PITY the poor caterers. The next Primates’ Meeting starts in Dublin in four days’ time — and no one knows how many Primates will actually turn up.
At the end of last year, it was announced that ten Primates from the Global South intended to boycott the meeting, in protest at the inclusion of the US Primate after rows over gay bishops and same-sex blessings (News, 26 November).
The Church Times understands that this number might have risen to 14 out of the possible 37 Primates eligible to attend. (There is one vacancy.) The general secretary of the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), Canon Kenneth Kearon, believes, however, that those who stay away, “in protest after developments in the Episcopal Church” in the United States, will number “less than ten”. There might be other absentees because of health or visa issues, he said.
He admitted, however, that numbers would be unknown until the meeting began on Tuesday. “Given that most Primates make their own travel arrangements, and that plans can change at the last minute, it is impossible for anyone to say for certain how many Primates will travel to Dublin for the meeting.”
The ten Primates in the original boycott are understood to be those of Jerusalem & the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia, the Southern Cone, Rwanda, West Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. A Global South spokesman suggested that another four were likely to stay away. One of these, the Primate of Sudan, has other matters demanding his attention in the wake of his country’s referendum.
The Global South Primates say they are disillusioned with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s unwillingness to take disciplinary action against the US Church, despite recommendations made at previous Primates’ Meetings. They feel that dialogue has been used as a means to delay a solution to the current crisis in the Communion. Nor do they trust the “Instruments of Communion”, notably the ACO and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to implement any recommendations that are made in Dublin. And they object that there has been a lack of consultation, especially over the agenda, in the run-up to the Dublin meeting.
Canon Kearon said on Friday that there would be disappointment if these Primates boycotted the meeting. “If a number of Primates do not attend, their voices will be missing, and that will diminish what comes out of the meeting. It’s a matter of different perspectives, and you will lose the perspective they represent.”
He confirmed that the meeting would have a new format, with a group of professional facilitators involved in the process, while the agenda itself would be “in the hands of the Primates” who attend. They would be trying to “unlock the mission of the Communion”.
The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Alan Harper, acknowledged that there were “significant differences, not only in polity between provinces but also in theories and styles of the exercise of primacy”.
He said that they would be “all the poorer” for the absence of a number of Primates, but “that is not a reason for abandoning the meeting.”
The Primate of Wales, the Most Revd Barry Morgan, said that he was optimistic that the meeting would go well, and that “we will be able to talk openly and honestly about our differences in order to move forward together.”
Writing in the February edition of Evangelicals Now, Canon Chris Sugden, of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which has links with the Global South Primates, said that their declining of Dr Williams’s invitation to Dublin “calls into question the ability of the Archbishop of Canterbury to fulfil his role as gatherer of the Communion”.
He rejected the appeal of the Bishop of Kaduna, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon (Comment, 24/31 December), who had urged all Primates to attend. “There are only so many times you can appeal to people to turn up and make their voice heard. When it becomes clear that what that voice has achieved through turning up has been ignored, then it is unwisdom to expect anything different the next time,” Canon Sugden wrote.