richardson, one of the Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, with responsibility for the Tikanga Pakeha branch of the Church, described the listening at the Primates Meeting as being intense and exhausting.

“Before our meeting there was intense media speculation that the Anglican Communion would split, irrevocably, and that there would be a walk out early in our meeting,” he told Anglican Taonga. “There were rumours of cars waiting outside the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, with motors running, poised to whisk schismatic archbishops to an undisclosed venue, there to proclaim an alternative Anglican Communion.

“The media waited outside the gates in anticipation. And waited…

“The reality inside the room was quite different. We faced a simple choice: to stay inside the room and work with these enormous differences of view – or to walk away from each other. We chose to stay.”

Archbishop Richardson wrote about the full range of topics discussed by the Primates, saying: “We listened . . . to Primates from Bangladesh and the Pacific describing the impact of rising sea levels on their peoples, millions of whom eke out lives mere centimetres above the high tide level; we listened to African Primates as they described the desertification of vast areas of Africa, and the stripping of the rain forests.

“We heard too, from Primates who represent Arctic communities which are losing their traditional ways of life.

“This was no clinical or academic exercise. These were stories of real people, usually the poorest of the poor, who are most profoundly affected by global warming. Every archbishop who spoke was describing communities under their care, people they visit and know.

“We tried to understand the experience of colleagues living and working in parts of the world stricken by religious extremism and violence – and where the decisions made in another part of your church, in another part of the world, lead directly to the intimidation, beating and, in several documented instances, killing of innocent believers.

“We heard stark accounts of human trafficking. And we heard of the abuse of the most vulnerable, especially women and children, including by church members. We listened to stories of corruption and cronyism, of totalitarianism and torture.

“We also saw and heard of great courage, compassion, humanity and faith in the face of these challenges.

“We tried, too, to grasp the pain of exclusion and the dehumanisation of people, simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

He concluded by describing the Communion as “still fractured, broken [and] still inclined to mistrust” but said that “we are committed to staying with each other.”

He added: “We are committed to walking together, to trying to see through each other’s eyes, to stepping into each other’s worlds, and to keeping on keeping on until mutual understanding grows.”


An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to “John” Vanier, when it should have been Jean.


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