A five-day meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion kicked off this morning, amidst a flurry of press speculation of what might and might not arise from the closed door meeting at Canterbury Cathedral.
Sixteen of the 39 primates and moderators of the Anglican Communion have been elected to their posts since the 2016 gathering in Canterbury. Three primates who attended the last meeting, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Archbishop of Stanley Ntagali of Uganda, and Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda, stated they were boycotting the meeting in response to the failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury to honor the promises he made at the last meeting. Three other primates are unable to attend. A final count of who is present is expected sometime this week.
The first Monday morning session of the meeting has been charged with setting the agenda for the week. Issues such as Human Trafficking, Global Warming, Migration and other secular issues have been put forward by individual primates before the meeting.
Conservatives in the Global South and GAFCON groups are expected to raise the issue of the change in marriage canons by the Scottish Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada to permit same-sex marriages. They are also expected to voice concern over the failure of Archbishop Justin Welby to honor the pledge he made to the primates in 2016 over the Episcopal Church.
At the 2016 meeting, Archbishop Welby said he would form a task force to monitor the Episcopal Church in light of the decision of the 2015 meeting of General Convention to permit same-sex weddings. Representatives from the Episcopal Church would also be forbidden to serve on ecumenical dialogue committees and to make decisions affecting doctrine and discipline on pan-Anglican bodies.
However, the April 2016 Lusaka meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council repudiated the primates’ request for forbearance on American participation in its meetings, while the committee subsequently created by Archbishop Welby and ACC General Secretary Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon saw its mandate changed from monitoring the Episcopal Church, to discussing it. The primate of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, along with Canadian bishop who supported changing her church’s teachings in favor of gay marriage, were appointed to the group.
Following an off the record meeting at Lambeth Palace for the British press hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff and the Anglican Consultative Council staff, a number of British newspapers published stories suggesting the meeting would see the Scottish Episcopal Church disciplined. The Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, the Very Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth, a supporter of same-sex marriage, castigated Lambeth for “briefing against” the SEC.
GAFCON leaders were also unimpressed, telling Anglican Ink they saw the London-driven press campaign as a way of diverting attention from the question of Archbishop Welby’s leadership.
With the large number of new members and the absence of the primates from the largest churches in the Communion, concerns have been voiced by conservatives that little of substance will arise from the meeting. With almost half of those attending new to the meetings, pleas by Archbishop Welby to give him more time to steer a course through the competing factions will likely find a receptive audience.
However, conservatives are encouraged by the presence of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of South America, Archbishop Gregory Venables of Argentine, (pictured) who attended the primates meetings held between 2001 and 2011. A former headmaster, Archbishop Venables has the strength of character and experience to press home the concerns of the majority of primates — conservatives hope.