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Archbishop of Canterbury no longer our leader after Synod vote, say GSFA Primates

20 February 2023

 NEIL TURNER/ACO

Archbishop Welby visits a chapel next to Holy Trinity Cathedral, Accra, on Sunday, for one of many local services held on the final day of the Plenary meeting

Archbishop Welby visits a chapel next to Holy Trinity Cathedral, Accra, on Sunday, for one of many local services held on the final day of the Plenary...

A GROUP of conservative Primates declared on Monday that they no longer recognised the current Archbishop of Canterbury as the de facto leader of the Anglican Communion.

A statement, issued on Monday morning on behalf of a dozen Primates connected to the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), says that the Church of England has “chosen to break communion with those provinces who remain faithful to the historic biblical faith” by allowing blessings for same-sex couples (News, 9 February).

The statement follows a virtual meeting chaired by the Archbishop of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi, last week.

The statement identifies the decision to bless same-sex couples, approved in the Church of England’s General Synod earlier this month, as the cause of the rupture.

“As the Church of England has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles by this innovation in the liturgies of the Church and her pastoral practice . . . she has disqualified herself from leading the Communion as the historic ‘Mother’ Church,” the statement says.

The Primates write that being unable to be in communion with the Church of England “breaks our hearts and we pray for the revisionist provinces to return to ‘the faith once delivered’ (Jude 3) and to us.”

The statement also challenges Archbishop Welby’s position as the “first among equals” within the Communion. “We pray that our withdrawal of support for him to lead the whole Communion is received by him as an admonishment in love,” the statement says.

On Monday afternoon, Lambeth Palace issued a response to the GSFA statement: “The deep disagreements that exist across the Anglican Communion on sexuality and marriage are not new,” a spokesperson said. “It is a fundamental principle of the Anglican Communion that no province can bind another province.”

The spokesperson referred to Archbishop Welby’s comments at the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) last week in Ghana, when he suggested that he would be open to relinquishing his position as an Instrument of Communion (News, 17 February).

At the ACC meeting, there was, the spokesperson said, “widespread support for working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship. The Archbishop is in regular contact with his fellow Primates and looks forward to discussing this and other matters with them over the coming period.”

The Communion’s secretary-general, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, in a statement on Monday afternoon, said that he had read the GSFA Primates’ statement “with sadness”, but was “grateful for its frankness and candour.

“The statement raises important questions for our collective consideration. The Primates who signed the statement have been consistently clear in upholding the traditional Christian doctrine that the proper place for sexual intimacy is within marriage, and that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman. These doctrines are held by the vast majority of Anglicans around the world,” Bishop Poggo said.

He sought to make two clarifications to the GSFA: the House of Bishops in the Church of England held that it had not changed the doctrine of marriage, despite the GSFA’s allegation that it had; and “the commitment of Anglicans to walking together was not, and is not, ‘prescribed by the Anglican Communion Office’” (as the GSFA statement suggested).

That commitment had been affirmed by representatives from 39 of the 42 Provinces at the ACC meeting, he said. It was agreed as “part of a proposal from the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) — a body which includes some of the primates from the Global South — to ‘explore theological questions regarding structure and decision-making to help address our differences in the Anglican Communion.’ IASCUFO plans to complete its project over the next year.

“I know that IASCUFO will welcome any proposals from the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans — and others — on whether changes should be made to the Instruments of Communion, including the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Archbishop Welby had asked him to arrange a Primates’ Meeting soon, and had, Bishop Poggo said, “indicated that he is willing for sessions of this meeting that are discussing the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Communion to be chaired by other primates selected by them to enable open discussion”.

At the Lambeth Conference in July, the GSFA offered bishops in attendance the opportunity to sign a “resolution” reaffirming Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Conference as the “official teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality”, and announced that they would seek to effect a “reset” in the Communion (News, 6 August 2022).

Among the 12 GSFA Primates who endorsed Monday’s statement, two represent Churches that are not members of the Anglican Communion: the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, the Most Revd Foley Beach, and the Primate of the Anglican Church in Brazil, the Most Revd Miguel Uchoa Cavalcanti.

 

IN THEIR statement, the GSFA Primates pledged to “carefully work with other orthodox Primates to provide Primatial and episcopal oversight to orthodox dioceses and networks of Anglican churches who indicate their need and who consult with us”.

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has called for “visible differentiation” within the structure of the Church after the Synod vote on blessings for same-sex couples (News, 10 February).

On Monday, a spokesperson for the CEEC said that it had “given consideration as to whether a developing relationship with the GSFA might be possible and appropriate”. A GSFA spokesperson told the Church Times that the CEEC had been invited into associate membership of the GSFA. An application form on the GSFA website enables an “Anglican network, organisation, province or diocese” to apply for associate membership.

In January, the CEEC’s director of strategy and operations, Canon John Dunnett, said that there was a “warm relationship” between the two organisations (News, 31 January).

A former Bishop of Singapore, the Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, who is the honorary director of the GSFA executive secretariat, was present at the CEEC’s annual residential meeting in January.

The charity SOMA UK also expressed opposition to the prospect of blessings for same-sex couples in the C of E in a statement on Monday. “We are distressed by the inevitable impact that this will have upon the unity of the Anglican Communion,” it said.

The statement, addressed to “church leaders in the Global South” by the chair of trustees, the Ven. Kevin Roberts, and the national director, the Revd Richard Moy, promised that they would “pray as you make decisions about future alignments within the Anglican Communion”.

“If ever the churches in the West needed the witness of the vibrant and growing churches of the Global South, it is now,” the statement ends.

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