By James M Rosenthal
Holiness and Hope was the theme as the Primates (Chief Archbishops/Presiding Bishops/Moderators) of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion met in Oporto, Portugal, from 23-28 March 2000. In 15 sessions over six days the Primates maintained a brisk pace through a full agenda, as they discussed world debt, interfaith and ecumenical relations, and matters of church order, governance, and collegiality.
During patient and candid discussion, the primates arrived at a common understanding of some of the issues before them as they crafted a communiqué to the Communion and adopted it unanimously. (See attachment.) "The framing of this has helped us come a very long way in our insights - in the context of some pain, which we must acknowledge, and also in the context of prayer," said the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. George L. Carey, who is the Chairman of the Primates Meeting.
No observers or media were invited to the meeting, which was held at a Roman Catholic conference center, and conducted somewhat in the nature of a retreat, with Eucharist celebrated each morning and Evensong at the close of the afternoon sessions. The context for the meeting was set by a day of Bible Study and presentations on the Vocation of Holiness in Today's World by Professor David Ford of Cambridge University.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that these gatherings, now to be annual meetings, are "key to the continuing process of formation for the Primates as one of the 'Instruments of Unity' of the Communion." The purpose of the Primates meetings centres around the desire for collegiality, prayer, learning and sharing information. It is not a legislative or decision-making body.
"Many of the Primates came here burdened," said Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland, "and we have been refreshed by our time together." Conversations around the edges of the sessions -gave the Primates an opportunity come to know one another and share experiences and problems.
The Primates encouraged one another, and found many common strands, as they spent the better part of a day sharing their stories - full of great pain and signs of hope. They heard of the devastation of HIV/AIDS, the ravages of war, and the struggle for religious freedom. As well, they were heartened by stories of growing churches, and successful efforts to improve the quality of life for the most desperately poor.
"I have seen sign of hope in a common commitment to evangelism," said Presiding Bishop Maurice Sinclair of the Province of the Southern Cone, who also found the sharing of issues of debt relief and sustainable development "particularly valuable."
The work of religious bodies toward the relief of world debt was affirmed by the Right Honorable Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development in the United Kingdom. "Without your movement, we wouldn't be where we are now," she told the Primates. "You have achieved a fantastic thing."
Issues of human sexuality, and particularly the role of homosexual persons in the life of the Communion, received careful consideration. It was clear from the beginning of the discussions on sexuality that people approached the subject from diverse contexts and widely different culture perspectives. One primate noted that the Section Report at the Lambeth Conference had carefully described the wide range of views - and that the range was evident in the Primate's meeting.
"It is troubling that sexuality took a disproportionate amount of time, given the more drastic concerns of poverty, world debt and genocide," said the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Frank T Griswold, who also noted "profound sense of healing and deepened communion in the wake of the 1998 Lambeth Conference."
The senior Primate, the Archbishop of Central Africa agreed. "There has been a nudge forward from the mood at Lambeth to where we are now on the question of sexuality," said Archbishop Khotso Makhulu. "It is my hope that we have halted or slowed down conservative ascendancy." He was encouraged that "discussion on the Singapore event has focussed on our mutuality."
The irregular ordination in Singapore in late January received the attention of the Primates. (See Communiqué.) The Primate of Rwanda, who participated in the ordination said after the Primates meeting that he saw a sign of hope in "keeping the unity, frank and honest expression, and reminding each other of mutual accountability."
Preaching at the first Eucharist of the meeting, Archbishop Carey said, "the Communion has developed so rapidly. We have so much to offer to the world, so much to celebrate; but we also need the humility to recognise that we too must wrestle with changes in the world, and that involves 'growing pains'."
While in Oporto, the Primates were greeted by the mayor at City Hall, and entertained the Roman Catholic Archbishops and his Auxiliary Bishops at a luncheon. They also took the opportunity to share in the life, worship and witness of the local Anglican Communion presence in Portugal, the Lusitanian Church.
A colorful street procession preceded the Sunday liturgy. The host Bishop, the Rt Revd Fernando Soares, was the celebrant of the Sunday Eucharist with others bishops in Europe, the Rt Revd John Hind and the Rt Revd Carlos Lozano Lopez, joining in the concelebrated liturgy. Bishop Soares invited eight primates to join him at the altar, expressing the Lusitanian Church´s thanks for the influence and help given by the eight Provinces in differing ways. Included in this was the bestowal of the historic episcopate from the Church of Ireland, USA and Brasil.
In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of Jesus´ encounter and expulsion of the money-changers in the temple, interlopers in the House of God. He alluded to the need to be cautious of our misuse of the church and its message.
He said, "What was it that infuriated Jesus so much-? An everyday scene was turned on its head. Jesus saw things with new eyes. The people saw a building, Jesus saw a temple which represented all the possibilities of mission and service. Their eyes were focused on stones and images of the divine, his eyes were focused on God. And that is why in John's Gospel the image of the temple is transformed into that of the body - his body given over to death."
The Archbishop said, "On Friday we remembered the murder of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who died twenty years ago. In one of his homilies, he said this of prayer:
'We must lose ourselves in the beauty,
in the sublimity of God,
giving him thanks for favours received,
begging pardon for our infidelities,
praying to him when the limitations of our power
clash with the greatness asked of us.
We must learn to understand that we have such a
capacity and that God desires to fill up that capacity.'
And this is the humility to accept that we don't know all the answers nor even all the questions! We are here in Oporto as Primates bearing the weight of our Provinces to meet with our questions and to seek, under God, his answers. But, I have found over the years that the answers do not usually come at once. Waiting often precedes the answers. And we shall serve our Communion best when we are patient and wait together - with the humility to accept that we need to understand."
The Youth Department of the Lusitanian Church music with a Latin flavour throughout the Sunday liturgy. The Primates visited the Church of the Good Shepherd for lunch, a presentation on the local church ministries and then Evensong. During the afternoon a sightseeing tour found the Primates, most in their bright purple shirts, attracting much attention on the waterfront tourist spots.
The next gathering of the Primates will be held in the Province of the Episcopal Church in the United States in March, 2001.