Leader: Decommissioning

by
02 February 2011

IT IS a shame that the Primates were so media-shy in Dublin. It would have been good to catch on film an image of the names of the absent Primates placed variously around a candle or on empty chairs rather than having to rely on a verbal description. In whatever medium, however, it must be the abiding image of this Primates’ Meeting. We trust that it was done in the same spirit as when a place is set for Elijah at Passover, and not in the way in which Lord Hattersley was once represented on Have I Got News For You 1.

The Canadian Primate, Archbishop Hiltz, reported afterwards that the Primates at the meeting had “endeavoured to consider, as much as we could, their perspective on the issue before us”. They were successful on at least one point: the Global South absentees had wished to signal by their absence the insignificance of the Primates’ Meeting, as long as it proved unable or unwilling to enforce earlier disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church in the United States concerning gay bishops and same-sex unions. The Primates who were present in Dublin showed remarkable compliance, redefining the Primates’ Meeting as an essentially toothless body.

Those unfamiliar with recent Anglican history might overlook the importance of that dull list produced in Dublin, with an even duller title: “Towards an Understanding of the Purpose and Scope of the Primates’ Meeting”. Until their principled — and possibly unwise — decision to give the Primates’ Meeting up as a bad job, the conservatives saw the gathering as a potential power-base to rival the other instruments of the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury was an individual attached awkwardly to an ex-colonial power; the Lambeth Conference met only once a decade; and the Anglican Consultative Council, well . . . This left the Primates’ Meeting, the most representative body in the Communion — if you saw no need to represent lay people, the parish clergy, women, etc. Not only did it meet every two years: there was the prospect of a permanent standing committee, which could govern between meetings.

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Suddenly there was the prospect of an effective, powerful gov­ern­ing body, in charge of theological and ethical pronounce­ments, discipline, and membership. Furthermore, the con­servatives might be strong enough to control it. It is in this light that the redefinition of the Primates’ Meeting, framed in their absence, must be seen. Note how the document refers to “taking counsel”, “being collegial”, “being consultative”, and “acknow­ledging diversity and giving space for difference”. On the pressing issues of faith, order, and ethics, the Primates are merely to “seek continuity and coherence”, whatever that means. And the standing committee has been tucked neatly away, to “act as a consultative council for the Archbishop of Canterbury” and to care for the “life and spirit” of the Primates’ Meeting, whatever that means. If the conservatives ever choose to return, they will find that the guns have been spiked.

In 1993, after cancelling his booked appearance on Have I Got News For You for the third time, Lord Hattersley's place was taken by a tub of lard, to which the other participants addressed comments and questions.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KddkyZ1UG5g

In 1993, after cancelling his booked appearance on Have I Got News For You for the third time, Lord Hattersley's place was taken by a tub of lard, to which the other participants addressed comments and questions.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KddkyZ1UG5g

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