AFRICAN Primates have joined bishops from the Episcopal Church to set out a vision for next year’s Lambeth Conference and articulate “those things held largely in common” — including, they argue, teaching on marriage.
The letter, signed by ten people in all, a mixture of Primates and bishops, calls on Anglican bishops, who have been invited to attend the Lambeth Conference, to “lay aside old recriminations” and to see the Communion as “not primarily a problem but rather a remarkable, though fragile, gift — a sign of the Church catholic”.
The letter emanates from the office of the Bishop of Dallas, Dr George R. Sumner. It suggests that “harsh disagreement ought not to be the dominant note the world hears from us. This multi-lingual letter lifts high those things held largely in common in order to build up and encourage.” At the recent Anglican Consultative Council, criticism was voiced, not least by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that proceedings were conducted in English.
The letter continues: “Though our provincial Books of Common Prayer show many variations, they all witness to the creedal center of our faith: the triune God, the divinity of Christ, his atoning death for the forgiveness of our sins, his bodily resurrection and ascension, and the Holy Spirit’s work in the scriptures and the Church’s life.
“There is agreement, furthermore, in most of the Communion about the received, traditional teaching concerning the nature of marriage, which is in accord with scripture. It found expression at Lambeth 1998 in Resolution 1.10.
“Finally, we Anglicans share a common history, for example the See of Canterbury itself, which is a symbol of our apostolic roots and common life. We hope for a Lambeth Conference where we take this common inheritance of truth seriously and seek to build upon it for the sake of witness and teaching.”
The most senior signatories are the Primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa, the Most Revd Daniel Sarfo, and the Primate of Burundi, the Most Revd Martin Nyaboho.
The letter suggests that the conservative grouping GAFCON could been seen as part of the tradition of “important movements of mission and renewal”.
GAFCON has announced an alternative gathering in Kigali, Rwanda, just before next year’s Lambeth Conference, but has stopped short of advising its supporters to boycott the official conference, which takes place in Canterbury from 22 July to 1 August next year. Four GAFCON Primates have said that they will stay away from from Canterbury.
The letter goes on: “We commend the Primates’ view that only Churches aligned with Communion teaching should represent it in ‘doctrine and polity. But we are also willing to listen to our colleagues who hold in conscience dissenting views. More generally, we all need in our hearts to lay aside old recriminations. . .”
It is “crucial”, the letter says, “that we reject all forms of cultural and racial pride, while listening and deliberating with one another with full respect. . .
“As it did a century ago, we hope Lambeth 2020 will remind us of the ecumenical calling from our Lord to be one as He and the Father are one.” The conference should be “an occasion of hope for ourselves and for the world”.
Dr Sumner is one of a small number of bishops in the Episcopal Church who, having initially prohibited the use of same-sex marriage rites in his diocese, has delegated pastoral oversight of parishes that have requested it to an episcopal colleague.
On Thursday, he suggested that the letter had secured support from “more traditional bishops throughout the Anglican Communion, in the centre”.
The other signatories are: the Assistant Bishop of Dallas, the Rt Revd Michael G. Smith; the Bishop of Honduras, the Rt Revd Lloyd Emmanuel Allen; the Bishop in Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, Dr Mouneer Anis; the Bishop of Nampula, Mozambique, the Rt Revd Manuel Ernesto; the Bishop of Nairobi, the Rt Revd Joel Waweru; the Bishop of Penrith (in the Church of England), Dr Emma Ineson; and the Bishop of Mishamikoweesh in the Anglican Church of Canada, the Rt Revd Lydia Mamakwa.
Dr Anis has previously urged Primates in the Global South to focus on challenges in their regions rather than “reacting to the unilateral decisions and the changes in the theology and practice made by some Churches in the West” (News, 14 October 2016). Bishop Waweru has been part of the Kenyan delegation to the Anglican Consultative Council for the past two meetings (News, 4 May 2019).
Both Archbishop Sarfo and Archbishop Nyaboho have recorded interviews for the Anglican Communion News Service, expressing their intention to attend the Conference next year.
The Archbishop of Kenya, the Rt Revd Jackon Ole Sapit, who had previously said that he would attend (Features, 30 November 2018), was reported in Religion News Service last month as saying he would boycott the Conference.