Primates' Meeting: Primates hold together, and issue a challenge to the US

22 February 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Some togetherness: the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, prays at the eucharist in Zanzibar Cathedral on Sunday. All the Primates attended, bar Archbishop Akinola, but six declined to communicate AP/EMPICS

Some togetherness: the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, prays at the eucharist in Zanzibar Cathedr...

SPECULATION about the long-term future of Anglicanism persists this week, despite apparent agreement among the Primates at the end of their five-day meeting in Tanzania.

Liberals find themselves under the greatest pressure from the Primates, as expressed in a final communiqué, issued late on Monday. The outcome has been described as a short-term compromise, which participants on both sides acknowledged to have been hard won.

In its aftermath, the Canadian Primate, the Most Revd Andrew Hutchison, has called on the Church of England and others to be more honest about the informal blessing of same-sex couples which takes place in their provinces.

The communiqué presents the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States with an ultimatum to clarify its position on same-sex blessings, which it must do by 30 September.

But the most significant thing to emerge from the meeting was the proposed “pastoral scheme” to provide oversight for conservative parishes in the US, many of whom have severed links with the Episcopal Church and allied themselves to overseas provinces, most notably Nigeria and Rwanda.

Under the new scheme, to be assembled by a five-strong pastoral council under the supervision of the Primates, interventions from overseas provinces would be expected to stop. The pastoral scheme would include a Primatial Vicar, a suggestion first put forward by the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, in November last year.

THE PICTURE emerged piecemeal. First, on Thursday of last week, the first day of the Primates’ Meeting, came the report from the sub-group charged with deciding how the Episcopal Church in the US had responded to the Windsor report.

The group comprised the Arch-bishops of Canterbury, Wales (absent from the Tanzania meeting), and Central Africa, along with Chancellor Philippa Annable of the West Indies, Elizabeth Paver, and Canon Kenneth Kearon of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The group comprised the Arch-bishops of Canterbury, Wales (absent from the Tanzania meeting), and Central Africa, along with Chancellor Philippa Annable of the West Indies, Elizabeth Paver, and Canon Kenneth Kearon of the Anglican Consultative Council.

It concluded that the Episcopal Church in the US had taken the Windsor report and recommendations “extremely seriously”.

The group said that the Church had complied over the election of bishops; but that on public rites of blessing it was “hard to discern exactly where the Episcopal Church stands”, and “difficult to establish exactly what has and has not been approved”.

Some commentators had alleged that 16 of the 108 dioceses and jurisdictions had moved towards authorisation of a rite. The group con-cluded: “We do not see how bishops who continue to act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion can be fully incorporated into its ongoing life. This is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops.”

The group believed that the “expression of regret” from last year’s General Convention had been sufficient. Apology and forgiveness were words “not lightly offered and should not be lightly received” when taken with the “apparent promise not to repeat the event”.

The report contained a rebuke to intervening foreign Primates: “We have to express our concern that other recommendations of the Windsor report, addressed to other parts of the Communion, appear to have been ignored so far.”

ON THE NEXT DAY, Friday, came the draft of the Anglican Covenant from the design group, chaired by the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez. The group said that it would take time to develop a definitive text, which would then need to be thoroughly debated and accepted in the provinces; but there was “an urgent need to re-establish trust between the Churches of the Communion”, and therefore a commitment was needed to its fundamental shape.

The design group proposed a preliminary draft, in which provinces were asked to recognise “a concise expression of what may be considered as authentic Anglicanism”. Provinces are asked to respond quickly, so that a revised draft can be drawn up for debate at the Lambeth Conference.

The most controversial part of the document gives the Primates’ Meeting greater autonomy in matters which “threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness of our mission”.

Archbishop Gomez described the Covenant as “a means of holding each other in check and dealing with difficulties from time to time”.

THERE WAS another development on Friday. The Primates had committed themselves to not speaking publicly about the meeting until afterwards. But a statement posted on the website of the Church of Nigeria on Friday announced that seven of the 35 Primates had decided not to share the eucharist with Dr Jefferts Schori, “because to do so would be a violation of scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding”.

The action was taken by the Primates of Nigeria, Kenya, South East Asia, West Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Southern Cone — all those who had earlier declared their province’s communion with the US Church to be “broken”.

The Most Revd Philip Aspinall, the Australian Primate, said at the Friday press conference that the action was “news to me”. The number of protesters was down, though, from the 19 who had reportedly refused to join the eucharist at the Primates’ Meeting in Dromantine in 2005.

AT WHAT was supposed to have been a closed meeting, there were clearly issues about the frequent conferences between the Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, and his advisers, notably Bishop Martyn Minns, who had been consecrated by Archbishop Akinola for the conservative group the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

Archbishop Akinola absented himself from the solemn eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar on Sunday, reportedly “ill” or “due to an injured back”. He was the only absent Primate on this, the occasion of Zanzibar’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the last slave sold on the island.

The Archbishop of Canterbury preached the sermon, delivering a sentence at a time for translation into Swahili. He called for humility among bishops, and quoted John Wesley: “There is one thing that a bishop should say to another bishop: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great saviour.”

NEWS CAME on Monday morning that Dr Jefferts Schori had been elected as the Americas representative on the Primates’ standing committee. By then, though, people had begun the wait for the final communiqué, which was expected at 3.45 p.m. (GMT). It was put further and further back, amid reports of an impasse over its recommendations and wording. It was finally issued at 11 p.m., by which time the majority of Primates had left to catch their flights home.

The Primates described the sub-group’s report on the US Episcopal Church as “comprehensive and clear”, but some among them clearly disputed its findings: “It is the ambiguous stance of the Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.”

The careful wording of the communiqué reveals the efforts made to represent all views in one unanimous statement, most notably in the passage: “The interventions by some of our number and by bishops of some provinces, against the explicit recommendations of the Windsor report, however well-intentioned, have exacerbated this situation. Furthermore, those Primates who have undertaken interventions do not feel that it is right to end those interventions until it becomes clear that sufficient provision has been made for the life of those persons.”

It continues: “Those of us who have intervened in other jurisdictions believe that we cannot abandon those who have appealed to us for pastoral care in situations in which they find themselves at odds with the normal jurisdiction. For interventions to cease, what is required in their view is a robust scheme of pastoral oversight.”

This comes in the shape of a Pastoral Council drawn from the “Camp Allen” bishops, who described themselves to Dr Williams in January as “Communion-committed bishops”, who “find the option of turning to foreign oversight presents anomalies which weaken our own diocesan families and place strains on the Communion as a whole”.

The Council will nominate a Primatial Vicar. Once the scheme is recognised to be fully operational, the Primates will undertake to end all interventions. The communiqué recognises the “particular difficulties” associated with Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and CANA.

The communiqué says that, if the US House of Bishops cannot give the reassurances asked for by 30 September, “the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”

The Primates also commented on the pending property actions, concluding: “We also urge both parties to give assurances that no steps will be taken to alienate property from the Episcopal Church without its consent or to deny the use of property to those congregations.”

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