First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Primates meeting in Tanzania

Primates meeting in Tanzania

The Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed suspending the Primates Meeting—the fourth ‘instrument of unity’ in the Anglican Communion—in favour of holding multiple small group gatherings of like minded archbishops.

In a letter to the primates dated Oct 7, Dr. Rowan Williams suggested that given the “number of difficult conversations” and the threat of a boycott of its meetings, a regime of separate but equal facilitated small groups sessions might better serve the primates’ “diverse” perspectives and forestall the substantial “damage” to the communion a full-fledged boycott would entail.

Dr. Williams also called for a reform of the structure of the meetings, suggesting that an elected standing committee be created and the powers and responsibility of the meeting of the communion’s 38 archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators be delineated.

Lambeth Palace did not respond to a request for clarification about the Oct 7 letter, while a spokesman for the Anglican Consultative Council said it could not address the question of a potential boycott as “the content of correspondence between the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury is private.”

On Oct 24 Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz warned a joint meeting of the Canadian Anglican and Lutheran House of Bishops of the boycott threat.  “There is a lot of tension within the group,” he said, as some primates were “unwilling to come to the table with everyone present.”

The Anglican Journal reported that Archbishop Hiltz believed Dr. Williams “might try to deal with this problem by arranging prior meetings of smaller groups of like-minded primates.”

The African primates attending the All African Bishops meeting in Entebbe on Aug 24 told Dr. Williams they would not attend future primates meeting if US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Hiltz were there.  The African primates voiced their concern over unilateral actions taken by the North American churches and also upbraided Dr. Williams for what they saw as his pusillanimity in responding to the ensuing crisis of doctrine and discipline.

The Archbishop of Canterbury answered his critics in Entebbe by stating he did not have the authority to withhold invitations, CEN was told by those present at the meeting.  However, a formal boycott of the meeting has not been announced by the African primates, as further consultations with the Gafcon coalition and other like minded primates are scheduled.

The following month, Dr. Williams published notice that the next primates meeting would take place from Jan 25 to 31, 2011 at the Emmaus Retreat & Conference Centre in Dublin.  On Sept 21 Bishop Jefferts Schori stated she had received notice of the meeting, and was planning on attending.

Subsequent meetings of the GAFCON primates in Oxford in October and a second meeting of the CAPA primates on Nov 8-9 in Nairobi have yielded a common resolve to oppose the North American block, but a common tactical response to the threat has yet to be decided, sources tell CEN.   Suggestions under consideration range from a boycott of the Dublin meeting, the convening of a rival primates meeting, the withdrawal of the Global South from all pan-Anglican gatherings for a season, or accommodating Dr. Williams and his pleas for restraint one more time.

What was certain, one primate told CEN, was the resolve of the Global South/Gafcon/CAPA coalition not to walk away from the Communion, but seek its reform and renewal.


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