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Archbishop of Canterbury's statement at the final press conference of the Primates' Meeting

Posted on: October 16, 2003 4:36 PM

Good evening everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. I hope you've had a chance, at least, to glance at the statement which has been produced by our meeting which has, in fact, been unanimously agreed by the meeting of the primates. And I'd like to offer a few words of introduction to this before we turn to questions.

It has been a very remarkable couple of days in the life of the Anglican Communion and it has certainly been anything but easy. It has not been without pain. But it has been honest and open and I hope that we have grown in some real shared understanding as a result. And I do want to take this opportunity of paying tribute to my colleagues in the Communion for all the dedication and the energy and steadfastness in Christian service that they show generally and that they have shown in these two demanding days.

Such understanding as we've achieved has been very hard won and it couldn't have been otherwise given the enormous challenges that we have faced in these two days and the very widely differing positions that we have brought to them. That makes our work together all the more significant. We have, very emphatically, found the will to keep talking and working together. In short we have grown closer together rather than, as many people predicted, further apart during this meeting. And that is what matters most to all of us and what I think renders any talk of winners and losers in this irrelevant.

Now it's quite clear from our discussions that issues around human sexuality will continue to be difficult and divisive for the Anglican Communion, as they are for many Christians. These issues will continue to cause pain and anger, misunderstanding and resentment all around. But I must make it clear that the Primates' Meeting has no legal jurisdiction, it's not a supreme court of the Communion and it would have been rather surprising had we been able, at this gathering, to make all the problems go away at once. We haven't. The challenge we have worked hard to meet has been to find some way of coping with divisive issues as a Communion. So these two days have not been primarily a seminar on sexuality or an attempt to revisit discussions and decisions already taken, but rather an attempt to see what it means to be in Communion and that remains our shared commitment.

A word about Communion: people have talked about being in or out of Communion within our Church. The fact is, of course, as came out very clearly in our discussions, that Communion means a great many things, and means more than simply a set of structures, a regular pattern of meetings between Primates or any other official leaders. Communion means the Mother's Union group from Lancashire going to visit Burundi, it mean the youth workers in the West Indies going to spend five years in the United States, and all manner of things like that. It means the existing close relationships between provinces as, for a long time, between Australia and Papua New Guinea whereby the life and the resource of different bits of the Communion is shared. So the degree to which we are in or out of Communion, as between local churches, is never that easy to determine. Having said that, a superficial unity just clinging to structural forms for the sake of it is not at all what we are about. That's why I emphasise the deeper levels of Communion.

I believe that the family we belong to, the family of the Anglican Church around the globe, has to be an instrument of God's love for the world and that means that, in seeking to hold together as a Communion, we have to be seeking to serve that purpose and no other. So by attempting to work through our differences within our family we may come to a better discernment of what we're called to be in mission. I must say that some of the hardest issues that were presented to us in the last few days were ways in which mission can be affected in one part of the world by what happens in another.

So we look outwards again at the wider world we're in: a world that has remained in the focus of our prayers in our time together and we can be in no doubt about the work that is still to be done by the Church of God at large. And that greater challenge we attempt to look and in the service of that calling we have met and deliberated and sought God's guidance. What has emerged I think is a statement - an honest statement - of where we are, a statement of our willingness to work together and a recognition of the obstacles in that working together which we still face, but also some suggestions as to how we might cope with those obstacles. Thank you.