[ACNS, by Staff Writer] The leaders of 36 of the Anglican Communion’s 40 member churches will gather in the Middle East next week for what has been described as “a very strategic meeting.” The chief pastors of the Communion – the senior archbishops, moderators and presiding bishops of the Anglican provinces – will meet from Monday 13 January to Wednesday 15 January in formal session. A preliminary meeting will be held on Sunday 12 January for new Primates, elected or appointed to their position since the previous Primates’ Meeting in October 2017.
On Thursday 16 January, the primates will take part in separate pilgrimages, beginning together at the site of Jesus’ baptism with a Eucharist and reaffirmation of baptism vows, before one group heads to Salt and Mount Nebo while another crosses to the west bank of the River Jordan for visits to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, is hosting the meeting in his diocese which includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Next week’s meeting “is part of a considerably thought-through and evolving process, right from when Archbishop Justin became Archbishop of Canterbury”, a spokesman said during a media briefing organised by the Anglican Communion Office. It began the day after his installation in Canterbury Cathedral “when he met with the primates in various groups and then went and visited them all in their homes. It is a practice he continues to try to do when new primates are appointed.
“He was able to bring together a Primates’ Meeting where everyone was present in 2016 and build a consensus to hold a Lambeth Conference, to have a follow-up [meeting] to that in 2017, then to meet in regional meetings of the primates – which is what has been happening over the past two years rather than one big meeting, which has been very successful in both helping them develop their regional identities and the potential that offers for collaborative working – and now we come to this, the last full Primates’ Meeting before the Lambeth Conference.”
The spokesman said that while primates’ “don’t have a veto on the Lambeth Conference”, Archbishop Justin was “committed to consulting, hearing their views and receiving their input.”
He added: “That will be a process that culminates at the Primates’ Meeting; it doesn’t start at it. The Archbishop is very committed to his communication with the primates . . . he will have phoned all 40 of them and will have spoken to them about the meeting and some of the issues that need to be addressed.”
The Primates’ Meeting will be “a key pivotal moment at which the main item of business will be sharing with the primates . . . the proposed programme for the Lambeth Conference that the Design Group has been working on, the approach that will be taken at the Lambeth Conference, to inform them, to get further feedback from them when they are all together.
“They have all had a sense of it in the phone calls, so this is gathering it up in the collegial spirit in which the Primates’ Meetings are designed to foster.”
Some members of the Community of St Anselm – the youth-focused new monastic movement based at Lambeth Palace - will maintain “a praying presence” during the Primates’ Meeting, which is being held near the baptism site.
Another item on the agenda will be a report from the Task Group that was established following the 2016 Primates’ Meeting to maintain relationships within the Anglican Communion. The spokesman said that the Task Group has been considering “what impaired communion and distance looks like” and will present its thinking on how the Communion can continue to walk together.
Despite the commitment to “walk together at a distance” made by the primates at their 2016 meeting, the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda – Archbishops Nicholas Okoh, Laurent Mbanda and Stanley Ntagali – have said that they will not take part in next week’s gathering in Jordan. The Moderator of the Church of South India, Bishop Thomas Oommen, is unable to attend as his provincial synod will be meeting at the same time as the Primates’ Meeting to elect a new Moderator.
- ACNS will carry a brief report from the Primates’ Meeting on Tuesday 14 January ahead of our full coverage on Tuesday 21 January.