[ACNS] The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has written to every primate in the Anglican Communion to set out his hopes for the next Primates’ Meeting, which will take place in Canterbury in October. He also gave details of last week’s report by the Church of England’s House of Bishops on human sexuality. In the letter, Archbishop Justin sets out his vision for the meeting in Canterbury as an opportunity for relaxed fellowship and mutual consultation. He invites the primates to submit items for the agenda and says he’s aware of the pressures under which many of them live.
“I certainly feel the need to be with you, to share our experience and in prayer and fellowship, to support one another and seek how best we can serve the call to preach the gospel, serve the poor and proclaim the Kingdom of God,” he says.
The Archbishop goes on to unpack the declaration on human sexuality which was published last week before a debate at the Church of England’s General Synod later this month.
He describes as a “key outcome” the recommendation that the Church of England’s teaching on marriage should remain unchanged, meaning there can be no same-sex weddings in the Church of England. But he adds that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples needs clarification and notes the Bishops’ acknowledgment that the Church needs to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke.
Last week’s report has also been welcomed by the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who said: “The issue of same-sex marriage is highly emotive within the church. I understand the depth of passion on each side of the debate and I understand that any decision will leave some feeling disappointed and wounded by the outcome.
“I support the Bishops’ declaration that doctrine on marriage should not change – that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and woman. The Anglican Communion position is set out in Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. That is our lodestar.
“But it is right that we acknowledge that some of our brothers and sisters do have same-sex attraction and I support the move for a ‘fresh tone’ in the way the issues are debated. Anglicans are called to love all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation. We are committed to welcoming and loving people with same-sex attraction. More than that, we need to fight against homophobia and anything that criminalises LGBTQ people.”
Preparations for the Primates Meeting are well underway. Archbishop Justin’s invitation has been sent to the primates of the other 37 provinces of the Anglican Communion. It will be the first time the group has formally assembled since the gathering and meeting in January 2016, although many were in Rome last October at the invitation of the Anglican Centre there as it celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The 2016 Primates’ gathering drew worldwide attention. It concluded with a communiqué which set out consequences for the US-based Episcopal Church (TEC) following its decision to change its canon on marriage. As a result, members of TEC have stepped down from IASCUFO – the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order – and also from the IRAD ecumenical dialogue. Members of TEC participated in ACC-16 in Lusaka, but none took part in formal votes on issues of doctrine and polity – another stipulation of the Primates’ communiqué. In fact, all matters of doctrine and polity were agreed by consensus so no formal vote was necessary.
The January 2016 meeting also called for the setting up of a Task Group to explore differences and seek ways to restore relationship and rebuild trust. The Task Group, which draws members from across the Anglican Communion, subsequently met in September last year and is due to meet again during 2017.
This article was updated on 2 February to make clear that no formal votes were held on issues of doctrine and polity at ACC-16. None was necessary because all such matters were agreed by consensus.