After Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, attended the meeting of primates in Alexandria, Egypt in January, he couldn’t pass up a rare opportunity to visit the pyramids and ride a camel near Cairo.
The primates (national archbishops) of the Anglican Communion ended their Feb. 1 to 5 meeting with no consensus on how to deal with a coalition of Anglicans who have left their churches in North America because of differences over such issues as sexuality and want to be recognized as a separate province.
They agreed, however, that the Archbishop of Canterbury should initiate a “professionally mediated conversation which engages all parties at the earliest opportunity.”
In a communique released at the end of their meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, the primates said they received a report from the Windsor Continuation Group, which identified “some of the difficulties in recognizing the coalition among the provinces of the Communion.” It added: “Significant concerns were raised in the conversation about the possibility of parallel jurisdictions.” The Windsor Continuation Group, created by the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been recommending the way forward for the Communion, which has been deeply divided over the place of gays and lesbians in the church.
The Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of seven different groups, mostly composed of parishes, bishops, and clergy who have severed ties with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, had been hoping to get some support from the primates for a separate province.
“We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear brothers and sisters for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important,” the communique said. “We recognize that these processes cannot be rushed but neither should they be postponed.”
In its report to the primates, the Windsor Continuation Group said the mediated conversation aims “to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of the long term reconciliation in the commission.” They said such conversation must be on a basis of some principles: “There must be an ordered approach to the new proposal within, or part of a natural development of, current rules. It is not for individual groups to claim the terms on which they will relate to the communion….”
The primates’ communique, titled Gracious Restraint, addressed global concerns such as the search for peace and stability in Gaza, Zimbabwe and the Sudan, the deepening financial crisis and global warming.
But the primates acknowledged that one of the “chief matters” that continued to preoccupy them was the “continuing deep differences and disrupted relationships in the Anglican Communion” over the issues of the election of bishops in same-gender unions, the rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on cross-border interventions.
They did note, however, that among them “there has been honest exchange and mutual challenge at a new and deeper level…. We acknowledge the difficult nature of these tensions, which evoke deep feelings and responses, but we were grateful that, by God’s grace, we were able to discuss these issues in a spirit of open and respectful dialogue.”
The primates reiterated their call for “gracious restraint” on all fronts. “If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offense, misunderstanding or hostility cease,” the communique said.
The primates said they were “reminded powerfully of the sense of alienation and pain felt in many parts of the communion, as many are tested by difficult theological tensions.”
“We were able to talk honestly and openly about our experiences and tensions…,” the primates said. “…Nevertheless there was a discernable mood of graciousness among us in our engagements: a mood which assisted and sustained our conversations.”
Their “honest engagement,” the primates said, “revealed the complexity of the situation” in the communion. “Matters are not as clear cut as some portray.”
They noted that the Windsor Continuation Group asked whether the communion “suffers from an ‘ecclesial deficit.’ In other words, do we have the necessary theological, structural and cultural foundations to sustain the life of the communion?'”