Welby urges reconciliation, not agreement, among Anglican leaders

[Episcopal News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is hoping that senior Anglican leaders meeting in Canterbury, England, this week might be able to find a path towards reconciliation rather than schism over deeply held differences of opinion concerning human sexuality issues.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program ahead of the Jan. 11-16 meeting, Welby said, “Certainly I want reconciliation. Reconciliation doesn’t always mean agreement; in fact it very seldom does. It means finding ways of disagreeing well and that’s what we’ve got to do this week.”

Of the 38 Anglican leaders attending this week’s Primates Meeting, a handful of African archbishops have threatened to leave the meeting unless Welby meets their demands to discipline the Episcopal Church and other provinces whose actions they dispute.

“There’s nothing I can do if people decide they want to leave the room,” Welby said. “… but we want to stay together, to listen to each other in the service to Jesus Christ, and to focus on not only the issue of sexuality but also the huge issues that are affecting people around the world – conflict, persecution, religious violence.”

In an effort to avert a boycott from conservative African archbishops such as the one that occurred at the last Primates Meeting in 2011, Welby has invited Archbishop Foley Beach, the leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), to gather with the leaders for conversation prior to the official meeting in Canterbury. ACNA is composed largely of former Episcopalians who chose to break away from the Episcopal Church. Some African primates have declared their affiliation to ACNA.

“The church is a family, and you remain a family even if you go your separate ways,” said Welby in the radio interview. “We have to work out how we live with that and how we serve God faithfully in a way that shows that you can disagree profoundly and still love and care for each other.

“A schism would not be a disaster – God is bigger than our failures – but it would be a failure,” he added. “It would not be good if the church is unable to set the example to the world of showing how we can love one another and disagree profoundly, because we are brought together by Jesus Christ, not by our own choice. This isn’t a formal club or a political party. This is something done by God.”

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be attending his first Primates Meeting since his installation as presiding bishop and primate last November.

Curry and many of his fellow primates have called for prayers as the leaders gather for the first time 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 Curry in a Jan. 7 statement.

Following his election as presiding bishop and primate in June 2015, Curry said the Anglican Communion is as much about relationships and partnerships as it is about structure and organization. “We’ve got some work to do; we’ve got some Jesus work to do,” he said. “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.”

Ahead of the Primates Meeting, more than 100 Church of England ordained and lay leaders, including bishops and cathedral deans, wrote an open letter to the archbishops of Canterbury and York calling on the church to repent of its “second class citizen” treatment of Christians over issues of sexuality.

Among the signatories is the Very Rev. David Ison, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “I believe that it’s imperative for us to remember that whilst we seek to engage honestly, lovingly and respectfully with our differences of context and scriptural interpretation, our discussions are actually about the lives of sisters and brothers who have often been rejected and victimized on the grounds of their sexuality,” he said. “The Church should be the first place that they feel they can come to, to find love and acceptance rather than judgment.”

Since the letter’s release late last week and the organizers invitation to others to sign on to it, more than 3,200 Anglicans and Episcopalians have done so.

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.

The provinces and primates of the Anglican Communion are listed here.

Visit the official Primates 2016 website

Follow @Primates2016 on Twitter

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


  1. The Anglican communion has been “split” for sometime, I gather. I was, for the greater part of my
    life an LCA Lutheran. Now Lutherans are usually “split” due to ethnic lines, “Norway, Denmark, Sweden and German, just as an example. The unity was and even for some of the older members
    a difficult adjustment. There are still differences between the LCA and the ACL but unity far outweighed the differences. If the Anglicans (I am now an Episcopalian) split very little good, if any
    will come of it. I hope, and yes pray that this does not happen.

  2. Amen to Archbishop Welby’s statements. We must try our best, above all, to behave according to the principles Christ taught us. I believe we will begin to see how Presiding Bishop Curry is God’s perfect selection at the perfect time.

  3. Does it make any difference what the African bishops do. Let them go their own way and let them find their own funding. For the most part they have shown nothing but hateful attitudes toward women, gays and anything else they thnk if offensive. As to The Church of England the stats are out today the fewer than 2% of the population of the UK have attended church in any month of the year. Only 38% have an Anglican burial and fewer that 12% of newborns are Baptized. In a few more years the Cathedrals will be crumbling, the great organs in ruins and
    they whole idea of Christianity washed away in the tide of progress. The same is hapening in the U. S. and other Anglican/Episcopalian holdouts.
    It is obvious that those under 30 have no interest in religious practice or participation. It is the elderly that attend church and it is a pity but that is the way it is and the oldways pass away. The only church that will be left will be the Roman Catholic church with its truly dedicated ordained priests, nuns and other members. But, they too shall pass. It is the way of the world.

    • Stephen Abraham says:

      The Anglican Church in Africa is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church ‘militant here on earth’ based on the principles laid down by Christ himself. Poor or rich, they will continue to preach the Gospel of Christ. Note, no ,’tide of progress’ will wash her away. Remember what the Communists did to the Church during the Communist era in the Soviet Union and it’s satellite States or the Muslims did in South Sudan for over fifty years in a united Sudan. See what’s happening in terms of Church growth in those parts of the world. Indeed the blood of the martyrs is …. Yes, pews may be half empty in England or The Episcopal Church, according to the prophet of doom, and pews are overwhelmed in Africa, but the issue is not numbers, it is about adhering to the principles our Lord laid down for us. The Roman Church is the only Church that will withstand the tide of decline in your opinion, but it does so in spite and despite their principled stand on same sex marriages which you passionately support or they are an exception as they seem to be home and dry for the time being in your doom’s day scenario! You appear to support sectarianism, but try it and see how far it will take you. The only way is to abide by the principles laid down by the Way and the Truth. Amen.

