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Primates’ Meeting ends with call to avoid narrow-mindedness and focus on ‘total gospel’

06 October 2017


“Walking together”: the Primates gather for a photo in Canterbury Cathedral

“Walking together”: the Primates gather for a photo in Canterbury Cathedral

A PRIMATE from the Global South, in office for just over a year and praised for “eschewing doctrinal disputes” in order to focus on poverty, was the main speaker for much of the final Primates’ Meeting press conference last Friday.

The Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Jackson Ole Sapit, called on the Church to avoid being “narrow-minded” and instead to give the world the “total gospel” by responding to social need.

Archbishop Sapit gave a very different account of the meeting to that presented at a GAFCON press conference on Tuesday, where it was said that some Primates might walk out. He spoke of his “delight that we were able to share deeply”, and said that a particular highlight had been “the extent to which discussions went in a very broad way”.

“The main thing for the Church is to be a witness and to go out there and not focus too much on narrow, probably internal differences,” he said. “Sometimes they can be amplified to the extent to which we forget that we are in a mission field. . . The spirit here was ‘what are the weighty issues that are facing the world?’ . . . We can’t allow ourselves not to listen to what is happening in the world around us.”

A communiqué issued on Friday listed an extensive number of issues discussed during the five-day meeting in Canterbury, including evangelism, peace building, refugees, climate change, freedom of religion, and hunger. At least half the provinces in the Communion are affected by threats to food security.

The Archbishop of Canterbury described the focus on these issues as an attempt “to return the Primates’ Meeting to what I think all of us have wanted it to be”.

The communiqué says that the Primates were “saddened” by the absence of representatives from Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda. On Thursday, GAFCON released a statement saying that “persistent assertions that the Primates of the Anglican Communion are walking together’ do not reflect the reality”.

The communiqué states a renewed agreement to “walk together while acknowledging the distance that exists in our relationships due to deep differences in understanding on same-sex marriage”. It confirms the consequences for the Scottish Episcopal Church (News, 6 October). It states that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is not a province of the Anglican Communion, but says that members of it “should be treated with love as fellow Christians”.

There is a section on “cross-border interventions”, which states that “persistent and deliberate non-consensual cross-border activity breaks trust and weakens our communion”.

It goes on: “We recognised that there is a need for a season of repentance and renewal including where interventions may have happened without prior permission having been sought.”

ANGLICAN ARCHIVESPraying together: the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, leads the Primates in candlelit prayers in Canterbury Cathedral, on Tuesday of last week

Archbishop Welby has previously criticised cross-border interventions, after the appointment of a “Missionary Bishop for Europe" within ACNA, the Rt Revd Andy Lines (News, 16 June). During the press conference, he said that they caused “demoralisation, division, and a loss of impetus in the life of the Church”. But he declined to give an example of where it was happening: “It would sound as if I were attacking particular individuals.”

In a statement issued by GAFCON UK on Friday, Bishop Lines said that the communiqué “does not criticise false teaching, but focuses on ‘border crossing’ as if it is more harmful. I take the long-established view of orthodox Anglicans across the world, that we cannot make an equivalence between Provinces who choose to abandon key aspects of biblical theology and ethics, tearing the fabric of the Communion and putting souls in danger, and those who respond to calls for help from faithful Anglicans within those Provinces.”

There are signs that Primates in the Global South are increasingly seeking to focus on pressing issues facing their communities, rather than moves in the West. Last year, the President-Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis, said that they had spent “almost two decades reacting to the unilateral decisions and the changes in theology and practice made by some Churches in the West” (News, 3 October, 2016).

Archbishop Sapit was singled out for praise in the last report of the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who said that his colleague was “not interested in a divided church, but will concentrate on development in rural and urban areas and on reaching out to Muslim neighbours”. He was an example of those “eschewing doctrinal disputes in order to concentrate on the need to relieve poverty” (News, 8 September). Kenya has high rates of poverty and unemployment and is facing tensions over the re-run of the presidential elections (News, 11 August). The press conference began with prayers for the country, after reports that police had used tear-gas on protesters.

The Church must not have a “narrow-minded” focus, Archbishop Sapit said at Friday’s press conference, but preach “the total gospel . . . not just one area of preaching the Gospel and bringing people to the Church but how do we respond to communities’ issues and needs?” This was the example of Jesus: “He healed the sick physically and forgave sin at the same time. He fed the hungry, he talked about nature. He talked about everything, about social life.”

He has previously described growing up with “basically nothing” after the death of his father when he was a small child, and being sponsored through the Christian charity World Vision.

Missing from the communiqué was any mention of corruption, described in last year’s communiqué as a “deep evil”, on which Dr Idowu-Fearon would commission a study to be discussed at this year’s meeting. Archbishop Welby confirmed on Friday that the study had not been finished.

Archbishop Sapit spoke at length about the extent of corruption in all parts of society across the world, manifest in mismanagement of resources, embezzlement of funds, and depriving people of their rights. The Church must look to its own issues first, he said.

“What we need to focus on. . . is to be able to do things right ourselves, so that we are able to hold other people accountable with a moral voice that is so desperately needed in our world today. The problem is that we don’t have that moral voice because the more you point the finger three fingers are pointing at you. . . We can’t shy away from it, we have to face it.”

Archbishop Welby summarised the week’s meeting as “energising and at times deeply heart-breaking . . . one full of hope and solidarity”.

But the last word went to Archbishop Sapit, who praised his wife, now looked to as a leader in her own right. A Maasai born in a remote part of Kenya, he was the only person in his family to have a formal education, something denied to his wife. “I find her counsel to be very, very wise,” he said.

 Read the full communiqué here

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