Less than a week before a meeting that will bring primates of the provinces in the Anglican Communion together for the first time since 2011, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has released a video asking Anglicans to pray for “wisdom and love” for their leaders.
The video acknowledges that the Communion’s 38 primates will be “dealing with some very difficult issues” both within the life of the Communion and within the wider church and world. In it, Welby expresses a hope that “the love of Christ for each of us-for each of us who are sinners, each of us who fail-will so overwhelm us that we are able to love each other as we should.”
The Primates’ Meeting, to be held at Canterbury Cathedral from January 11-16, has been the subject of many secular media reports and religious blogs since it was announced in September 2015. Welby’s decision to invite Archbishop Foley Beach, leader of the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, and his comment that the primates will need to consider “look[ing] afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates,” have led to varying comments about the fate of the Anglican Communion and of churches with more liberal views on human sexuality.
The Episcopal Church voted to allow same-sex marriage during its General Convention in July 2015. The Anglican Church of Canada will be voting on the same issue at its triennial General Synod this July.
The last meeting-held in Dublin in 2011-was boycotted by seven primates belonging to the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) to protest the blessing of same-sex unions in some dioceses in the Canadian and American churches and the consecration of the first openly lesbian Episcopal bishop, Mary Glasspool, in the U.S.
In a statement posted on their website, GAFCON primates confirmed that they will be attending this month’s meeting, but state that “after many years of debate, action is needed to restore the spiritual and doctrinal integrity of the Communion they care for so deeply.”
The statement also underscores that the GAFCON bishops “are clear that their continued presence will depend upon action by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a majority of the Primates to ensure that participation in the Anglican Communion is governed by robust commitments to biblical teaching and morality.”
Earlier, after a December meeting with Welby, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had emphasized that “his principle is one of full inclusion of all the primates. I think he will encourage, and if need be, challenge, the primates to uphold that principle.”
Hiltz also stressed that although the Primates’ Meeting is one of the four instruments of communion, it does not have the authority to judge who belongs in the Communion and who does not.
“[The Primates’ Meeting] is a body for people that come together to pray and discuss and discern and offer some guidance. We don’t make resolutions,” he said in a December interview with the Anglican Journal.
The agenda for the meeting, which will be set “by common agreement” among the primates, will likely include issues such as religiously motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, and the environment in addition to human sexuality, according to the official Primates’ Meeting website.
Hiltz also said that he and other primates have expressed the hope that their meeting will not simply focus on “domestic affairs within the household of faith,” but will also encompass “matters of global concern with respect to our common humanity and our common home, the Earth itself,” including issues such as the refugee crisis and sustainable development.