From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Anticipation surrounds meeting of Anglican primates at Kanuga

Date 23 Feb 2001 12:59:12


Anticipation surrounds meeting of Anglican primates at Kanuga 

by James Solheim

     (ENS) When the top leaders of world Anglicanism gather March 2 for what has 
become an annual meeting, they will share their stories and their problems--and 
deal with some issues that seem to threaten the unity of the Anglican Communion.

     In a February 14 letter to the 37 other primates of the Communion who will 
gather at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina, Presiding Bishop Frank 
T. Griswold attached a resolution passed at the recent meeting of the church's 
Executive Council sending its "warmest greetings and our loving welcome," 
promising prayers for the primates and hoping that the meeting would be "an 
occasion of rest and renewal."

     The resolution gave thanks "for the vital response to the Gospel all around 
us in our province of the Anglican Communion and for the renewed commitment we 
see everywhere to the church's mission." The resolution added that "we are aware 
of strains and the seeds of division that exist both within our own church and in 
other parts of the Communion."

     In his opening comments to the council, Griswold said that "speaking truth 
is a corporate task" and the primary reason for the meeting of primates is not to 
make decisions but to share experience and take counsel in ways that build the 
church in different parts of the world. While there are "many predictions" 
floating around, he said that "miraculous things happen" when the primates meet 
and look deeper into the experience of Anglicans around the world in ways that 
they can "appreciate the struggles and strains."

     Underscoring Griswold's comments that "God is at work seeking to draw us all 
more deeply into communion in Christ and one another in ways yet to be revealed," 
the resolution said that "seeking the mind of Christ in the midst of difficult 
and divisive questions, while painful, can be an opportunity for us all to learn 
from one another, preserve the unity of the body, and have our understanding 

     Griswold also announced that several primates had accepted an invitation to 
visit local dioceses and several, including the archbishop of Canterbury, will be 
present for the House of Bishops retreat that begins immediately after the 
Primates' Meeting.

A different role

     Some of the primates, however, have made it clear that they will arrive at 
Kanuga prepared to challenge recent developments in the Episcopal Church USA.

     In a book of essays that address what they call "a tear in the fabric of the 
Anglican Communion" by churches that are promoting a "liberal agenda," Maurice 
Sinclair of the Southern Cone and Drexel Gomez of the West Indies urge a 
different role for the primates that may include disciplining and even suspending 
member provinces.

     Proposals appearing in the book, To Mend the Net, call on primates to warn 
their colleagues if they are considering "innovations in doctrine, discipline or 
ethics, even on an experimental basis." If a province insists on moving ahead, 
the primates could present "guidelines" to the erring province for altering its 
behavior. If there is no response, the archbishop of Canterbury might be asked to 
consider demoting the province to observer status at international meetings and 
arrange for "evangelization, pastoral care and episcopal oversight." In the most 
severe step, the primates could seek suspension of communion with the province 
and even start a new Anglican body to replace the province.

     While Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey welcomed the proposals as "a 
serious contribution" to the debate of a developing role for the primates, he 
also warned that "much will be lost by action which challenges lawful authority 
in the body of Christ."

     He added, "The mending of the net referred to in this book is an apostolic 
task and we mend nets best when we are faithful to the Gospel and in step with 
one another. This and other useful contributions will assist the Primates in 
developing collegially their role within the Anglican Communion."

Changing climate

     The issue of the role and authority of the Primates' Meeting was the subject 
of several resolutions at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Lambeth resolution III.6 
reaffirmed resolution 18.2(a) of Lambeth 1988, which called for the Primates' 
Meeting to "exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on 
doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters." The 1998 version added "intervention in 
cases of exceptional emergency…and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican 
diversity" to the primates' portfolio. And resolution IV.13 invited the 
Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Commission to recommend when ":it would be 
appropriate for him to exercise an extra-ordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral 
oversight), support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a 
Province other than his own." Still, resolution III.3 also affirms 
"subsidiarity," the idea that in the Anglican Communion a central authority 
should  perform "only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate 
or local level."

