Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has lamented that while he and other primates currently meeting in Tanzania have seen stark images of poverty in the capital Dar Es Salaam their discussions will not focus on improving the lives of the poor but on divisions over human sexuality.
“I am going to a meeting with a gospel of hope and a preferential option for the poor and we are debating who is in and whom we are going to keep out,” said Archbishop Hutchison in a blog, or Internet diary entry, to young Canadian Anglicans at www.generation.anglican.ca
Anglican leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion convened on Feb. 15 for a five-day meeting that would have at the top of its agenda, the issue of whether the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has “adequately responded” to the Windsor Report and what the future of the grouping of 38 provinces consisting of 77 million members would be.
(The Windsor Report was published by the Lambeth Commission, a drafting group created by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to seek ways of preventing a schism in the Communion triggered by the election in the U.S. of Gene Robinson, a gay bishop from the diocese of New Hampshire. The 2004 report asked the Episcopal Church and the Canadian diocese of New Westminster to apologize for the “deep offence” that their decisions regarding sexuality have caused to “many faithful Anglicans.” It also sought a moratorium on same-sex blessings and the consecration of gay bishops. The Episcopal Church has not consecrated another gay bishop, but last year its General Convention adopted a non-binding resolution that did not indicate that it would refrain from doing so in the future. The Anglican Church of Canada is expected to make its response to the Windsor Report during its General Synod scheduled in June.)
Some primates of the so-called Global South had earlier threatened not to sit at the same table with the new U.S. Presiding Bishop (primate) Katharine Jefferts Schori, because of her support for Bishop Robinson’s election. But according to a report by the Episcopal News Service, the meeting began Thursday “with every indication that all participants are present at the table.”
Upon arriving in Tanzania, Bishop Jefferts Schori, who is one of 13 new primates attending the meeting for the first time, said she was looking forward to “the opportunity to meet new colleagues and build upon existing relationships for common mission.”
Upon his arrival in Tanzania on Feb. 14, Archbishop Williams defended Bishop Jefferts Schori’s presence at the meeting. “Her presence is absolute. There’s no question about her presence and that’s what actually the archbishop said,” Canon Jim Rosenthal, communications director of the Anglican Communion Office, told reporters. “She’s here because she’s the elected primate of the American church and there’s no expectation she’s not going to be here for the rest of the time.”
Canon Rosenthal also acknowledged that the primates’ meeting would be a “difficult” one. “The basic issue here is what to do about those who decided they don’t want to stay in the main Anglican body.”
Archbishop Hutchison, meanwhile, wrote in his blog that he has been praying “that we can truly listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church.” He said: “I believe in an inclusive church that has its doors open to all and that accepts and welcomes people regardless of the human definitions that we may place upon them – male/female, white/black, gay/straight … We run the danger of making the church a club for like-minded people rather than a place of refuge for the sinner and hope for the hurt and vulnerable.”
Archbishop Hutchison said his realization that the church was becoming out of sync with the realities of the world occurred to him during the drive to the conference centre, a beachfront hotel located an hour away from the Dar es Salaam airport.
“Despite being tired my eyes were wide open as we drove over dusty unkempt roads and through a sea of thousands upon thousands of people. Most were standing beside the road looking desperate and without hope,” he wrote. “Adults and children intermingled and behind them were some of the most dilapidated shacks that I had ever seen. For many these are the only houses they will ever know.”
Archbishop Hutchison’s lament echoes one by Archbishop Robin Eames, the newly-retired primate of the Church of Ireland, who also led the Lambeth Commission.
Interviewed by The Tablet, a Roman Catholic magazine, Archbishop Eames expressed disappointment at the way leaders of various factions in the Anglican Communion have behaved towards each other. “I have an image of a matchstick child starving in Africa and here are these robed figures going past arguing, and they don’t see the child looking for a bite to eat.”
Meanwhile, more than 900 clergy and laity from the Episcopal Church have signed an open letter addressed to Archbishop of Canterbury asking him to reject requests made by eight American dioceses for alternative primatial oversight, saying it “would pose a grave danger to the Anglican Communion.” (Media reports from Dar Es Salaam said conservative primates led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria are poised to recommend that another moderator equal to Bishop Jefferts Schori’s status be appointed in the U.S. to minister to more conservative Episcopalians.)
Such a request is “unprecedented,” the letter said, adding, “An important aspect of our Anglican identity is our comprehensiveness as a reformed and catholic church in which unity is expressed in common prayer rather than adherence to a formal confession of faith other than the Creeds.” Those seeking alternative primatial oversight “are in effect asking to walk away from the messiness and ambiguity of our current disputes about gays and lesbians in the church. In so doing, they give to these questions a doctrinal weight not in keeping with historic Anglican understandings.”
Granting the request “would open the door for others, here and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, to reject pastoral and sacramental leadership on the basis of non-essential matters” and would further “lead to fragmentation of the Anglican Communion rather than deeper unity in Christ,” the letter added.