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BY RALINDA B. GREGOR, EXECUTIVE EDITOR
The meeting of 2/3 of the Anglican Communion primates concluded January 31st with no statement regarding the Episcopal Church's (TEC) consecration of a partnered lesbian bishop and no mention of the proposed Anglican Covenant which is being considered for adoption by the provinces. Instead, the primates outlined their thoughts on the role of primates, the purpose of the Primates' Meeting, and the role of the Primates' Standing Committee. They reelected TEC Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori as one of five new members of the Primates' Standing Committee. The gathering also issued several open letters and statements on issues like the rebuilding of Haiti, calling for action to alleviate climate change and violence against women and girls, and decrying the victimization of homosexuals.
For the few journalists that followed the meeting, the most newsworthy statement was the one made by those primates that chose not to attend the meeting. The primates of Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Kenya, Nigeria, Southeast Asia, Southern Cone, Tanzania, Uganda and West Africa all expressed either privately or openly that they would not attend the meeting because decisions from previous meetings had not been upheld and acted on with respect to the consecration of partnered homosexual bishops in TEC and same-sex blessings in TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. The newly consecrated primate of Rwanda, the Most Rev. Onesphore Rwaje, also did not attend, and despite the Anglican Communion Office's (ACO) claim that it was due to provincial matters, his decision more likely reflects his predecessor's position to boycott the meeting.
Many expected the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) primates' absence because they announced it in their Oxford Statement of November, 2010. However, the absence of Archbishop John Chew (Southeast Asia), Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East), and Archbishop Ian Ernest (Indian Ocean) reflects a broader group who have become disillusioned with the way the Primates' Meeting is conducted.
Their reasons for not attending were reiterated in an unsigned editorial which appeared on the Global South Anglican website a
|Archbishop David Chillingworth of the Scottish Episcopal Church (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the meeting's only press conference. (ACNS Photo)
week before the meeting. It stated, in part: "As it stands, the Meeting is almost pre-determined to end up as just another gathering that again cannot bring about effective ecclesial actions, despite the precious time, energy and monetary resources that Primates and Provinces have invested in attending the Meeting.... With the disappointingly lack of serious transparent planning and leadership beforehand to prepare the Primates for a genuine meeting of minds and hearts to face the very real and obvious issues before us, it will be strenuous to expect any significant, meaningful, credible and constructive outcome of the Dublin Meeting."
Four outside facilitators led the primates in their indaba-style discussions: Stephen Lyon, Church of England Partnership for World Mission secretary and administrator of the ACO's Bible in the Life of the Church project; Alice Mogwe, director of DITSHWANELO - the Botswana Centre for Human Rights; Dr. Cecilia Clegg, a Roman Catholic nun and an expert in reconciliation and conflict transformation who teaches at the University of Edinburgh; and the Rev. Canon Justin Welby, dean of Liverpool Cathedral and one of the Pastoral Visitors appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. All have extensive experience in facilitation and mediation, according to Anglican Communion Office spokesperson, Jan Butter. Mogwe and Clegg both participated in the Continuing Indaba Project as facilitators for one of the planning pilot conversations last year.
In addition to the four facilitators, a team of 15 "organizers", most coming from the Anglican Communion Office, managed the tightly controlled meeting of 23 primates.
The nature of the Primates' Meeting
The facilitated meeting produced a working document on the purpose and scope of the Primates' Meeting. It describes the role of the primates as bringing the "local" to the "global" and then interpreting the global back to the local. As a group, the primates "provide a focal point of unity," "address pressing issues in the life of the Communion," and "provide guidance for the Communion" which sounds very much like the type of leadership the Global South primates have hoped to regain. However, the paper goes on to describe how the primates intend to do that and the process resembles more of the same Anglican fudge that has so far failed to heal the huge rift in the Communion. According to the outline, the primates endeavor to accomplish their work by being "spiritually aware," "collegial," and "consultative;" "acknowledging diversity and giving space for difference;" and exercising authority once they have reached a consensus. No attempt is made to address the underlying problem of the widely divergent theology that exists among the primates, making any type of consensus merely a lowest common denominator solution.
The Primates' Standing Committee is put forth as one of the ways the primates accomplish their work, and a separate document addresses the role of the standing committee. It is to act as a consultative council for the Archbishop of Canterbury and to "care for the life and spirit of the Primates' Meeting between meetings." It is also to act as a bridge builder among the regions and the primates. Because this "job description" is only a working document, it is not the final word on the role of the standing committee and could even reflect some pushback against the recently expanded role of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee. The job description from the Dublin meeting is curiously devoid of decision-making authority.
In addition to the 15 empty chairs representing the missing primates, another missing element of the meeting was any statement on TEC's consecration of a second partnered homosexual bishop last year. The Archbishop of Canterbury said there is unfinished business about the eligibility of such individuals to be bishops in the church. In a post meeting press conference he said:
"The traditional ethic of the church recognizes that some people have homosexual inclinations, has not blessed homosexual partnerships, and therefore there's unfinished business-to put it mildly-about their eligibility." However, in 1998, Lambeth Resolution 1.10 clearly stated that the vast majority of the Communion's bishops "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions." Dr. Williams may consider it unfinished business, but the 15 empty chairs suggest that for many of the primates, the question has been settled. †