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‘Consequences’ for Scottish Episcopal Church in the offing when Primates meet, after gay marriage vote

28 September 2017


Cloistered: Canterbury Cathedral

Cloistered: Canterbury Cathedral

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”.

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