As the 38 primates of the Anglican Communion conclude their Jan. 11-15 meeting calling for temporary sanctions on the Episcopal Church but with a commitment to walking together, church leaders say the real instruments of communion and unity are the global partnerships, relationships and networks that exist across differences and through common participation in God’s mission.
“This is not the outcome we expected, and while we are disappointed, it’s important to remember that the Anglican Communion is really not a matter of structure and organization,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said Jan. 15 in a video statement recorded outside Canterbury Cathedral.
“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.”
President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, told ENS that the primates of the Anglican Communion sometimes have difficult relationships with one another, and described the news emerging from the meeting as sobering. “But while the primates work on restoring their relationships, Anglicans across the world will continue working together to feed the hungry, care for the sick, educate children, and heal the world,” she said. “Nothing that happens at a Primates Meeting will change our love for one another and our commitment to serving God together.”
Jennings, who represents the Episcopal Church as the clergy member of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Communion’s main policy-making body, said that the people who are most likely to suffer from the news emerging from the meeting “are faithful LGBTI Anglicans and their allies, especially in Africa. I count many of them as my friends and colleagues, and today I am especially praying that this new expression of religious homophobia does not make them even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than they already are.”
In their statement, the primates asked that the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
Expressing their unanimous desire to walk together, the primates said that their call comes in response to the decision by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention last June to change canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).
This is not the first time that the ban from serving on ecumenical and interfaith bodies has been imposed on the Episcopal Church. In 2010, the Rev. Kenneth Kearon, then the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, told Episcopalians serving on the communion’s ecumenical dialogues that their memberships were discontinued.
Kearnon’s move came after then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams proposed that people serving on ecumenical dialogues should resign their membership if they are from a province that has not complied with the communion’s moratoria on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate. He specifically referred to the earlier consecration of Mary Douglas Glasspool as a bishop suffragan in Los Angeles and the unauthorized incursions by Anglican leaders into other provinces. Glasspool is the Episcopal Church’s second openly gay, partnered bishop.
The decision affected five Episcopal Church members then serving on Anglican dialogues with the Lutheran, Methodist, Old Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as one member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO), who had been invited to serve as a consultant. No mention was made at the time of representatives from other provinces – such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda – that had been involved in cross-border interventions in the United States.
The ban was lifted in 2012 by then-IASCUFO chairman Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of the Anglican Church of Burundi.
Since her reinstatement, the Rev. Katherine Grieb has continued to be a member of ISACUFO. It is not clear what the new sanctions mean for her membership. In addition, it appears that the Episcopal Church’s only other member currently serving on a Communion ecumenical body is the Rev. Amy E. Richter, who is listed as serving on the recently reconstituted Anglican-Reformed Dialogue.
The Communion’s ecumenical dialogues are described here and its interfaith dialogues are explained here.
In an interview with ENS, Curry said that while the primates’ decision may be disappointing for many Episcopalians, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, “it means that we have more work of love to do, and that work of love is helping our story and the story of many faithful Christians … to be told and heard, and it really may be part of our vocation in the world to bear witness to that, and it’s a loving witness.”
Bishop Ian Douglas of the Diocese of Connecticut told ENS that the “real unity of the Anglican Communion is embodied in our connection and common action as together we serve God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Douglas represents the Episcopal Church as the bishop member of the Anglican Consultative Council. He also serves as a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
“Relationships in Christ fostered by building schools and medical clinics together, visits through companion dioceses, missionaries sharing their lives in service, bind us together in deep and profound ways,” he said.
“I appreciate and honor how the structures of the Anglican Communion such as the ACC, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates Meeting provide important venues for conversation, prayer and discernment among the provinces of the Anglican Communion. But the real ?instruments of unity’ are the countless ways that parishes, dioceses and individual Christians in the Anglican Communion connect across our differences.”
Curry, in the ENS interview, said that the call from the primates is now a question for the ACC to consider “because that’s the one constitutional body we have in the Communion, so the ACC will have to adjudicate what the primates say about themselves, whether or not they concur with that.”
The ACC will gather April 8-20 in Lusaka, Zambia in a previously scheduled meeting.
Curry told ENS that the primates did not discuss what would happen at the end of the three-year time period they set for the sanctions.
The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria that has educated countless leaders for service throughout the Anglican Communion, told ENS that he believes the Episcopal Church “is learning how to live with disagreement and my prayer is that the Communion does so as well. The Episcopal Church has consistently sought to serve the other provinces in the Communion. Our partnerships with sister seminaries in the Sudan, Tanzania, and elsewhere have never been conditional on agreement. Where there is a need, we seek to serve.”
Markham said that such work would continue regardless of the outcome of the Primates Meeting. “At the level of congregations, dioceses, and seminaries, the continuing work of celebrating the gift of a worldwide communion that loves the Lord Jesus will continue,” he said. “The Episcopal Church needs the rich vibrancy of the global south Anglicans. It enhances our understanding of Anglicanism and Christianity.
“It is true that those of us who support the full inclusion of our LGBT brothers and sisters do take comfort from history. From the deep clash over the critical study of Scripture with Colenso, the Communion has always been a forum for discernment and struggle. It is continuing to play that role. And most issues do look different twenty or thirty years from now. Meanwhile the obligation of the Episcopal church is to maintain good relationships, stress that which we share, focus on Jesus, and seek to advance The conversation. Throughout this controversy, we have never closed the door (or even threatened to do), we always want to do our part to support the Communion in whatever ways this can be possible.”
A series of articles posted on a Primates 2016 blog have focused on stories of mission, the fruits of countless relationships, partnerships and networks that exist throughout the Anglican Communion’s 38 autonomous provinces in 165 countries. For many, that is what exemplifies the true Anglican Communion, one with a missiological focus on serving those in need rather than wrapped up in the divisive issues that have dominated much of the agenda so far in Canterbury this week.
“In the Episcopal Church in Connecticut we are blessed with dozens of parish-based partnerships in God’s mission around the world from Kenya to Nigeria, from Haiti to Ecuador,” said Douglas. “For example, Trinity Church in Tarriffville has had a profound and lasting relationship with the Anglican Diocese of Kaduna in northern Nigeria through the ministry of Kateri Medical Clinic. Each year a team of medical professionals and non-medical volunteers travels from Connecticut to Nigeria to work alongside Nigerian volunteers providing free medical care to rural people at the Kateri Clinic. Since 2002, over 120,000 people, Christian and Muslim alike, have been served by this partnership in Christ. The Kateri Medical Clinic is a living testimony that Anglicans working together in God’s mission is the heart of our communion in Christ.”
In his video statement, Curry acknowledged the “heartache and pain” that many will feel by the primates’ statement, but said it’s important to remember that the Episcopal Church is still very much a vital 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,” he said. “And the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people. And maybe it’s a part of our vocation to help that to happen. And so we must claim that high calling; claim the high calling of love and faith; love even for those with whom we disagree, and then continue, and that we will do, and we will do it together.
“We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated. God love you. God bless you. And you keep the faith. And we move forward.”
– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service