A Reflection on the Meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury, England, January 11-15, 2016
By Archbishop Fred Hiltz,
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”
(1 Corinthians 12:27)
Throughout the meeting of the Primates last week, I thought much about St. Paul’s teaching about the Church being the Body of Christ in the world. It is the image at the very heart of Anglican ecclesiology. It informs the manner of our relationships in the Church local, national and global. In 165 countries we are 85 million people proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in more than 1000 languages. We are a family of autonomous Churches that understand ourselves to be “Formed by Scripture, Shaped by Worship, Ordered for Communion, and Directed by God’s Mission”. We are bound together by the long held principle of “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ” articulated at the great Anglican Congress of 1963 in Toronto.
While for the most part this principle inspires our common work and witness, there are times when our capacity to abide by it is deeply challenging given the very diverse political, cultural, social and missional contexts in which we live. While being ordered for communion, we recognize that in the face of deep difference of theological conviction over certain matters of faith and doctrine the bonds of affection between us can be strained, sometimes sadly so, to the point of people speaking of a state of impaired communion.
This meeting of the Primates was particularly challenging with respect to the tending of our relationships in light of the developments in The Episcopal Church regarding the change in its Canon on Marriage making provision for the blessing of same sex marriages. I, of course, was deeply mindful of a call from General Synod 2013 for the enacting of a similar change in our own Canon, the first reading of which is scheduled for our General Synod this summer.
Since returning home, I am especially mindful of the pain the LGBTQ community within our Church is feeling. I am very sorry. I acknowledge their frustration and that of their supporters in being made to feel like the sacrificial offering on the altar of the Church’s unity. I recognize that many are angry and deeply disillusioned with the very Church in which they endeavour to live out their lives as disciples of Jesus. I know that for some it is in fact very difficult to remain within its fellowship, and that it will take a great resolve of will and courage to do so.
I apologize for the manner in which the Church has often regarded the LGBTQ community and condemned their lives with very harsh language. I call on our Church to re-affirm its commitment to rejecting anywhere in the world criminal sanctions against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer or questioning people. I call on our Church to renew its resolve in listening to the voices and the stories of its LGBTQ members as we wrestle through conversations regarding the pastoral care we are called to provide for all people. I ask the prayers of the whole Church for the LGBTQ people in the midst of the hurt they are bearing and the hope to which they cling for the recognition and sacramental blessing of their relationships.
I am aware of sharp criticism over what some regard to have been a failure on my part to stand in solidarity with The Episcopal Church in openly rejecting the relational consequences it bears as a result of The Primates’ Meeting, or in accepting similar consequences for our own Church. Allow me to comment on each of these matters.
First, in relation to The Episcopal Church, I empathize with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as he faces a firestorm of reaction in the United States. I recognize a need for a space of time in which that Church will respond through its National Executive Council. Notwithstanding the call of a majority of the Primates for the “consequences” named in the Communiqué, I recognize that there could well be a response from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council. I know The Episcopal Church to be very committed to the work and witness of the Communion as a whole, and I recognize the frustration they will feel in not serving in a representative way on our Ecumenical Dialogues for example. I recognize that if The Episcopal Church is not allowed to vote on a matter of doctrine or polity that the life of the Communion is diminished. I am grateful however, that they will still have a voice in the discussions of such matters.
I have covenanted with Bishop Curry to uphold him and The Episcopal Church in my prayers, and I would ask the same of our whole Church. I was deeply impressed by the grace with which he spoke at The Primates’ Meeting. While declaring in no uncertain terms the pain he was feeling for the Church he leads, he was absolutely convinced that in good faith the General Convention acted. He recognized the strain that places on relationships throughout the Communion, and he declared his unwavering commitment – in spite of the said consequences – to walk together in the hope of “healing a legacy of hurt, rebuilding mutual trust, and restoring relationships”. He was a stellar example of leadership under pressure, of courage with grace.
Secondly in relation to our own Church. For me to have entertained any thought of accepting consequences for our own Church would have been an overstepping of my authority. To do so would have been a betrayal of my office as President of The General Synod. I was not and am not prepared to take any action that would pre-empt the outcome of our deliberations at General Synod in July. As the report “This Holy Estate” declares, “It is for the General Synod to decide the matter” in accord with the jurisdiction given it regarding “the definition of doctrine in harmony with the Solemn Declaration”. (The Declaration of Principles, 6. Jurisdiction of The General Synod [j]). I believe in the synodical process and by the ministry entrusted to me, I am obliged to uphold it.
