The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, reflects on last week’s Primates’ Meeting in Jordan.
When the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, called together the Primates of the Anglican Communion in 1978 for the first time, he had in mind an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation”. Last week in Jordan, 42 years after that first meeting, a large number of Anglican Communion primates gathered to do just that.
It was a privilege to listen to Anglican leaders from around the world as they briefed their fellow-primates on issues in their provinces. It was, simultaneously, a painful time and a time of great joy. We heard of conflict and war, of persecution and restrictions on the ability of Christians to share their faith. And we heard of great growth, and of new freedoms for Christians – including, in one country, the restoration of a traditional public march of witness and in other countries the planting of many, many new churches.
We were honoured to begin our meeting with an audience with King Abdullah II. His Majesty spoke to us about the role Jordan plays in the region in working for stability and peace; and the efforts of both him and his family in protecting the Christian community in the region. His Majesty spoke strongly of the need to ensure the continuing Christian presence in this region.
We were hosted by Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican / Episcopal Archbishop in Jerusalem, whose diocese covers Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan; and President Bishop Michael Lewis, Primate of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The Diocese in Jerusalem is a small community – a minority within a minority – but is highly respected in the region for its great ministries in healthcare and education.
During their meeting, the Primates discussed a range of issues, and spent a great deal of time discussing both the forthcoming Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops and the work of the Primates’ Task Group, which was established following the January 2016 Primates’ Meeting to work out ways in which the Anglican Communion can deliver the primates’ commitment “to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.”
That commitment to walk together was so evident at last week’s meeting. Of course there were differences. There always will be. There always have been. The New Testament letters are full of them. But despite those differences – which were aired and not hidden – there was also a spirit of unity. Primates listened to each other with respect; and they prayed with and for each other.
There was a sense of God’s amazing grace in the meeting and I was very excited about what I saw, heard and experienced. I pray and hope, with great expectation, that this sense of leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation will carry forward to the Lambeth Conference later this year.
When the primates gather, no matter how good the meeting is, we are always aware of those who are not with us. Last week, the primates of Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda chose to absent themselves over differences within the Communion; and the Church of South India was busy electing a new Moderator as we were travelling to Jordan. Three more primates: North India, Papua New Guinea and Central Africa were absent because of a mixture of ill-health, security and logistics.
Please join me in praying for all the primates, their provinces and dioceses at this exciting time for the Anglican Communion.