At the end of a successful Primates’ Meeting in Jordan last week, the leaders of the Anglican Communion gathered at the shores of the River Jordan, a few metres from the site of Jesus’ baptism, for a service of holy communion and to renew their baptism vows. The primates had visited a conference hall near this site at the start of their meeting, when they were received in audience by His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, who spoke of Christians as “an inherent component and an integral part of the fabric of the region.”
In a homily during the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke of the history of conflict in the region since 1945, saying: “This is a place of the reality of pain, of sin, of struggle, and of death and of the call to reconciliation. And that reality is a reality for so many of us, so many of you. As we have heard in the last few days, you live in places of pain and struggle and sin and war and death.”
The service took place on Thursday 16 January, when the lectionary reflects on the Baptism of Christ. The Gospel reading was taken from Mark 1:40 to the end – the story of the leper who was made clean by Jesus. Archbishop Justin spoke of the two meanings of being made clean: “there is the cleansing according to the law of Moses [and] there is the deep cleansing that comes with the words of Jesus when he says ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’”
He added: “as we come here today, the Spirit of God who is with us searches our hearts and sees our fears, the fears that are too deep for us even to know, certainly the ones we know but have not shared with each other. The Spirit sees our guilt, our sin, and searches both.
“We also come as lepers to the presence of Jesus as we do each day, but today in a special way because of this site. We come as lepers and say ‘are you willing to make us clean?’
“And he says ‘I am willing, I do choose, Be made clean’.
"That is the gift that comes to each of us and all of us afresh each day. . . We know our sin and our failure. And Jesus says ‘I do choose, be made clean’. More than that, we come as individuals, loved because Jesus reaches out to the sinner. Not loved because we’re primates, but loved because Jesus reaches out to the sinner. And we all qualify very adequately as sinners.”
He said that as well as individual sin, the primates came as icons of their dioceses and provinces, saying: “we come knowing in the depths of hearts, and sometimes very publicly, the weakness of our Provinces, and the strengths, where we’ve seen the grace of God, the move of the Spirit, the transformation of lives, the change of society, the call for justice. We see those. But we also remember where we’ve seen abuse, where we’ve seen those who are proud of their power, those who grasp for money, for sex, for power.”
He continued: “there is leprosy in our church. ‘Do you choose to make us clean?’ As Jesus opens his arms and says ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’”
After renewing their baptism vows, the Archbishop took a bowl of water from the River Jordan and used a bunch of leaves to asperse the primates, members of the Community of St Anselm (CoSA) and Chemin Neuf Community, and staff from Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office with the water, before asking a member of CoSA to do the same to him.
After the service, one group of primates went on pilgrimage to Salt and Mount Nebo in Jordan, while another, led by the Archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, travelled across the Jordan to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where they visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Nativity. This group met with Greek Patriarch Theophilos III and the other Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. They prayed for peace in the region, and for the local Christian community.
“We pray for you constantly,” Archbishop Justin told local Christian leaders. “We pray indiscriminately for all Christians here. We give thanks for your witness to justice and to hope. We know that it is often very, very difficult for all the Christians here. So we thank God for you. You give us hope and resilience.”
The Anglican leaders who took part in the Primates’ Meeting spoke of leaving Jordan feeling renewed and refreshed. “This experience, apart from being a very humbling experience, is an experience that has helped me to understand that we really need to walk together, because together we do this even better,” the Primate of the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America, Bishop of Panama Julio Murray Thompson, said. “Sad to say, that those who are not here, maybe they need to learn and know that, as we say in Panama, the light on the outside of the porch will always be on: when you want to come back, when you want to reunite, the doors will always be open because we need each other.”
He was speaking about the primates of Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda, who had chosen not to attend the meeting because of decisions taken by some provinces. Four other primates were absent: South India, North India, Papua New Guinea and Central Africa were absent through a mixture of vacancy, illness and logistical difficulties.
The Primate of Hong Kong, Archbishop Paul Kwong, Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, described the gathering as “the best Primates’ Meeting I have ever attended,” adding: “there is a sense of cordial and friendly atmosphere at the meeting, and those present were so honest to each other and also very friendly to each other. There was a very harmonious relationship. . . There was a sense of moving on and trying to make the Communion more relevant to the mission of the Church.”
The Primate of All Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, who retires next month, said last week’s Primates’ Meeting was “probably the best” of the three he had attended. “The conclusion at the baptism site I found extremely moving”, he said. “Because baptism is at the root of all that we undertake in whatever kind of ministry, it always seems to me that we go back to first principles when we go to a baptism site and renew our baptism promises.
“I found it particularly moving because in a week’s time I will be doing what will be my final Confirmation in Armagh with nearly 60 candidates. And there is a wonderful sense that as they will be renewing their baptism promises I can say to them that I renewed my baptism site in a different way near the site where our Lord did.”
The Archbishop of Melbourne, Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said: “At this meeting there has been a warm and friendly mood, and one which didn’t seem to be as anxious. There wasn’t as much sense of tension.
“The people who were in the room – and we know that there were some people not in the room – but the people who were in the room I think were saying that the commitment we made back in 2016 to walk together with was one we wanted to continue to enact without it always being on thin ice.
“People were very realistic in recognising the differences that exist across the Communion and the potential of any of those things, if they are weaponised, to become very destructive. But there was a sense that despite those differences there is a great gift in our unity . . . that we simply put in peril by walking in a way that allows for greater fragmentation.”
- Click here to read the Communiqué released by the Primates at the conclusion of their meeting.