Primates' Meeting, Dublin: updated reports

by
28 January 2011

The latest reports from Ed Beavan at the Primates’ Meeting, Dublin

SUNDAY: THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has acknowledged that there remains a “critical situation” in the Anglican Communion. He was speaking at a press conference at the close of the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin.

At least seven Primates from the Global South had declined to come to Dublin in protest at the policy of the Episcopal Church in the United States concerning gay bishops and same-sex unions, in defiance of earlier Primates’ communiqués.

Dr Williams said that there were a “significant number of absentees for a number of reasons”, but in particular the absence of the Global South Primates “was felt and noted every day”, with their names placed on empty chairs in the meeting room and candles lit for them.

“There is a critical situation in the Communion, no one would deny that,” he said. But they would not be “closing the doors on those who are not with us”. He planned to engage in bridge-building visits to some of the absent provinces, such as South-East Asia, and had recently met the Archbishop of Kenya, who did not attend the meeting, engaging in ”a very long and detailed conversation on a variety of matters”.

Such diplomatic endeavours would be a “long task”, he admitted, and trying to keep the diverse Communion together was “difficult”; but “the task we’ve been given and part of the cross we carry.” He said he hoped the standing committee of the Primates’ Meeting, whose role was discussed in Dublin, could also be part of the process to help “re-establish local and regional relationships”.

Asked if he and the Primates would take any disciplinary action against the US Episcopal Church if it continued to ordain gay bishops, he said did not know: “he did not have a crystal ball about the future,” and that he had “no idea” if the boycotting Primates would attend the next Primates’ Meeting.

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The Primate of Burundi, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, also attended the press conference, and said that those African Primates who chose not to come had not withdrawn from the life of the Communion, but after the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) last year, each province in consultation with its House of Bishops, had decided whether to attend or not. He said that “not attending physically does not mean you are not participating in the life of the Communion”.

Archbishop John Holder, Primate of the West Indies, said that there had always been differences in the Anglican Communion, not just over human sexuality, but the Church had always “worked out ways and means of dealing with differences”. They would continue to work hard to get through the current tensions.

Responding to news reports that said that about one thousand Church of England parishes were considering moving over to the Roman Catholic Ordinariate, Dr Williams questioned the accuracy of such a high figure, and re-iterated that these groups went with his blessing. “God bless them. I can’t go with them.”

After the press conference, a final eucharist took place to mark the end of the meeting, presided over by the Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Alan Harper; Dr Williams gave the homily.

SUNDAY: THE Primates present in Dublin had been involved in “very intensive discussions” during the six-day conference, Dr Williams said. They had looked a number of issues, ranging from the issue of gender-based violence, climate change, and the role of primacy. Several statements were issued by the Primates in attendance.

One called for the situation in Haiti to be kept at the forefront of the mind of the Communion; another flagged up the vital importance of taking action against climate change, which was affecting the livelihoods of people in developing countries; and a final statement deplored the recent murder of gay human rights activist David Kato in Uganda.

In the final press conference, Dr Williams rejected a suggestion that the Church of Uganda’s position on homosexuality could have fuelled homophobic actions. Its Archbishop had signed a statement condemning the victimisation of homosexuals at a previous Primates’ Meeting, he said.

An open letter was also issued in which the Primates committed “to address violence against women and girls in their provinces” through training and empowerment, after the subject came up at the CAPA conference of bishops.

An open letter was also sent to Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, condemning the continued harassment and bullying of churchgoers in the diocese of Harare, and calling for freedom of assembly for Anglicans there.

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A number of private letters will also be sent out by the Primates, one to the President of Pakistan expressing disquiet at the country’s blasphemy laws and the persection of Christians, and the recent murder of the Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer; while a letter will be sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Bishop of Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, whose residency permit has been suspended.

Letters are also being sent to the Primate of Jerusalem & the Middle East, Mouneer Anis, and the head of the Coptic Church in Egypt, following the recent violence there.

A private letter will also be sent to the Primate of Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, congratulating him on the country’s recent peaceful referendum. And the Primates will also write to the six countries involved in the Korean peace process.

On the final day, the Primates elected five members and alternate members for the Primates’ standing committee. These will be announced once all the Primates in the Communion have been informed.

After discussions in Dublin, a statement said the standing committee of the Primates’ Meeting could act as a “consultative council for the Archbishop of Canterbury” and had the possibility “to speak on behalf of the Primates’ Meeting”.