     Sinclair told the Church Times that he expected "very fierce opposition" to 
the proposals and that the outcome would depend on "whether our leadership is 
prepared to do something difficult rather than something that may appear to be 
relatively easy." But he thinks that the increasing influence of the African and 
Asian primates has altered the climate, making it more likely that they would 
challenge the dominance of American and European churches.

     "We're not looking for trouble," he said. "We're not wanting to have an 
exaggerated policing of the Communion…That would be a nightmare for everyone." 
But he said that "there's some very shaky interpretation of Scripture," and that 
is causing division and dissension.

The cost of communion

     Some primates view the proposals as a contradiction of Anglican history and 
a direct threat to the polity on which the communion is based. In a lecture in 
Halifax last December, Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church 
of Canada, challenged the proposals as un-Anglican.

     "We are not a papal church and we are not a confessional church. We are 
autonomous churches held together in a fellowship of common faith dating from the 
creeds and councils, recognizing the presidency" of the archbishop of Canterbury, 
accepting tension and struggle as "the price of the liberty and autonomy we 
cherish," Peers said. In spite of differences, "we seem inherently to understand 
that we need one another," he added. "This is some of the messiness that we have 
accepted as the cost of being in communion."

     Addressing directly the issue of "the limits of diversity," Peers said that 
"it is a question about freedom and boundaries. It is a question that is at the 
centre of Anglican life today. Communion, by its very nature, does not have clear 
boundaries," but rather is characterized by local limitations.

     "The choice facing Anglicanism at this moment in history is whether we 
continue to risk communion or trade it in either for confessional statements or a 
kind of Anglican papacy, or both," he argued. 

     Peers quoted a warning from Professor Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity 
School  in Massachusetts about a "new curialization," a tendency to develop "a 
new kind of headship, a new form of primacy, with the archbishop of Canterbury at 
the center and the primates as a kind of 'college of cardinals.'"

     The primates do not have a mandate of "supervision," Peers said, certainly 
not one that allows them to go beyond their own churches to interfere in the life 
of other provinces.

     "In our tradition, one can leave the family, but one cannot send another 
province away from the family," he said in arguing against what he saw as an 
attempt to turn the Primates'Meeting into "a central authority which has the 
power to say who is in and who is out. If that is true, then we are a long way 
from communion, hospitality and invitation."

Sinclair responds

     In response, Sinclair said in an open letter to Peers that communion is 
based on loyalty to Christ and his teaching and "if these basic loyalties are 
broken, communion is broken." And he added that a "serious loss of orthodoxy 
inevitably means substantial loss of communion."

     Sinclair also expressed his hope that "the primates will carefully consider, 
improve and adopt a proposal which is culturally sensitive, patient and pastoral, 
but which does squarely face the question of what happens when a diocese or even 
a province refuses international admonition from those whose responsibility it is 
to give it." 

     While there may be risks in attempting to give the primates more authority, 
Sinclair said that he couldn't see that "we are called to risk whatever culture-
driven innovation those from a liberal tradition want to introduce."

     Douglas is convinced the underlying issue goes beyond what the critics call 
"innovations" to a basic difference in how they are God's church in the local 
setting. "It has never been a better time to be an Anglican," he said in an 
interview. "The cultural innovations that Sinclair decries are, in fact, at the 
heart of the English Reformation that gave birth to Anglicanism. Why should we 
now, in this New Pentecost, turn our backs on the many voices seeking to be 
faithful to their contexts and the church catholic, just as our English forebears 

     He added, "What Sinclair and others fail to realize is that the birth of 
Anglicanism in the British Isles as a vernacular expression of catholic 
Christianity was a culture-driven innovation. After all, why do you think they 
burned Cranmer at the stake?"

--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News and 

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home