What price unity’ asks Irish primate

Published November 1, 2003

Here, reprinted courtesy of the Church of Ireland Gazette (www.gazette.ireland.anglican.org), is an excerpt of an essay by the Archbishop of Armagh and senior primate of the Anglican Communion, Robin Eames. It was released just prior to last month’s special primates’ meeting at Lambeth Palace . The full text can be found at www.anglican.ca

“In any relationship corporate or individual it is often the case that only when a crisis arises is the structure or meaning of that relationship examined in any depth. So it is with the Anglican Communion. The ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate forced such an examination before, during and following the Lambeth Conference 1988. The media even forecast the end of the Anglican Communion.


“The truth is that the Anglican Communion has lived through generations without basic regulations, rules or legal structures. Anglicanism has consistently rejected any move to create a curia such as we see in the Roman Catholic tradition. This desire has manifested itself time and again at Lambeth Conferences, primates meetings and gatherings of the Anglican Consultative Council. I have witnessed consistent rejection of such a move. The autonomy of individual provinces has been jealously guarded. Provincial government usually through synodical structures and the exercise of episcopacy has enshrined this degree of individuality. Provincial contributions have centred on the aspirations and historical developments of individual provinces or churches. The common tie has been ‘communion with the See of Canterbury’ and ‘communion with other churches maintaining the same ethos.’ But I am unaware of any agreed rules governing such relationships beyond the desire to be ‘in communion’. Therefore when we talk of expulsion the question arises – expulsion from what?


“To put it plainly – if no constitutional or legal rules exist for what constitutes membership of the Anglican Communion there are no rules for expulsion of a member church.

“The focus must therefore turn to the practices and customs which do exist.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is primus inter pares at any meeting of primates. As ‘first among equals’ he calls and normally presides at such gatherings. Equally it is at his invitation that bishops attend the Lambeth Conference. In theory there is nothing to prevent disapproval on any issue being expressed at a meeting of Primates. It is also open to the Archbishop of Canterbury to withhold invitations should he so wish to either a Primates Meeting or to the Lambeth Conference itself. But the fact remains that no constitutional basis exists for the expulsion of any Province from the Anglican Communion.


“Laws apart, opinions apart and sensitivities apart diversity of culture, practice and lifestyles have been and will most likely continue to be the experience of a world family such as the Anglican Communion. Perhaps the main question arising for us at this time is simply: How do we live with and how do we understand difference?

“What price unity?”




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