Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the “first-among-equals” leader of the world’s Anglican churches, has published his reflection on the 2016 Primates Meeting.
The Jan. 11-15 meeting of the leaders, or primates, of the Anglican Communion ended with a three-year suspension of The Episcopal Church’s right to represent the Anglican Communion on interfaith or ecumenical bodies and vote on doctrine and polity because of The Episcopal Church’s unilateral decision to recognize same-sex marriage.
“It’s no secret to say that before the meeting, the signs were not good,” Archbishop Justin writes in the reflection.
“It really was possible that we would reach a decision to walk apart — in effect, to split the Anglican Communion.”
Despite the sharply felt differences at the Primates Meeting, which included Ugandan Archbishop Stanley Ntagali’s walk out, the primates committed to keeping the Communion together — albeit with a clear rebuke to The Episcopal Church, Anglicanism’s historic representative in the U.S.
The meeting reached a point on Wednesday [Jan. 13] where we chose quite simply to decide on this point — do we walk together at a distance, or walk apart? And what happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations. It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’. As leaders of our Anglican Communion, and more importantly as Christians, we looked at each other across our deep and complex differences — and we recognised those we saw as those with whom we are called to journey in hope towards the truth and love of Jesus Christ. It was our unanimous decision to walk together and to take responsibility for making that work.
…Because of that, the unity that was so remarkably shown by the Anglican Primates in Canterbury last week is always costly. It is always painful. It feels very fragile. We are a global family of churches in 165 countries, speaking over a thousand languages and living in hundreds of different cultures — how could we not wound each other as we seek to hold together amidst great diversity?
“This has been a disappointing time for many. And there will be heartache and pain for many.”
But he also included his thoughts about the nature of the Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church remains a part.
“The Anglican Communion is really not a matter of structure and organization,” Presiding Bishop Curry said.
“The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships … that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth, by helping the poorest of the poor and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry, ever.”
In a similar way, Archbishop Justin, in his statement, also offered his reflections on the church, “which is not an organisation but a body of people committed to each other because they are followers of Jesus Christ.”
Whether this network of relationships, this body of committed people, can remain in communion over the coming years remains to be seen. At the Primates Meeting, the leaders gave voice and vote to Archbishop Foley Beach, the head of the Anglican Church in North America, a newly formed conservative alternative to The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.