Finally, it was announced that the Province of the West Indies has adopted the Anglican Communion Covenant, the third province to do so officially.


SATURDAY: Part of the fourth day of the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin was devoted to a presentation on the work of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) by its chairman Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi.

The Commission is a merger of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. It has 20 members from across the provinces of the Communion, and has taken up the work of the Windsor Continuation Group. It first met two years ago in Canterbury, ironically in the week in which the Rt Revd Mary Glasspool was elected Bishop of Los Angeles. At the time it had called for “gracious restraint” from the Episcopal Church.

Archbishop Ntahoturi said that the December meeting of IASCUFO had looked at four issues: the question of whether the Anglican Communion is a Church or a communion of Churches, the Covenant and resources for studying it, the theological meaning of the Instruments of the Communion and how they relate to one another, and the topic of “reception” – how the work of the Instruments of Communion and ecumenical dialogues is communicated.

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Later on in the day, Primates discussed the key points they had covered so far, including expectations of Primates’ Meetings, the role of the Primate, and the place of the United Churches, such as those in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the Communion.

In the evening the Primates went for dinner in Dublin city centre, and went to see the Book of Kells, the 9th-century Celtic manuscript of the Gospels, at Trinity College, Dublin.

 

FRIDAY: THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury opened the Dublin Primates’ Meeting with a call for prayers for their absent colleagues, the Anglican Communion News Service reports.

A total of 15 Primates have stayed away for a variety of reasons, some for health or visa issues, but at least seven as a protest against the lack of discipline taken against the Episcopal Church of the United States. For one third of the Primates here, this is their first such meeting.

At a eucharist on Wednesday morning, Primates placed symbols around the altar to illustrate the missional challenges facing their various provinces. These including photos and food.

Among the subjects discussed on the first day, both in small groups and plenaries, were mission and diversity — in particular how provinces could hold different theological and ethical positions and yet still work together. They also looked at different models of primatial leadership.

The issue of primacy was again picked up on Thursday, as different experiences were discussed in small groups. One Primate suggested that “a Primate is the first among equals”, one who embodies “the vision of the province, the mission of the Church, and the values that hold that province together”.

Many considered a Primate to be a voice for his or her province. The varying powers of different Primates, some who are also diocesan bishops, was also discussed.

Archbishop Winston Halapua of the Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, summarised many of the Primates’ view that their position was “a gift, not a right”.

The question was raised, not in a plenary, about how far Primates had responsibility for safeguarding the life of the Communion as a whole.  (No answers to these questions have been reported by the Anglican Communion News Service.)

The Dublin gathering is the 18th Primates’ Meeting. Those in attendance spent Thursday afternoon discussing what they expected to come out of the meeting. Dr Williams then gave a short history of Primates’ Meetings, explaining their original purpose when they were established in 1978 by Archbishop Donald Coggan, as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation”.

There was also an official welcome from the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Brian Cowen, read by the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper. It recognised the part that Churches have to play “in helping us to understand our current society, and to appreciate the significance of the spiritual and philosophical dimension of the problems and opportunities we face”.

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Tranquil, serene, private — looking in on the Primates

FRIDAY: “WELCOME to tranquillity,” says the brochure of the Emmaus Retreat and Conference Centre just outside Swords, a small town about 13 miles from Dublin — the venue for the Primates’ Meeting, which began on Tuesday.

Surrounded by leafy woodland, the serene setting belies the current tensions in the Anglican Communion, highlighted by the absence of a significant number of conservative Primates from the Global South who boycotted the meeting in protest at the inclusion of the US Episcopal Church.

The centre includes the Chapel of St Avila, where the Primates attend a daily eucharist. Religious artworks adorn the walls, including Days of Distress (right), which depicts an anguished man with his arms outstretched to heaven.

The centre’s bookshop seems to be doing a thriving trade among the Primates, who are there during breaks in meetings. But unlike at previous Primates’ Meetings, there is little willingness to talk to the press, and there are practically no journalists in attendance.Daily briefings are being released by the Anglican Communion Office, and while these have listed a number of the issues being discussed, such as what it means to be a primate in different regions of the Communion, they have not mentioned the big questions such as what the implications of the boycott might be for the future of the Anglican Communion; or what relationship these Primates can expect with their non-attending peers.

Paul Feheley, working with the Anglican Communion Office, said that the press was not being “gagged”; but there was a desire to keep the media away “to allow the Primates the space they need” to be able to have conversations “in a way that’s free”.

