[Episcopal News Service] The Anglican Communion is being called to prayer as its 38 primates – the senior archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators – head to Canterbury, England, next week for their first official meeting in five years.
“I invite Episcopalians to join me in prayer for this gathering, that God will be fully present with us and that we may follow our Lord Jesus in the ways of His love and in so doing be part of God’s blessing to the world,” said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry in a Jan. 7 statement.
Curry will be attending his first Primates Meeting since his installation as the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and primate last November.
Earlier in the week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby released a video message calling for prayer and recognizing that the primates are expected to deal with “some very, very difficult issues – within the life of the Anglican Communion, but also hugely difficult issues that are affecting the whole church of Christ and our whole world.”
The agenda will be set by common agreement with all primates as they begin their Jan. 11-16 meeting at Canterbury Cathedral, widely regarded as the mother church of the Anglican Communion. Issues addressed during the meeting are expected to include religiously motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment, and human sexuality, according to a Lambeth Palace press release.
“What I would ask people to pray for more than anything else is wisdom and love,” said Welby, who has visited every province in the Anglican Communion since becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013, a commitment he set out early in his primacy.
The last Primates Meeting was held in Dublin, Ireland, in January 2011, making this the longest period of time between two meetings since they began in 1979.
Seven primates chose not to attend that meeting because of the presence of then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and developments within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada supporting the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people.
In an effort to avert a similar boycott, Welby has invited Archbishop Foley Beach, the leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), to gather with the primates for conversation before the official Primates Meeting commences.
ACNA is composed largely of former Episcopalians who chose to break away from the Episcopal Church over disagreements concerning human sexuality issues. The leaders of some provinces, mostly in Africa, have declared their affiliation to ACNA and claim to be in a state of impaired communion with the Episcopal Church and other provinces whose actions they dispute.
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Anglican Church of Uganda issued a statement Jan. 6 calling for “discipline and godly order” to be restored in the Anglican Communion during the Canterbury “gathering” – otherwise he said he will withdraw from the subsequent official meeting.
The hope expressed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada is that the agenda would “reflect a good balance between matters that are domestic and of particular concern within the household of faith, and matters that are global and of overwhelming concern to our common humanity and our common home, the Earth itself.”
Curry, following his historic election as presiding bishop in June 2015, told ENS that the Anglican Communion is as much about relationships as it is about structure and organization. “It really is a network of relationships that have historical roots, but actually have missional roots,” he said. “What really binds us together is that we are followers of Jesus in the Anglican way … and that primal relationship holds us together.
“Of course, we’re struggling – we’re struggling, we know that – but I really do believe that we can continue to work together in partnerships that help to serve God’s mission in this world by joining together so that children don’t go to bed hungry, to help so that people have water, to help so that education is available to children, to help so that women can support their families. We’ve got some work to do; we’ve got some Jesus work to do … This world is crying out for us and it needs us, and the Anglican Communion is one way that God uses us together to really make this a better world.”
A website has been launched with resources pertaining to the meeting and will include collects and prayer requests as the primates gather.
Primates are the senior archbishops and presiding bishops elected or appointed to lead each of the 38 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion. They are invited to the Primates Meetings by the Archbishop of Canterbury to consult on theological, social and international issues.
The Anglican Communion Primates Meeting is one of the three instruments of communion, the other two being the Lambeth Conference of bishops and the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion’s main policy-making body. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as primus inter pares, or “first among equals,” is recognized as the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.
Each province relates to other provinces within the Anglican Communion by being in full communion with the See of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls the Lambeth Conference, chairs the meeting of primates and is president of the ACC.
In some Anglican provinces the primate is called archbishop and/or metropolitan, while in others the term presiding bishop – or as in Scotland, primus – is used.
The Archbishop of Canterbury also invites to the primates meetings the moderators who lead the united ecumenical churches of North India, South India and Pakistan.
In 1978 Archbishop Donald Coggan, the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, established the Primates Meeting as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.”
The primates have met in Ely, England, in 1979; Washington, D.C., in 1981; Limuru, Kenya, in 1983; Toronto, Canada, in 1986; Cyprus in 1989; Newcastle, Northern Ireland, in 1991; Cape Town, South Africa, in 1993; Windsor, England, in 1995; Jerusalem in 1997; Oporto, Portugal, in 2000; Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, North Carolina, in 2001; Canterbury, England, in 2002; Gramodo, Brazil, in May 2003; London, England, in October 2003; Newry, Northern Ireland, in February 2005; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in February 2007; Alexandria, Egypt, in February 2009; and Dublin, Ireland, in January 2011.
Visit the official Primates 2016 website
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– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.