In this entire matter our Church has faithfully honoured the call within the Resolution (C003) of General Synod 2013 for broad consultation across our Church, throughout the Communion and with our ecumenical partners. Alongside all the counsel received and noted in “This Holy Estate”, including that of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) one could indeed regard the outcome of The Primates’ Meeting as another piece of information.
I ask your prayers for the members of the Council of General Synod in the task mandated to them to bring forward a resolution to the General Synod to affect a change in the Marriage Canon. I ask your prayers for the General Synod Planning Committee in the care they will take in designing a process for our consideration of this matter. I ask your prayers for all the members of General Synod that they will enter into their work well prepared and with a commitment to speak and listen respectfully and in openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
While the meeting of the Primates was particularly challenging with respect to relationships throughout the Communion, there was about midway through a declared unanimous commitment to continue to walk together and not apart. This meeting could have been marked by calls for exclusion of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and me. It was not. It could have been marked by walk-outs as some had anticipated. It was not. It could have been marked by ranting and raving. It was not. Instead it was marked by perseverance to remain in dialogue that was frank but respectful. It was marked by a generosity of grace and patience, with one another. It was marked too, by renewed commitments in the consideration of matters of doctrine that could be of a controversial nature, to consult broadly in the seeking of advice and counsel.
We were reminded once again of the principle named by the Windsor Continuation Group that “when the Primates speak collectively, or in a united or unanimous manner, their advice – while it is no more than advice – nevertheless needs to be received with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation”. While there have been calls through the years for “an enhanced authority” on the part of The Primates’ Meeting, there has been – and rightly so – a resistance to the meeting becoming a Curia for the Communion. We recognize that we are but one of The Instruments of Communion,– the others being the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council, which is the only body with a Constitution outlining its objects and powers, all of which are focussed in one way or another on our relationships in the service of God’s mission in the world.
Now dear friends, may I remind you that the Primates tended not only to matters of concern within “the household of faith”, but also to matters of concern to our common humanity and the creation itself. In his opening address for this meeting, Archbishop Justin reminded us that half of our Churches in the Communion live with extreme poverty, in the turmoil of war, and with devastating effects of environmental degradation. The Anglican Alliance gave a presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Primates have issued a Communion wide call to get behind these goals through our work in advocacy.
In a session on Climate Change, it was fascinating to hear the range of voices speaking out of their own contexts. The Archbishop of Polynesia spoke of Pacific Islands drowning as sea levels continue to rise. The Archbishop of Kenya spoke about the impact of unbridled foresting. “As the forests disappear” he said, “the desert is expanding.” The Archbishop of the Democratic Republic of the Congo spoke of the hunger of many nations for the underground resources in the Congo and of the ruthless and reckless measures taken in extracting them. I spoke about the impact of the melting Ice Cap in the Arctic and the impact on peoples who live in Canada’s North. The Acting Archbishop of Melanesia spoke of eroded lands, sinking islands and polluted waterways. He made a passionate plea saying “What’s next?…Who causes it?…Who stops it?” He called for a robust theology of creation. The Archbishop of Southern Africa spoke of the Climate Talks in Paris, the agreement struck with respect to lowering the pace of global warming, and the huge amount of unwavering political will required to make this agreement functional. A number of other Primates from very diverse situations reminded us through story after story, of how the poor are the most vulnerable with respect to climate change. With no choice but to abandon home and livelihood they have to keep on the move with little more than what they can carry. As we have been often reminded, climate change is really about climate justice. It’s about our commitment to the fifth Mark of Mission – to safeguard the integrity of creation.
The Primates heard a number of their colleagues speak of the horrors of religiously motivated violence. The Archbishop of Nigeria spoke of churches, mosques, markets, schools and conference centres under threat of burning or bombing. Indeed, in some instances, there is a need for security checks as people come into church to worship. There was a passionate plea from a number of the Primates, not only for ongoing interfaith dialogue, but also for a new dialogue between religious and political leaders. As one of our colleagues said, “governments are fighting terrorists, but not terrorism and the ideologues that drive it”. On this matter and others, including our response to corruption in governments and our response to the global refugee crisis, the point was made that faith communities, governments and civil society must find ways to speak and act together.
