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Anglican Communion ‘flourishing’, and attached to Canterbury, Welby reports

17 November 2014


Seeking the prize of unity: Archbishop Welby addresses the Synod on Monday

Seeking the prize of unity: Archbishop Welby addresses the Synod on Monday

ANOTHER Lambeth Conference is "certainly achievable", despite the fact that divisions in the Anglican Communion "may be too much to manage", the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday.

In a presidential address to the General Synod, meeting in Church House, Westminster, the Archbishop delivered a strong defence of the Communion, seeking to correct reports it had all but ceased to exist. The speech won loud, sustained applause.

His visits to 36 of its Primates over the course of 18 months had shown him that it was "flourishing". He predicted, however, that, in a post-colonial world in which most of its members lived in the Global South, the future Communion was likely to look "very different from the past".

A meeting of the Primates would take place if there was a "majority view" among them that it would be a "good thing", he said. During a later press conference he declined to say how many of those he had met to date were in favour of such a move.

The agenda would "not be set centrally, but from around the Primates of the Communion"; but it would "ideally" include a discussion on whether or not to hold another Lambeth Conference.

A conference was, he said, "certainly achievable, but the decision is better made together, than in haste to meet an artificial deadline of a year ending in 8. . . We have to be sure that it is worth while. It will not be imposed, but part of a collective decision."

Asked about whether the Archbishop of Canterbury was likely to remain the head of the Communion, he said that he was "not overwhelmed by the need to remain having the principal role in the Communion", but he had been "surprised" by the strength of attachment to Canterbury evident in his visits to the Provinces.

"The idea of Canterbury matters," he said. "It is something that has come across very strongly. That is one of the things I have learned. . . Sometimes it has been put very forcefully." On one occasion he had been given "a really pretty strong telling off for saying anything else".

The last Lambeth Conference was held in Canterbury in 2008. One month before, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) was held in Jerusalem, and a number of Evangelical bishops boycotted Lambeth over disagreements about sexuality. A second GAFCON meeting was held in Nairobi last year ( News, 25 October, 2013).

There were, the Archbishop said, "enormous problems" in the Communion, including "deep divisions" about sexuality. In many parts, there was "a belief that opponents are either faithless to the tradition, or, by contrast, that they are cruel, judgemental, inhuman. I have to say that we are in a state so delicate that, without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures."

He repeated his warning that words spoken in the UK were heard "within minutes" around the world, and "analysed half to death" ( News, 11 April). In the pursuit of the prize of unity, Anglicans "cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours".

Speaking to the press after his address, the Archbishop said that, in most countries, sexuality was "not the principle consideration" but "it seems to matter". It varied, he said. In Melanesia, climate change was a primary consideration; in the DRC and South Sudan peace was the priority. Persecution, poverty, and the "Black Death" of Ebola were some of the threats facing the Communion.

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