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Leader: January in Kent

25 September 2015

ANGLICANISM may be a compelling manifestation of Christianity, but it has no compulsion about it. The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited 37 Primates to Canterbury next January. He has no way of making them turn up. Decisions will be made according to the criteria that apply to all invitations. There is, of course, the question of availability, but, given that Archbishop Welby made the effort to get round the whole Communion in his first 18 months, we can expect Primates to be willing to cut into their mid-winter (or mid-summer) breaks. Then, in reverse order of importance, comes the setting. The precincts at Canterbury are hard to beat for beauty and peace, rare commodities in the lives of some of the Primates. A mother church is a theoretical concept, but Canterbury Cathedral has a decent stab at embodying it.

Next, the menu. At present there is a bit of pot-luck about this, since the invitation encouraged a bring-your-own approach to the agenda. The future shape of the Communion will give the Primates plenty to chew on. The key question is whether a buffet-style approach, consisting of various national dishes, will provide enough reason to come together in future.

This leads on to the next element: the other guests. Ah. This has been the bone of contention at recent Primates’ Meetings. The small but influential GAFCON group has said before that it will not attend any gathering at which the US or Canadian provinces are present, owing to disagreements about the consecration of partnered gay people and the blessing of same-sex unions. Nor would they attend if the breakaway (not a word they use) Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) were not invited. Well, Archbishop Foley Beach from ACNA has been invited, at least to part of the meeting (unspecified), and has indicated a willingness to appear.

Finally, there is the host. Archbishop Welby believes that respect for his office — he makes no claims for his person — remains a unifying factor in the Communion. There is always, of course, the danger that this will be interpreted as an out-dated imperialist concept; also, that it hides the fact that Christianity is, first a Middle Eastern, and, second, a universal religion, not an English one. None the less, the charism of the English Church, forged by the character of these Isles, and exported through the accidents of history, has, through the offices of the Holy Spirit, taken root in communities around the world. Despite differences in language and culture, there remains a recognisably common approach to liturgy, theology, and authority. The very fact that the Primates can argue and cavil so publicly and shamelessly is, in a way, evidence that Anglicanism is an integral part of their make-up.

There will be time between now and January to consider some of the options for the Communion. For now, we simply express the hope that everyone will come to the party.

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