By David W. Virtue DD
October 1, 2015

There have been no refusals, so far, to the call of the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet in Canterbury next January, except we have not heard from the leader of the most powerful Anglican province, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

No matter, we will, but it will be on his schedule, his terms, and his timetable, not on anyone else’s including the ABC’s. He will consult with his GAFCON brethren first, VOL has been told.

Responses range from mildly enthusiastic to heavily caveated with most of the West (Global North) being positive. The one biggest thorn is how to interpret the appearance of Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The Episcopal Church’s yet to be installed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will attend; he is generally enthusiastic.

While the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Most Rev. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, welcomed the meeting as “a good thing,” he described the decision to invite ACNA this way. “It is understood that the representative will be present for one day, before the formal meeting gets under way — as an opportunity for some conversation, in the ultimate hope that we might be able to find a way forward towards reconciliation”.

No, not really. Beach’s appearance is the only reason the GAFCON archbishops would even attend. Hiltz is treating Beach’s pre gathering appearance like a nuisance mosquito bite or like one who has been invited for hors d’oeuvres, but not the full dinner, because Welby has not formally invited him unless he is prepared to be reconciled to his “brother” North American archbishops.

That is not how Kenyan Primate Eliud Wabukala sees it.

The central issue for the GAFCON archbishops is the heretical stands of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The ONLY reason the Global South archbishops will attend is if Archbishop Beach is invited to come. If Welby is not prepared to deal with the apostasies of TEC and the ACoC, it will all fall apart.

That’s a whole different take on the matter.

The Bishop of Vermont, the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, said, “It is not clear to me the reasoning behind inviting other guests who are not Primates of the Anglican Communion to this meeting, especially since this is the first meeting of the Primates in quite some time. Clearly the Archbishop, with his wider perspective on things, thinks this is a good idea, and so I trust his judgement.”

He doesn’t seem to get it either. This is not a Primates meeting. The last one was in Ireland in 2008 when a third of the Primates were no shows. There have been none since. This is a special call by the Archbishop of Canterbury to see if the two integrities can live together or whether to call the Communion quits. What about that do Hiltz and Ely not understand?

This won’t be primarily about climate change or some social justice issue. It will be about the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Unless Beach is given full access and allowed to speak to this cabal of primates the gabfest is doomed.

Archbishop Beach is on record saying that he would accept the invitation if the GAFCON Primates do, “and I am expecting that they will.” So far, so good.

A statement from GAFCON said that it would “prayerfully consider” the invitation. “The crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching, which continues without repentance or discipline.”

This is about church doctrine and teaching, not a Kumbaya global warming moment and why can’t we all just get along. This is a come to Jesus moment for Hiltz and Curry and any liberal leaning Western archbishop more in thrall with the culture than Scripture.

The GAFCON Primates have stayed away from recent Primates’ gatherings. The last was in 2008. It was “some encouragement” that ACNA has been invited, a statement said.

A pastoral letter issued by the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, the Kenyan Primate and GAFCON chairman, this week, was less than sanguine about the state of the Communion, which had become, he suggested, “a source of weakness, as Churches which have rejected the truth as Anglicans have received it spread false teaching, yet continue to enjoy full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, the Most Rev. Clyde Igara, who said that he has “some reservations” about the meeting, also has anxiety about the direction of the Church of the West.

“Our big and elderly sisters continue to dominate,” he said. “They want to dominate their influence on the Communion by their Western theology.” The Communion should accommodate “both the big and elder brothers, and the younger growing ones.”

He hoped to attend the meeting, but on the understanding that the Communion was “not compromising between the truth and a lie.” Strong words, indeed, that Hiltz et al ought to take note of.

But there was a warm welcome from elsewhere in the global south. “We wholeheartedly support the Archbishop of Canterbury for this important meeting,” the Primate of West Africa, the Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo, said. “It is the right way for all the Primates to support him and chart the way forward.”

The ultra-liberal, TEC clone Archbishop of Brazil, the Most Rev Francisco de Assis da Silva, suggested that the meeting could “strengthen our sense of body and allow us to move forward as one.”

He called for “a very proactive agenda . . . We have focused much on the issues of sexuality, but I think it may be time to go beyond that. I think it is time to focus on other needs of our world.”

The diversity within the Communion had been “framed at times in a negative light,” suggested one of the Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, the Most Rev. William Brown Turei, a liberal progressive archbishop. “One reaction to this has been a strong demand for uniformity, imposed and enforced.” The way forward was “to embrace our diversity and focus on unity, and not uniformity, and to love unconditionally in the way that God first loved us.”

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr. Paul Kwong, agreed. “We have spent too much time and energy in the last decade to deal with our differences; it is about time for us to focus our attention to our commonality,” he said. “Mission is one of our commonalities. . . There are far too many pressing issues that the provinces in the Communion can work together to help resolve than the issue of sexuality. Issues like poverty, refugees, and military conflicts and many more.”

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the integral and inseparable instruments of the Anglican Communion,” said the Archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Revd Bolly Anak Lapok. “One of the Archbishop’s functions is to preside over the annual meeting of the Primates regardless whether a primate or some primates are ready or not. This is not just the way forward; without it the Communion is dysfunctional.”

Reports that Archbishop Welby is envisaging a looser structure for the Communion (News, 18 September) has not meet with universal approval.

Archbishop Wabukala said it was “very sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling a meeting of Primates to see if the Communion can be saved by making relationships between its Churches more distant rather than closer.”

It is “very sad that we look like we are moving toward a provisional separation”, said the Archbishop of Korea, the Most Revd Paul K. Kim. “I don’t really want to agree with the opinion that it is time for our communion to make an exit strategy. . . I don’t want to concede that our communion has failed to keep a creative tension among those conflicting opinions. I have thought that an inclusive Catholicism or comprehensiveness is the most important aspect of Anglicanism.”

It should be pointed out that Korea has been and is in TEC’s corner on most issues.

He continued, “I am really worried about that, although the separation is temporal, it could narrow the space for those who are in between both extreme ends. . . The separation could be interpreted as extremists’ victory against all the sincere efforts. . .

“If we move toward a separation and have to choose one position between both extremes, is it really possible to keep a sincere missionary dialogue with our respected society and culture?”

Archbishop Hiltz confessed to being “not encouraged” by the “looser structure” scenario.

“I am uneasy with the notion that the Communion could be reshaped into a group of churches that all have some kind of relationship with Canterbury, but not one another,” he added. “It flies in the face of our historic understanding of the Communion.”

Despite gloomy pronouncements from elsewhere, he said that he was full of hope for the Communion, suggesting that, of its four instruments, only the Primates Meeting was not functioning.

“I don’t think the instruments of Communion are as broken as some people think or say they are, and I am also a person that sees so much evidence of hopefulness with respect to our unity,” he said.

It should be pointed out that the ACNA is now numerically bigger than the ACoC. Tentative figures show the ACNA with more than 112,000 ASA and the ACoC with less than 80,000.

As Bill Atwood, an ACNA bishop noted, “If the January gathering of Primates does not fully address the real issues, the Communion will not survive–nor should it.”

(The Church Times contributed to this report)

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