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WhatsApp helps Anglican Primates walk closer together

24 December 2019

Lambeth Conference Company

The Lambeth Conference planners are organising what they call “The Big Hello” for the 1000 or so bishops from the Anglican Communion who are expected in the summer. Bishops will be greeted on arrival, and paired with dioceses and parishes in the UK

The Lambeth Conference planners are organising what they call “The Big Hello” for the 1000 or so bishops from the Anglican Communion who are expected ...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has telephoned all 40 Anglican Primates in advance of the Primates’ Meeting next month.

The calls and messages through a WhatsApp group were cited as an example of the new “relational, collaborative” approach to leadership under Archbishop Welby at a briefing by the Anglican Communion Office (ACO) last week.

The Primates will meet in Jordan, in a hotel complex beside what is believed to be Christ’s baptismal site, from 12 to 15 January. The Primates’ Meeting is one of the four “instruments” that hold the Anglican Communion together. The others are the Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of all the bishops worldwide; the Anglican Consultative Council; and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The first day in Jordan, a Sunday, will be devoted to newly elected Primates who are attending their first meeting. There will follow three “intense” days of debate, most of which will be looking forward to the next Lambeth Conference, for all the Anglican bishops worldwide, which begins in Canterbury in late July. A communiqué is expected at the end of Wednesday. On the Thursday, the Primates will split up into pilgrimage groups to explore the region, at the invitation of the host Primate, Archbishop Suheil Dawani.

Although Archbishop Welby has been in touch with all the Primates, three will not be attending the January meeting on principle, in recognition of the differences that persist in the Communion over sexuality. In 2016 the Primates resolved to “walk together”, if at some distance apart. The three Provinces not to be represented in Jordan are Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda.

A forth, South India, will also be unrepresented: the Primates’ Meeting coincides with a provincial synod at which a new Moderator will be elected.

The Primates do not have a veto on the Lambeth Conference agenda, an ACO official said last week, “but the Archbishop [of Canterbury] is committed to consulting and hearing their views, and receiving their input. . .

“What the Archbishop has discovered over the years working closely with the Primates, is that, while they don’t have vetoes, they do appreciate being respected, and having the courtesy of learning about things before they’re out there.”

Thanks to the phone calls, all the Primates were much more aware of the mood among them. “There is a lot of relational activity going on,” the official said.

There had been a “generational shift”, he suggested, “between the Primates who fought the early stages of the ‘war’ [over sexuality] and those who are now trying to make the early stages of the peace, and the spirit is very different. Everybody is very conscious of the damage that the ‘war’ did to our life together in the Communion.

“Whatever the way forward may be, and how we live with that difference around human sexuality, I think that there is an absolute commitment across the Primates that how we handle it is done in a very different spirit, with a very different model of ecclesiology, and honest conversation that isn’t into bartering and Westminster models of decision-making.”

This was not to dismiss the continuing divisions in the Communion. Relationally, the official said, “there is an honesty to live with the pain of what it feels like when they differ deeply.” But the commitment to “walk together” was the narrative that he had heard more than talk of schism, which came from those outside the core Anglican leadership.

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