As RSVPs go, the Primates’ first responses to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to meet next January vary from the enthusiastic to the heavily caveated. The reaction in the Northern hemisphere has so far been positive.
Despite the Archbishop’s unexpected decision to invite a representative of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Episcopal Church confirmed that the Rt Revd Michael Curry, who is due to succeed Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop, would attend.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Most Revd Archbishop Fred Hiltz, welcomed the meeting as “a good thing”. Speaking on Tuesday, he described the decision to invite ACNA — it is understood that the representative will be present for one day, before the formal meeting gets under way — as “an opportunity for some conversation, in the ultimate hope that we might be able to find a way forward towards reconciliation”.
US bishops also welcomed the Archbishop’s initiative, despite reservations. “I hope that all will be in attendance, and participate fully,” the Bishop of Vermont, the Rt Revd Thomas C. Ely, said. “It is not clear to me the reasoning behind inviting other guests who are not Primates of the Anglican Communion to this meeting, especially since this is the first meeting of the Primates in quite some time.
“Clearly the Archbishop, with his wider perspective on things, thinks this is a good idea, and so I trust his judgement.”
The Archbishop of ACNA, Dr Foley Beach, confirmed that he would accept the invitation if the GAFCON Primates did, “and I am expecting that they will.”
A statement from GAFCON said that it would “prayerfully consider” the invitation. “The crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching, which continues without repentance or discipline.”
The GAFCON Primates have stayed away from recent Primates’ Meetings. It was “some encouragement” that ACNA had been invited, a statement said.
A pastoral letter issued by the Most Revd Eliud Wabukala, the Kenyan Primate and GAFCON chairman, this week, was less than sanguine about the state of the Communion, which had become, he suggested, “a source of weakness, as Churches which have rejected the truth as Anglicans have received it spread false teaching, yet continue to enjoy full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury”.
Anxiety about the direction of the Church in the West was also expressed by the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, the Most Revd Clyde Igara, who said on Tuesday that he had “some reservations” about the meeting.
“Our big and elderly sisters continue to dominate,” he said. “They want to dominate their influence on the Communion by their Western theology.” The Communion should accommodate “both the big and elder brothers, and the younger growing ones”.
He hoped to attend the meeting, but on the understanding that the Communion was “not compromising between the truth and a lie”.
But there was a warm welcome from elsewhere in the global south. “We wholeheartedly support the Archbishop of Canterbury for this important meeting,” the Primate of West Africa, the Most Revd Daniel Sarfo, said. “It is the right way for all the Primates to support him chart the way forward.”
The Archbishop of Brazil, the Most Revd Francisco de Assis da Silva, suggested that the meeting could “strengthen our sense of body and allow us to move forward as one”.
He called for “a very proactive agenda . . . We have focused much on the issues of sexuality, but I think it may be time to go beyond that. I think it is time to focus on other needs of our world.”
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