NEXT week’s Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury is likely to impose the same “consequences” for the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) for endorsing same-sex marriage as those set out for the Episcopal Church in the United States last year.
After the meeting in January 2016 in Canterbury, the Primates agreed that US Episcopalians should not take part in decision-making on doctrine or polity in the Communion for three years (News, 15 January 2016). They were also prohibited from representing the Anglican Communion at ecumenical and interfaith talks.
Imposing the same sanctions, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted did not amount to punishment, on the SEC is likely to be agreed by the 34 Primates.
While some conservative voices in the Communion questioned whether the consequences had any teeth after last year’s Anglican Consultative Council meeting — in which delegates from the US played a full part — sanctions on the Scots are expected to mean that the new Primus will be unable to follow his predecessor in leading the Anglican dialogue with the Reformed Churches.
There is also a Scottish Episcopalian on the ACC’s standing committee, Alistair Dinnie; but it is understood that he cannot be removed legally, and any change in the committee’s make-up would have to wait until elections in 2019.
Archbishop Welby spoke personally to each of the Primates during the summer to reassure them that he had not failed to enforce the consequences on the US Episcopal Church, and to gather their thoughts on what the next Primates’ Meeting should discuss.
REUTERS/PACounterparts: Archbishop Welby with the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, arrive to visit South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, at Mirieyi settlement camp in Adjumani district, in August
The Primates of Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda, however, are boycotting next week’s meeting because they refuse to continue to engage with the US Episcopal Church. Writing on the American Anglican Council’s website this month, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, said that he would not attend “because for me, as an African, ‘Abarya kamwe’, meaning ‘one eats with those one agrees with or are in agreement with.’ Or, as the prophet Amos and our Lord Jesus said, ‘Can two walk together unless they are agreed?’”
Their absence is likely to be a source of frustration for Archbishop Welby, who had hailed the unanimous decision of the Primates last year to “walk together” as a significant step forward.
In contrast with 2016’s gathering, the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Dr Foley Beach, will not be present.
After spending Monday and Tuesday discussing these internal issues of sanctions for the SEC, and the build-up to the next Lambeth Conference in 2020, the next three days of the Primates’ Meeting will turn outwards, looking at challenges facing the Communion, such as climate change, religious persecution, conflict, and refugee issues.
As well as the three African Archbishops who have refused to attend, the Primates of Myanmar, Central America, and Tanzania are unable to join the meeting for other reasons.
Sixteen of the Primates in attendance will be new ones who did not take part at the last meeting, and will bring “fresh energy” but also “tough questions”, Archbishop Welby said last week.
In a video posted last week by the Anglican Communion News Service — part of the Anglican Communion Office, which is organising the meeting — Archbishop Welby said that the presence of 16 Primates who had not attended the 2016 gathering would bring “a whole lot of fresh energy and fresh excitement — and, no doubt, some tough questions, which will come from them having not been there before”.
Archbishop Welby said that the task group set up after the 2016 Primates’ Meeting — to “look at the issues that were dividing us, obviously particularly the issue of human sexuality” — would present its preliminary report.
Lambeth Palace is understood to be confident that there is not yet any serious prospect of a fresh split in the Communion. Even within those Provinces whose Primates refuse to attend meetings at which the US Episcopal Church is represented, there remain plenty of dioceses and bishops who would not countenance a formal split from Canterbury.
Continuing Commonwealth ties are understood to be resilient, and affection towards the Church of England remains, together with long-established relationships between Provinces. Archbishop Welby will announce the appointment of a new special representative to the Commonwealth in the coming weeks to build on these links.
An open letter was sent to all the Primates by the Human Sexuality Group on the General Synod, on Tuesday. Noting Synod votes this year, the letter says: “The direction of travel for the Church of England is clearer than ever, for which we give thanks.” It reminds the Primates of the section of the 2016 communiqué condemning “homophobic prejudice and violence”, and rejecting “criminal sanctions against same-sex-attracted people”.