Mark Harris – on the Upcoming Meeting of Primates at Canterbury

What is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing? Mucking about.

It’s high stakes time out there in Anglican-land. To wit:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is apparently pushing for direct “in the same room” conversations  between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America.  He has called a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and has invited the Primate of the ACNA to attend at least part of that meeting.  He has requested that The Virginia Theological Seminary invite representatives of ACNA related seminaries to the celebration of the new chapel at VTS, and  VTS has agreed.

The stakes are high for several reasons:

(i) The invitation for ACNA to attend part of the Primates meeting carries several risks.  If the Primates of the GAFCON cluster of Provinces attend at all it may be for only for the session where ACNA is present. GAFCON Primates have indicated their unwillingness to be present if the Primates of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are present. If the invitation to ACNA is meant to encourage the presence of GAFCON Primates, the backfire could take not only the form of continued outright boycott of the meetings but perhaps also the attendance at only part of the meeting.  Either way the ABC will have allowed the GAFCON Primates to upstage his efforts. The GAFCON Primates are meeting on this matter in Cairo.

(ii) If ACNA comes and the GAFCON Primates decide to come as well, then a new course for the Primates Meetings will have been set.  To this point the meetings have been of those heads of churches part of the Anglican Communion, not as determined by the ABC, but by the “schedule” of member churches on the Anglican Consultative Council.  If the ABC can call into this meeting, on a unilateral basis, representatives of churches not part of the ACC, he is acquiring powers no previously his to exercise. The Primates Meeting is supposedly an “instrument of communion” established in the context of the ACC.  If this meeting takes place as planed the Primates Meeting will be an instrument of the ABC and his priorities. If it doesn’t then the Primates will be reduced in numbers by the absence of at least eight Primates, and the ABC will less leverage in working for the re-establishment of order in the Communion. Either way we need to ask, “so who gave the ABC the authority to invite churches to send their primates into this circle?” The ACC should be concerned.

(iii)  The reports are that the ABC has asked VTS to invite members of seminaries related to the ACNA to the celebration at VTS. Why?  For possible talks on a Seminary level of Theological Education folk “across the divide”?  It is unclear which Seminaries might fall into this particular subset –  seminaries related to ACNA – and how many of them are already in the invitation list by virtue of being seminaries related to TEC anyway.  (Nashotah House and Trinity School for Ministry come to mind.  One assumes they are both invited anyway.)  The article from Anglican Ink refers only to the inclusion of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

So what’s the big deal? It’s hard to say. Perhaps the ABC believes he has to intervene in order to get people talking to each other.  Maybe so. But the backfire is this: The ABC is clearly becoming an activist in the effort to get members of  ACNA and TEC (and the Anglican Church of Canada?) in the same room together. This may be a good idea indeed.  But here’s the rub.  For the ABC to mess about in his own yard is fine. For the ABC to mess about in our yard, for even the best sorts of reasons, is exercising a ministry of uninvited super – primatial oversight.

Somewhere along the line someone will notice that this represents a serious incursion into the life of a partner church by some one who apparently believes he is “higher up” and knows better what needs to be done, and who is working to effect change. The fact that the change is arguably a good one is beside the point . But we don’t know that it is, do we, since we have not the slightest idea as to what he is really about in all this. We might wonder just how the ABC would feel if our Presiding Bishop were to come to England and make a similar request.

The whole thing smacks of new assumptions of pastoral authority by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

And when did we Churches, members of the Anglican Communion,  either ask for or agree to these possibilities?  Never.


Fr. Mark Harris, host of the web-site ‘Preludium’ and clergy member of TEC (The U.S.A. Episcopal Church), here highlights the problems – from TEC’s point of view – occasioned by the recent invitation, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, of the ‘Primate’ of the schismatic ACNA (‘Anglican Church in North America’)  to a preliminary session of a projected Meeting of Anglican Communion Primates in Canterbury in January, 2016.

The oddity of this ground-breaking invitation is that this meeting – ostensibly to find common ground between the Provincial Heads of Anglican Churchers around the world – will provide a claim of legitimacy to a breakaway ‘church’, whose existence is owed to, and fostered by,  a demonstrably separatist movement in the Communion calling itself by the acronym GAFCON – a fellowship of conservative Churches in the Global South that has already declared its own  provenance depending on allegiance to ‘The Scriptures, the 39 Articles and ‘Jerusalem Statement of Faith’ – which declaration already outlaws the ordination of Gay Clergy.

Considering the fact that not all Anglican Provinces any longer abide by the ethos of the 39 Articles (which might better be called the 39 ARTIFACTS – in view of their historical context and content) this is already emerging as a point of difference important only to the GAFCON Provinces.

The real test for the efficacy of such a move by the ABC will come when the GAFCON Primates decide whether or not to attend the Meeting. Already, they have declared that they will not share a meeting with the Primates of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada – a situation that will hardly ensure the outcome of the ‘Unity in Diversity’ Communion that is hoped for by many in parts of the Communion – including, obviously, the Church of England. So; whether the Meeting will bear the fruit of reconciliation or not will depend on the willingness of all parties to subscribe to a Fellowship of Diversity in Mission and a Unity  of Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer.

Father Mark’s contention – that the ABC has no specific authority to include an invitation to ACNA (a schismatic body) to attend a Meeting of Anglican Primates – without the agreement of all member Churches – would seem to be pertinent; especially in a situation where such an invitation is against the interests of a least two official Provincial members of the Communion – TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Father Ron, Christchurch, New Zealand


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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