The leaders of most of the 39 provinces of the Anglican Communion have begun arriving in England ahead of next week’s Primates’ Meeting, which takes place at Canterbury Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Communion. The Primates’ Meeting is one of Anglicanism’s four “Instruments of Communion” and helps to bind together the “independent but inter-dependent” provinces.
The Primates’ Meeting was first developed by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, to provide the senior archbishop or presiding bishop from each province with space for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation”. Since then, a number of Primates’ Meeting have taken place at different places around the globe.
Prayer and Bible study continue to be the bedrock of the meetings: next week the Primates are expected to start their gathering with a spiritual retreat; and their daily pattern will include morning prayer and evensong as they join with the daily offices at the cathedral. They will also share a daily eucharist.
There will also be the opportunity to discuss matters of concern to the primates and to brief each other on issues arising in their provinces. The agenda will be set by the primates on the first day of their meeting, but the Archbishop of Canterbury – who convenes the meeting as primus inter pares amongst the primates – has consulted with them over the past few months over what they would like to discuss.
In a series of videos for the Anglican Communion News Service, some primates have indicated their priorities for the meeting.
Archbishop Moon Hing, the Primate of South East Asia, said that he was “excited” about the Primates’ Meeting and discussions around missional strategy and discipleship. “We should be spending more time on reaching the lost souls”, he said. “These are very exciting times in South East Asia where we can see many souls coming into the Kingdom of God and being discipled.” He wanted to hear from others their news, events and discussions “to bring the church to the next level.”
The newest primate in the Anglican Communion is Archbishop John Davies of the Church in Wales, who was elected just last month. “One of the things I am hoping to learn from the Primates’ Meeting is something about the way provinces elsewhere are developing new styles and new ways of delivering their ministry,” he said.
The Church in Wales already had “a number of ideas . . . we are going to be taking advantage of,” he added, “making best use of the huge range of talent, skill and faith that we have among our people, both lay and ordained; and we are confident that developing our ministry in this way will be good for the life of the province as well as the life of the communities we serve.”
Archbishop Winston Halapua, one of the Primates of the Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, described the Primates’ Meeting as “God’s distinct gift for the Anglican Communion.”
He said: “It is a community. And the rhythm of that community is Christ. It is given to us by those who were before us. It is for us to hold it, and celebrate it, and to pass it on to the future generations.”
He spoke of the need to address climate change, which he described as a global priority. “Where is God in this issue?,” he asked. “The Church is given this mission to speak now and to share what we can contribute to this very important need of the whole world.
“My wish is to have the space so that we as primates speak from our diverse contexts, and how we can weave together our message and offer it as part of our engagement in God’s activity in the world.”
Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, the Primate of Brazil said that he was looking forward to discussing “very important issues: pastoral issues and issues relating to our reality in the world,” which included the pastoral needs of the people, the environment, and human trafficking.
He said his country’s political situation meant that human trafficking was a serious issue. “We are experiencing various difficulties in terms of politics and economics [and] people are decreasing their ability to self-sustain and to survive in the middle of a system that is very unjust,” he said.
It was a concern shared by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who said: “We will certainly be engaged in conversations about the domestic life of the Church but, rightly so, we will also be engaged in some grave issues facing our common humanity and the Earth itself. One of the most tragic, of course, is human trafficking – that’s a serious crime that stalks the Earth.”
He said that no country was exempt; and that some were origin countries, some were transit countries and others were destination countries. “The country from which I come, Canada, is labelled as all three,” he said. “And in our situation, as in many, those who are most vulnerable to be trafficked are those who are poor. In Canada, in particular, indigenous women and girls are most vulnerable.”
He continued: “Friends, it is right that the Anglican Consultative Council should challenge the provinces of the Anglican Communion to tackle this issue; and it is right that here in the Primates’ Meeting we should be giving substantial attention to it.”
It is expected that the primates will be briefed on other issues arising from last year’s Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka, including the call for a new inter-Anglican commission on inter religious relations.
At the last Primates’ Meeting, in January 2016, the primates discussed the position of the US-based Episcopal Church (TEC) following “recent developments . . . with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage.”
The primates agreed to continue to “walk together”, but said that “given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years TEC no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
The Primates also asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a task group “to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”
The archbishop’s task group held its first meeting in September last year. It is expected to report back to the Primates at their meeting next week. The decision by the synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church to permit same-sex marriages is also likely to be discussed.
Three primates – Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda, and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda – have indicated that they will not attend the meeting because of developments in the US-based Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Another three – Archbishop Sturdie Downs of Central America, Archbishop Jacob Chimeledya of Tanzania, and Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Myanmar – are expected to miss the meeting through a mixture of practical, health and internal country affairs.
In a video message published last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “We will miss those who are not there, miss them very much.”
And of the meeting itself, Archbishop Justin said: “I am greatly looking forward to the Primates meeting. It’s an extraordinary feeling to have the leaders of all the provinces gathering together to pray, to encourage one another, to weep with one another, to celebrate with one another.”
The Primates’ Meeting takes place at Canterbury Cathedral throughout next week.