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Reflections on Primates’ Meeting

February 16, 2016

From A video and the full text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s reflection on the Primates’ meeting given in his presidential address to General Synod has been released. The following is the first part of his address.


Archbishop reflects on Primates’ meeting in Synod address – video

Monday 15th February 2016

In his presidential address to the General Synod today, Archbishop Justin Welby spoke about the beauty of the Anglican Communion when it comes together.

The Primates’ Meeting held in Canterbury between 11th and 15th January 2016 occasioned much comment and even more misrepresentation. It has been spun more than Donald Trump, and you would be well advised to set your spin meters to “detect” as I am hoping both to say something about what happened, at least from my point of view… and more importantly, why and what it says to us. I have no doubt most people will disagree with one or the other aspect, or all of them.

The spin included such elements as saying that the Primates had had their phones removed, and that they were being treated as children. Even some seasoned journalists believed this and printed it as fact.

It became quite a joke among us, with people waving their phones at me from time to time to indicate that my powers were limited. Neither were they treated as children. Secretary General, sit up and keep your hands still. [Laughter] 

My original aim, after wide consultation with Primates, had been to attend a series of regional meetings of Primates over the course of 2016 and 2017, before having a full Primates’ Meeting in 2018, as a run-up to the Lambeth Conference which was aimed for 2020. 

However, following the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in June 2015, and the decision of the General Convention to alter their definition of marriage so as to be gender neutral, I spent last August and early September ringing all of the Primates in order to take their advice on the next steps. It became clear that a Primates’ Meeting was required sooner rather than later.

It was also evident that were it to be convened in the normal way, there would be very significant absences, as was the case at Dublin in 2011. Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), who has a close relationship with many of the Primates who form the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) and the Global South, was therefore invited. Given the tensions that exist in North America, it speaks much of the graciousness of the Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada and the then presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and her successor Michael Curry, as well as Archbishop Foley Beach, that despite being deeply unhappy, they were still willing to come to the meeting – and we should be duly grateful to all of them. 

As you know, it was described as a Primates’ Gathering and Meeting, as the Meeting proper could only include those provinces which are recognised as institutionally part of the Anglican Communion (as distinct from churches which have an Anglican tradition and identity). To be part of the institution of the Anglican Communion, a Province must be in communion with the See of Canterbury. That was upheld as it had been understood previously at the Lambeth Conference of 1930, and was often repeated, most recently in the Eames Report 3.32. And also a Province has to be on the schedule of Provinces held by the ACC and supported by two thirds of the Primates in one way or another. There is no clear process or precedent for a new Province to join, except as an agreed spin-off from a previous Province.

The meeting was set for Canterbury because that would recall to people the way in which Canterbury, and especially its cathedral, represent the centre of the Anglican Communion. That the Meeting achieved what it did is a great tribute to the extraordinary work done by the Dean and Chapter, and indeed all the staff at Canterbury Cathedral, whose gift of Benedictine hospitality, of calm organisation, and whose ability to create a sense of security and safety in the midst of much disagreement, are absolutely unparalleled. We owe them a great deal. 

> For the full text of the Archbishop’s address, please click on this link


Also from the Anglican Communion News Service website, the response given by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, Michael Curry, to the statement about the Episcopal Church issued at the Primates Meeting: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaks on Primate’s Statement