On 16th September, Lambeth Palace has issued the following Press Release on the letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Primates within the Anglican Communion, inviting them to discuss key issues face to face, including a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion and to decide together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference. The proposed dates for the meeting are 11-16 January 2016.
Archbishop of Canterbury calls for Primates’ Gathering
Wednesday 16th September 2015
The Archbishop of Canterbury today wrote to all 37 Primates inviting them to attend a special Primates’ gathering in Canterbury to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Communion.
The meeting, to be held in January 2016, would be an opportunity for Primates to discuss key issues face to face, including a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion and to decide together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference.
The agenda will be set by common agreement with all Primates encouraged to send in contributions. It is likely to include the issues of religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality.
Archbishop Justin Welby said: ‘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.
‘Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ meetings since then. It must also be a way forward, guided by the absolute imperative for the church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, to make disciples and to worship and live in holiness, and recognising that the way in which proclamation happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between Provinces. We each live in a different context.
‘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.
‘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.’
The proposed dates for the meeting are 11-16 January 2016.
The Archbishop of Canterbury will also extend an invitation to Archbishop Foley or his representative to be present for part of the time.
The initiative has been welcomed by The Most Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, who identified this news as “a very healthy development borne out of Archbishop Justin’s visit to every primate and every province of the Anglican Communion, and subsequent face to face and / or telephone discussions.” Archbishop Josiah is reported to be encouraged that nearly all the Primates have indicated support for this meeting early next year in Canterbury Cathedral.
Lambeth Conferences are decennial assemblies of bishops of the Anglican Communion and are convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first Conference took place in 1867. In September 2014, it was suggested by Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, that the conference would probably not happen in 2018, since no planning or fundraising had taken place for a this meeting.
However on 6 October 2014, Jan Butter, Director for Communications at the Anglican Communion Office stated that Justin Welby had responded to inaccurate media reports that the Lambeth Conference had been cancelled, saying, “As it hasn’t been called, it can’t have been cancelled.” Speaking to the BBC’s William Crawley on 5 October, he had indicated that the historic meeting of bishops from around the world would take place sometime after the primates had met together.
“When I was installed in Canterbury as archbishop I met all the primates, they all came to that, and I said to them that I would visit all of them in their own country which, God willing, I will have done by the end of this November, and that at the end of that we would consult together about when to have a Lambeth Conference.
“We will decide together. The next Lambeth Conference needs to be called collegially by the primates, together with real ownership of the agenda and a real sense of what we’re trying to do with such a large effort, such cost. So when we meet as primates, which I hope we will do…with reasonable notice after the end of [the visits to all the primates], then we will decide together on the details.”
The meeting proposed in today’s Press Release is in line with the above statement.
A summary of the background to the future of the Lambeth Conferences and the issues to be faced is given by the Church Times in Crunch time for the Communion as Welby summons Primates to Canterbury summit. Described as a “high-risk” attempt to hold the Anglican Communion, one of the more contentious aspects of the meeting an invitation to the Rt Revd Foley Beach, head of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), to attend for part of the time. The CT article states:
“It is understood that all options for reshaping the Communion will be on the table. The Archbishop is said to have reached the conclusion that the present status quo is unsustainable. He is said to favour moving to a structure in which the Provinces could be in communion with Canterbury but not, necessarily, one another. This would give more ‘wriggle room’ to Provinces, enabling them to be faithful to their own culture without launching salvos across the Communion at one another.
The plan was likened by one source to ‘moving into separate bedrooms’ rather than divorcing. It is said to be part inspired by the structure of the Orthodox Church, and is understood to have been discussed with Lord Williams.”
Archbishop Cranmer provides a useful commentary into what he sees as:
“Anglicanism: the final frontier. These are the prophetic voyages of Justin Welby. His continuing mission: to explore strange new reconciliations; to seek out new wine and new creations; to boldly go where no archbishop has gone before…
… at least since the Reformation”.