The Primates heard a presentation on the Protection of Children. Sadly a number of Churches have a tragic record of abuse, particularly through schools run by the Church. We know that story in Canada through the Indian Residential Schools and the harm inflicted on so many innocent children. We know of the impact on them and we now understand the intergenerational impact of their pain. Had there been more time given to this topic, I would have spoken of the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and our Church’s commitment to its 94 Calls to Action, the very first one being “Child Welfare”.
You will see from the Communiqué that the Primates renewed their commitment to evangelism, “to proclaiming the person and work of Jesus Christ, unceasingly and authentically, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the gospel”. A particularly exciting venture in this regard is the Archbishop of York’s Pilgrimage of Prayer, Witness and Blessing from Advent 2015 to Trinity 2016. He is walking the diocese with a message of hope in the Gospel of Christ. Many of us were drawn to consider this kind of public witness born of his simple prayer.
“…Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the Father,
Renew my Friendship in You;
And help me to Serve You
With a Quiet Mind and a Burning Spirit…”
The Primates heard a report from the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Fearon, regarding the upcoming meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia in April. The theme is Intentional Discipleship in a World of Differences. The delegates from our Church are Bishop Jane Alexander, The Ven. Harry Huskins, and Ms. Suzanne Lawson. Archdeacon Paul Feheley has been invited to lead the Communications Team for this meeting.
May I take the opportunity here to commend to the Church the reports that are published concerning meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council. Typically they contain major addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General; reports from all the networks and formal consultations of the Communion; the Standing Commission for Unity, Faith, and Order, and the Anglican Alliance, and all the resolutions the Council adopts. These reports become a wonderful resource for our work in the name of the Gospel and our witness as a Church striving to be steadfast in its calling to be “in and for the world” God loves. In this work the Church is incredibly well served by the labours of the staff of the Anglican Communion Office working with a host of others from around the world.
Throughout the entire week we were blessed to have our daily schedule shaped by Morning Prayer, a celebration of the eucharist in the crypt of the Cathedral, and Evening Prayer. We were also blessed by the Community of St. Anselm from Lambeth Palace and its ministry of upholding the meeting in prayer. Each member of the Community had been given the names of particular primates and provinces for whom the Archbishop had asked them to pray. Peter Angelica (from New York) was praying for me and for our Church. I had an opportunity to meet him and to thank him for his ministry in this regard. Then of course there were your thoughts and prayers in response to my call in advance of the meeting. A number of you sent along expressions of assurance of prayer for which I was very grateful.
The Primates were deeply blessed by the presence of Jean Vanier. He arrived on Thursday and addressed us after Evening Prayer. “I am so touched to be with you” he said, “you are the face of Jesus, each of you. You are leading millions of people in following the way of Jesus”. To be described that way is both humbling and daunting. But that’s this image he used as he led us in a time of reflection on the nature of servant leadership and our calling to gather people and to help them walk and work together in the Gospel.
At the closing Eucharist on Friday, Vanier preached on John’s account of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. He has an amazing way of drawing us into the story, into the heart of each character, into the mood in the room. The story he reminded us is all about an attitude of humility, one toward another. It is about being as Jesus said, “part of him”. The act is followed by Jesus teaching that in the same manner in which he washed their feet, they must now wash one another’s feet. Vanier has often said that there is a sacramental character to this humble act. He spoke of some of his experiences in L’Arche. Even when, sadly, we cannot break bread together, we can still wash one another’s feet. And then he knelt down and washed Archbishop Justin’s feet. Justin prayed for him and then knelt to wash the feet of the Primate sitting next to him. So around the circle this quiet act of humble service was replicated. All one could hear was the gentle splash of water being poured over feet and the voice of prayer. In the end each of us had washed and been washed, prayed and been prayed for in the deep love of Jesus. It was a wonderful way to bring this meeting of the Primates to a close. We left the crypt singing:
Thumamina, so mandla…
Send me Jesus, send me Jesus
Send me Jesus, send me Lord…
Lead me Jesus, lead me Jesus
Lead me Jesus, lead me Lord…”
Thank you for your interest in the life and work of our Anglican Communion and thank you once again for your prayers for the meeting of the Primates in Canterbury last week. As we continue to uphold Archbishop Justin Welby in our prayers and all our brothers and sisters in the Anglican family worldwide, let us ask for grace, “to lead lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope that belongs to our call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-5).
Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, January 19, 2016