THE status of the Primates’ Meeting has shifted over the years. The original purpose under Archbishop Donald Coggan was to meet for “prayer and fellowship”.
Things changed with the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem (GAFCON) in 2008: a meeting that turned a movement. Conservative Primates expressed the view that, since the Lambeth Conference met only once a decade, the Primates’ Meeting should act as a form of interim executive committee. They wanted the Primates to become gatekeepers for the Anglican Communion, deciding which Provinces could join or stay, and, by extension, which behaviours and policies (especially in relation to homosexuality) were acceptable.
Such a move has been resisted by Lambeth, not least because of the high turnover of Primates. In Jordan, 13 of the Primates will be new; thus any sort of consistent management by the group would be difficult. The other objection has been to the setting up of any sort of Curia, as in the Vatican.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, as one of the four instruments of unity, has retained to himself the right to invite new Provinces to join the Communion, besides exercising discipline — to the extent of inviting Provinces such as the United States and Canada to experience the consequences of taking unilateral decisions over sexuality. (These “consequences” proved to be relational rather than structural, and not very heinous.)
The boycott by Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda, and the continuing refusal to extend an invitation to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the conservative grouping that broke away from the official US Episcopal Church, are indications that the status quo remains, and conservatives are contenting themselves with alternative networks.
The view of the Anglican Communion Office is that the two groups can “walk together”: i.e. co-exist. Several of the Primates scheduled to appear in Jordan are on the GAFCON council. An ACO official admitted last month that the Communion lacked structure and certainty, and, instead, lived with ambiguity. “And that for me is totally fine, as long as we use the opportunities that arise in the course of the various meetings and exchanges and gatherings in a positive and creative way.”