  4. Kevin Miller says:

    What does the developments of today mean for us?

    • Margaret Sjoholm-Franks says:

      Nothing at all…gays and lesbians will go on with their lives, get married, create families, work, pay taxes, etc, both in the US and Canada…it will have more meaning if ECUSA stops funding the Anglican Communion, those African bishops will have ways to fund their trips and even the water bill of their own houses

      • Baxter Howell IV says:

        The reason the rest of the communion is so angry with the Episcopal Church is the arrogance stance that has caused thousands of people in Africa to lose their lives. It shows arrogance and no compassion for the Anglicans who live and worship in Africa. All the Episcopal Church seems to understand is that they cannot have their way. Well if you want blood on your hands you will repent. Otherwise dioceses will walk away and join their African brothers and sister in Christ and let the rest of you worship the silly rainbow flag.

  5. Todd leake says:

    It seems the episcopal church in the US as well as Europe will have 3 years to reconsider their position. They have until the next convention to reconsider or else split away. It’s really that simple. As a lifelong Episcopalian who has left for the time being over this, I pray the convention is taken back by the conservatives in the episcopal church. I pray the convention becomes more representative of its membership. The notion that ” THE CONVENTION REPRESENTS THE MAJORITY MUST BE CALLED INTO QUESTION “. I for one hope the conservative majority of the church wakes up and seize the opportunity given them. I hear crickets so far……

  6. Baxter Howell IV says:

    African Christians will be killed if the Church of England accepts gay marriage, the archbishop of Canterbury has suggested. Speaking on an LBC phone in, Justin Welby said he had stood by a mass grave in Nigeria of 330 Christians who had been massacred by neighbours who had justified the atrocity by saying: “If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.” Selfish leaders in the Episcopal Church better get with the program and grow up.

  7. Richard Grisham says:

    We in the Episcopal Church are what we are because of the teachings of Christ. Whatever we do that must remain the same. In the broad scheme of things, it does not matter if others disagree with us. We are where we are because of Christ.
    The Anglican Communion is an organization of convenience. Its attempts to be inclusive have resulted in exclusion.
    And it is well to remember that the many of the churches that voted for our exclusion are in countries that oppress women, oppress dissent, oppress non-establishment churches and murder some minorities including homosexuals. They represent countries in which corruption is a cancer in public and private life. And we should remember that however these countries respond to Episcopal Church doctrine, it is their choice, not ours.
    And how foolish to talk about waiving the rainbow flag. This is not about sexuality. It is about the teachings of Christ. We might consider that our time is better spent in addressing poverty and oppression than worrying about the Anglican Communion.
    It the communion wants us out of Communion for three years, we should be out of communion and cease funding the Communion.

    • Stephen Abraham says:

      Well, if you speak of adherence to the ‘Episcopal Church doctrine’ on same sex marriages as opposed to the principles of marriage laid down by Christ, then surely that is something else. We’ll part on that for ever until the Judge Himself returns where there’ll be a final verdict on the matter. You contradict your good self when you support gay life style and condemn corruption which is perpetuated by kleptocrats. The latter argue that, like the former, they, too, are not making a choice. The Scriptures are the answer.

  8. Sewart David Wigdor says:

    I want to apologize for being acerbic about this. The idea that human sexual orientation has to be included in the Gospel and Canon of a Church can be hopefully be settled by an allegory.
    A person has their own home. Regardless how many other housee there are in the neighborhood he will still own only one dwelling. But to enter the home he needs a key. Thus the key lets him enjoy his house. Now he can invite friends, to come and visit him, but it remains his possession. Now this house is the Church for all but only the minister and bishops have the key. although any one can come and worship; without the key no one can go in. What t is this key? Jesus explains the key is to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord builds the Church but the apostle gets the key. Today there is a great desire o understand ourselves by our sexuality. What thas this to do with Heaven? Let the Episcopal use the keys God gives them to let all into the Kingdom of Heaven described as Gods Throne. Godlooks at the heart to dwell within. Do you not want to be pure to experience the Prfect?

  9. Stephen Abraham says:

    The issue is not about exclusion or inclusion or about minorities or majorities, it is about the authority of the Scriptures, pure and simple. Again, it is not about money or no money. The Churches in Africa are growing in numbers by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the King of the universe, who was born in very poor surroundings, lived with us and was killed as a criminal and yet defeated death and lives in glory and will return in majesty to rule the world. The true Church of Jesus Christ is the poor Church. No amount of money will change the teachings of the Gospel. Apply your theory of the carrot or the stick elsewhere. I believe the Faithful Brethren in America paid contributions for furtherance of the Kingdom not the agenda you are advocating. However, let us all thank God for 3 things that happened in the Episcopal Church in 2015: the retirement of Gene from the episcopate, the retirement of the former Presiding Bishop from the episcopate and the election of Curry as Archbishop. I believe dGod has something good for the Episcopal Church in the offing.

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