Of course, the absence of most of the conservatives means that there is no occasion for the briefing and counter-briefing that has been seen at earlier encounters of the Primates. 
 
All, then, awaits the final communiqué, planned for Sunday afternoon, which is expected to deliver the conclusions of the Primates who are present. In the mean time, I count 22 Primates in a circle, deep in discussion — visible only from afar.

Outside all is quiet, apart from the birdsong. The brochure was right about tranquillity. Whether the Primates here can inject some of that spirit into the politics of the Anglican Communion at large remains to be seen.

FRIDAY: “WELCOME to tranquillity,” says the brochure of the Emmaus Retreat and Conference Centre just outside Swords, a small town about 13 miles from Dublin — the venue for the Primates’ Meeting, which began on Tuesday.

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Surrounded by leafy woodland, the serene setting belies the current tensions in the Anglican Communion, highlighted by the absence of a significant number of conservative Primates from the Global South who boycotted the meeting in protest at the inclusion of the US Episcopal Church.

The centre includes the Chapel of St Avila, where the Primates attend a daily eucharist. Religious artworks adorn the walls, including Days of Distress (right), which depicts an anguished man with his arms outstretched to heaven.

The centre’s bookshop seems to be doing a thriving trade among the Primates, who are there during breaks in meetings. But unlike at previous Primates’ Meetings, there is little willingness to talk to the press, and there are practically no journalists in attendance.Daily briefings are being released by the Anglican Communion Office, and while these have listed a number of the issues being discussed, such as what it means to be a primate in different regions of the Communion, they have not mentioned the big questions such as what the implications of the boycott might be for the future of the Anglican Communion; or what relationship these Primates can expect with their non-attending peers.

Paul Feheley, working with the Anglican Communion Office, said that the press was not being “gagged”; but there was a desire to keep the media away “to allow the Primates the space they need” to be able to have conversations “in a way that’s free”.

Of course, the absence of most of the conservatives means that there is no occasion for the briefing and counter-briefing that has been seen at earlier encounters of the Primates. 
 
All, then, awaits the final communiqué, planned for Sunday afternoon, which is expected to deliver the conclusions of the Primates who are present. In the mean time, I count 22 Primates in a circle, deep in discussion — visible only from afar.

Outside all is quiet, apart from the birdsong. The brochure was right about tranquillity. Whether the Primates here can inject some of that spirit into the politics of the Anglican Communion at large remains to be seen.

Primates depleted as Dublin summit kicks off

MORE than one third of the provinces of the Anglican Com­munion are not represented at the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin, it was confirmed on Wednesday, as the summit got under way.

MORE than one third of the provinces of the Anglican Com­munion are not represented at the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin, it was confirmed on Wednesday, as the summit got under way.

An official list showed that 22 of the possible 38 Primates arrived in Dublin; 15 were absent. In addition, the Province of Central Africa, where there is currently a vacancy, is being represented by its Dean; and the Archbishop of York is also attending, to allow the Archbishop of Can­terbury to preside at the meeting.

As expected, a significant number of Global South Primates have boycotted the summit, although the Anglican Communion News Service said that just seven had stayed away because of “recent developments in the Episcopal Church”, namely its policy of ordaining gay bishops and allowing same-sex blessings.

These are the Primates of the Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Nigeria, Uganda, South East Asia, the Southern Cone, and West Africa.

Of the eight other absent Primates, the Primate of Congo was unable to attend because of visa difficulties, while the Primates of Mexico and Myanmar could not attend owing to health reasons. The Primates of Kenya and North India were absent because of “diary commitments”; while the Primate of Tanzania was not attending for “personal reasons”.

The last two absentees cited “provincial matters”: the Primate of Sudan because of the recent ref­erendum in his country, and the Primate of Rwanda, who was in­stalled only on Sunday.

Among the Primates in attend­ance, the Primate of Brazil, the Most Revd Mauricio Andrade, said that he was looking forward to a positive meeting, and that it was important that “dialogue continues between the different parts of the Anglican Communion”.

The secretary-general of the Angl­ican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, said that it was “regrettable when a Primate is unable attend, because it means that that particular perspective is not rep­resented, but it is ultimately the decision of each individual Primate in consultation with their province”.

Last Friday, a statement from Global South Anglican Online said that “it would be extremely difficult — and, in fact, quite pointless” to be present without a commitment to honour decisions from previous Primates’ Meetings.

This page will be updated as the Primates' Meeting progresses.

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