The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited the heads of all the other Anglican churches to a summit meeting in Canterbury in January in what appears to be an attempt to avoid a permanent split in the church over homosexuality.
The invitation from the Most Rev Justin Welby to the meeting will bring together a number of church heads who have not spoken directly to each other in over a decade.
Archbishop Justin Welby said in a statement: “I have suggested to all Primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past.
“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity.
“A 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together.
Aides to Archbishop Welby said he is now convinced that the rift between different wings of what is the world’s third largest church must be resolved, according to The Daily Telegraph.
“We’ve actually got to draw a line here, we can’t go on,” said one Lambeth Palace source. “Justin can’t leave his successor – whoever she or he may be – to inherit this situation in which you spend vast chunks of time trying to placate people and keep them in the boat without ever getting the oars out and starting to row.”
Archbishop Welby is keen for the 37 Primates to not only acknowledge the rift but effectively formalise it by scaling the Anglican Communion back into a loosely linked organisation – a step aides liken to “moving into separate bedrooms” rather than full-scale divorce.
There is a fear at Lambeth Palace that the meeting could force too big a wedge between the more liberal sections of the church – particularly in the UK and the US – and traditionalists – particularly in Africa.
“We have no Anglican Pope. Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted. In that light I long for us to meet together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to seek to find a way of enabling ourselves to set a course which permits us to focus on serving and loving each other, and above all on the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Welby added.
This news item, from the premier Roman Catholic newspaper in the U.K., The Tablet, has this remark to make about the incentive behind the invitation given by the ABC to Anglican Primates around the world to meet together in England in January 2015:
“The invitation from the Most Rev Justin Welby to the meeting will bring together a number of church heads who have not spoken directly to each other in over a decade.”
This obvious lack of communication between the Anglican Primates is largely due to the fact that certain of them – members of the ‘GAFCON’ Movement, mostly from the continent of Africa, but including other Provinces from the Global South – have broken off Eucharistic Fellowship with any Province that (1) accepts homosexuality as a normal feature of life for up to 10 percent of human beings, and (2) accepts that women and gay people have an equal right – together with male heterosexuals – to take their place in the ministry and councils of the Church.
As Archbishop Justin Welby rightly remarks, Anglicans do not have a centralised papal authority; depending, rather, on a system of dispersed authority, with provinces living under their own individual canons, constitutions and hierarchical structures.
The basic common ties are/were those which formerly held sway in the Anglican Communion known as the ‘Instruments of Unity’: the Archbishop of Canterbury (Primus inter pares) ; the Primates’ Council; the Lambeth Conference (convened by the ABC); and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) including laity. These ‘Instruments of Unity’ have no legal but only moral authority in the Communion.
Separation occurred after the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson in the U.States. Episcopal Church, at which point those in the Communion who disagreed with the action of TEC in ordaining an openly homosexual bishop without the agreement of all the provinces of the Anglican Communion – TEC believing this to be a local initiative to meet the pastoral situation of its own territorial oversight and governance – decided to set up their own parameters of being ‘Anglican’, setting up their own ‘Jerusalem Statement of Faith’ and Primates’ Council.
Since that time, TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have been black-listed and infiltrated by Global South Church officials who set up their own church plants in Canada and the United States, establishing their own conservative ethos in competition with the local liberal Anglican communities in North America; prompting a climate of intentional schismatic separation. Most of these small splinter group churches have since joined together in their own federation of pseudo-Anglicans under the banner of ACNA, the ‘Anglican Church in North America’, which is now receiving the sponsorship of the Gafcon group, even though outside of the official Anglican Communion headed by Canterbury.
All of this led to the climate of separation between certain provinces of the Anglican Communion, inaugurated in the first instance by G.S. Primates and Bishops who refused to attend Lambeth Conference with TEC and Anglican Church of Canada Bishops – whom they considered to be persona non grata, by virtue of their acceptance of gay clergy in their provincial churches.
By inviting the head of the ACNA (schismatic) quasi-Anglican Church in North America to the U.K. Meeting of Primates in January 2016, The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby seems tacitly to have included ACNA as part of a new, diversified Federation of Anglican Churches around the world.
Having jettisoned the basic idea of ‘covenanted’ Churches (an idea which was soundly rejected by most provinces of the Anglican Communion), it seems that the ABC is now focussed on a more loosely connected federation of autonomous Churches, free to pursue their own individual understandings of the propagation of the Gospel in the local context, but maintaining ties of fellowship with the original Province of Canterbury in England – from which primary post-Reformation beginnings the original Anglican Communion was founded.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand