Primates discuss Anglican covenant, Zimbabwe crisis in private sessions

Published February 3, 2009

Alexandria, Egypt
As the primates reviewed the latest draft of the Anglican covenant and heard presentations about mission priorities and challenges from different global contexts, many of them agreed that there was a lower level of anxiety at this meeting than at the last.”There is a totally different spirit,” Archbishop Carlos Touche-Porter of Mexico said of the Feb. 1 to 5 Meeting. “Something has happened and I wonder if it was [the 2008] Lambeth [Conference]. We still have our differences but we are talking to each other in a different way.”Unlike the February 2007 Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at this stage in Alexandria there have been no major political statements and representatives from advocacy and dissident groups have largely stayed away. Even the media interest has waned, with fewer than 10 journalists accredited in Alexandria as opposed to around 30 in Dar es Salaam, although that could also be a consequence of the economic times.At a press conference Feb.2, Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia, spokesperson for the primates, agreed that the “temperatures are a bit lower” at this meeting and that Lambeth had likely played a part in that. Last summer’s Lambeth Conference had been designed to focus on building relationships among the bishops rather than operating as a legislative gathering.”There is a less confrontational atmosphere to Alexandria connected with the Lambeth experience that has given people a new vision,” said the Archbishop Idris Jones, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.Of the four African primates who boycotted the Lambeth Conference due to theological disagreements, none was immediately available in Alexandria to discuss the difference in dynamics between the two primates meetings.In Dar es Salaam, the primates and media had been completely segregated with security ensuring that never the twain should meet. In Alexandria, the barriers are less apparent and Archbishop Aspinall confirmed that the primates are free to speak to the media as they choose. Nevertheless, he said it was important for them to be able “to move and grow and think and change” without their personal views being broadcast, hence the need to keep the actual meetings as closed events.During an evening session on the second day of the meeting in Alexandria, the political situation and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe were addressed with the Bishop Albert Chama, dean of the Province of Central Africa, leading the discussions. Specific details about that session were not available at press time and Bishop Chama is expected to address the media about Zimbabwe on February 3. Bishop Chama is serving as a provincial representative at the meeting as Central Africa is currently without a primate.Earlier in the day, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the primates of Canada, Myanmar, Southern Africa, and Uganda each offered presentations about their own contexts, addressing the question, “What impact has the current situation had on your province’s mission priorities?” The question was left purposefully vague, ENS was told by meeting staff, and could refer to cultural, political or social issues or relate to the current tensions in the Anglican Communion regarding human sexuality or incursions into other provinces.Archbishop Aspinall told the media that the presentations were very different depending on the context. Despite the range of perspectives, he said that all of the presentations demonstrated a clear expression of commitment to mission, but it became evident that “the way in which scripture is interpreted was affected by local circumstances.” He mentioned in particular Southern Africa Archbishop Thabo Magkoba’s reflection on the divisive debate of the ethics involved in the armed struggle to overthrow apartheid. “It was a real life-and-death issue in South Africa at the time and the church managed to stay together through all of that,” Archbishop Aspinall said.The primates heard from Archbishop John Chew of Southeast Asia who presented the latest draft (St. Andrew’s Draft) of the Anglican covenant. There was also discussion about the Lambeth Commentary, a document that sets out the responses of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in their discussions of the St. Andrew’s Draft.Archbishop Aspinall said there has been a “general warming” to the idea of a covenant, but acknowledged that there was “increasing realism” among the primates about what a covenant can and can’t do. “We’re probably pulling back from language about sanctions and teeth,” he said, noting that there had been a lot of discussion about a framework for koinonia – a Greek word that refers to the relationships of communion.”If there is a failure in communion, then there needs to be more of an investment” in relationships, Archbishop Aspinall said. “There is a pulling back from stick-over-the-head sanctions and a move towards deeper relationships of what will make a covenant work.”The provinces have until March 9 to respond to the St. Andrew’s Draft. The Covenant Design Group will meet again in April to discuss the responses and perhaps produce a third draft that will be presented to the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion’s main policy-making body, when it meets in May. Appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the primates of the Anglican Communion, the Covenant Design Group has been meeting since January 2007.The idea for an Anglican covenant comes from the 2004 Windsor Report (paragraphs 113-120) and has been supported by all the instruments of communion as a way for the Anglican Communion to maintain unity amid differing viewpoints, especially on human sexuality issues and biblical interpretation.Archbishop Aspinall described the covenant as a “moral obligation. We have been thinking of the covenant as each participating church giving a gift to other churches through limiting its autonomy in many ways and not proceeding on certain issues without consultation with other churches.”Responding to questions, Archbishop Aspinall said that as yet there had been no discussion about the new proposed conservative entity – dubbed by its conservative leaders as the Anglican Church in North America -and no efforts had been made to add it to the agenda. He acknowledged that “there certainly have been conversations in passing.”On behalf of the primates, Archbishop Williams conveyed greetings in a Feb. 2 statement to His Holiness Kyrill on his election as the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia. “This is an ancient and noble office, and one to which all the Christian world looks for an exemplary Christian witness,” said Archbishop Williams. “The churches of the Anglican Communion throughout the world have always valued and respected their links to the Orthodox Churches, and not least their warm relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow, and we trust that these fraternal bonds may be upheld and sustained in the years ahead as you embark on your ministry.”On Feb. 3, the third day of the meeting, the primates will receive a report from the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), discuss theological education in the Anglican Communion and address the issue of global warming. The Archbishop of Canterbury has asked that the WCG report be kept private until the primates have concluded their meeting.A drafting group has been appointed consisting of five primates – Archbishops Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi (chair), Paul Kwong of Hong Kong, Alan Harper of Ireland, Ian Ernest of the Indian Ocean, and Carlos Touche-Porter of Mexico – to prepare a communique for release towards the end of the meeting. Canon Gregory Cameron, deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion, is serving as secretary of the drafting group.Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of Sudan is expected to arrive in Egypt on Feb. 3 after resolving visa complications.


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