AS RSVPs go, the Primates’ first responses to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to meet next January vary from the enthusiastic to the heavily caveated. The reaction in the Northern hemisphere has so far been positive.
Despite the Archbishop’s unexpected decision to invite a representative of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Episcopal Church confirmed that the Rt Revd Michael Curry, who is due to succeed Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop, would attend.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Most Revd Archbishop Fred Hiltz, welcomed the meeting as “a good thing”. Speaking on Tuesday, he described the decision to invite ACNA — it is understood that the representative will be present for one day, before the formal meeting gets under way — as “an opportunity for some conversation, in the ultimate hope that we might be able to find a way forward towards reconciliation”.
US bishops also welcomed the Archbishop’s initiative, despite reservations. “I hope that all will be in attendance, and participate fully,” the Bishop of Vermont, the Rt Revd Thomas C. Ely, said. “It is not clear to me the reasoning behind inviting other guests who are not Primates of the Anglican Communion to this meeting, especially since this is the first meeting of the Primates in quite some time.
“Clearly the Archbishop, with his wider perspective on things, thinks this is a good idea, and so I trust his judgement.”
The Archbishop of ACNA, Dr Foley Beach, confirmed that he would accept the invitation if the GAFCON Primates did, “and I am expecting that they will.”
A statement from GAFCON said that it would “prayerfully consider” the invitation. “The crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching, which continues without repentance or discipline.”
The GAFCON Primates have stayed away from recent Primates’ Meetings. It was “some encouragement” that ACNA had been invited, a statement said.
A pastoral letter issued by the Most Revd Eliud Wabukala, the Kenyan Primate and GAFCON chairman, this week, was less than sanguine about the state of the Communion, which had become, he suggested, “a source of weakness, as Churches which have rejected the truth as Anglicans have received it spread false teaching, yet continue to enjoy full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury”.
Anxiety about the direction of the Church in the West was also expressed by the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, the Most Revd Clyde Igara, who said on Tuesday that he had “some reservations” about the meeting.
“Our big and elderly sisters continue to dominate,” he said. “They want to dominate their influence on the Communion by their Western theology.” The Communion should accommodate “both the big and elder brothers, and the younger growing ones”.
He hoped to attend the meeting, but on the understanding that the Communion was “not compromising between the truth and a lie”.
But there was a warm welcome from elsewhere in the global south. “We wholeheartedly support the Archbishop of Canterbury for this important meeting,” the Primate of West Africa, the Most Revd Daniel Sarfo, said. “It is the right way for all the Primates to support him chart the way forward.”
The Archbishop of Brazil, the Most Revd Francisco de Assis da Silva, suggested that the meeting could “strengthen our sense of body and allow us to move forward as one”.
He called for “a very proactive agenda . . . We have focused much on the issues of sexuality, but I think it may be time to go beyond that. I think it is time to focus on other needs of our world.”
The diversity within the Communion had been “framed at times in a negative light”, suggested one of the Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, the Most Revd William Brown Turei. “One reaction to this has been a strong demand for uniformity, imposed and enforced.” The way forward was “to embrace our diversity and focus on unity, and not uniformity, and to love unconditionally in the way that God first loved us”.
The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, agreed. “We have spent too much time and energy in the last decade to deal with our differences; it is about time for us to focus our attention to our commonality,” he said. “Mission is one of our commonalities. . . There are far too many pressing issues that the provinces in the Communion can work together to help resolve than the issue of sexuality. Issues like poverty, refugees, and military conflicts and many more.”
"The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the integral and inseparable instruments of the Anglican Communion," said the Archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Revd Bolly Anak Lapok. "One of the Archbishop's functions is to preside over the annual meeting of the Primates regardless whether a primate or some primates are ready or not. This is not just the way forward; without it the Communion is dysfunctional."
Reports that Archbishop Welby is envisaging a looser structure for the Communion (News, 18 September) did not meet with universal approval.
Archbishop Wabukala said that it was “very sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling a meeting of Primates to see if the Communion can be saved by making relationships between its Churches more distant rather than closer”.
It was "very sad that we look like we are moving toward a provisional separation", said the Archbishop of Korea, the Most Revd Paul K. Kim. "I don’t really want to agree with the opinion that it is time for our communion to make an exit strategy. . . I don’t want to concede that our communion has failed to keep a creative tension among those conflicting opinions. I have thought that an inclusive Catholicism or comprehensiveness is the most important aspect of Anglicanism."
He went on: "I am really worried about that, although the separation is temporal, it could narrow the space for those who are in between both extreme ends. . . The separation could be interpreted as extremists’ victory against all the sincere efforts. . .
"If we move toward a separation and have to choose one position between both extremes, is it really possible to keep a sincere missionary dialogue with our respected society and culture?"
Archbishop Hiltz confessed to being “not encouraged” by the "looser structure" scenario.
“I am uneasy with the notion that the Communion could be reshaped into a group of churches that all have some kind of relationship with Canterbury but not one another,” he said. “It flies in the face of our historic understanding of the Communion.”
Despite gloomy pronouncements from elsewhere, he said that he was full of hope for the Communion, suggesting that, of its four instruments, only the Primates Meeting was not functioning.
“I don’t think the instruments of Communion are as broken as some people think or say they are, and I am also a person that sees so much evidence of hopefulness with respect to our unity," he said.
The programme twinning dioceses “links people in beautiful ways”, he said, and initiatives such as cycles of prayer were “wonderfully energetic hope-filled signs to me of a unity that actually far surpasses the tensions and the divisions”.