So far, the biggest stories coming out of the meeting of leaders of the churches of the Anglican Communion, are the imposition of “consequences” against the Scottish Episcopal Church for their embrace of marriage equality and the kerfuffle over allowing Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, to lead a prayer in response to the mass murder in Las Vegas.
As was expected, the gathered Primates chose to implement the same consequences on the Sottish church as were implemented previously against the Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told reporters: “Bishop Mark [Strange, Primus of SEC] said in his opening presentation that he expected that to happen and accepted that it would. It is left in my hands to follow that through and it will be followed through as I did after the Primates’ Meeting of 2016.” Archbishop Welby confirmed that no vote was taken by the Primates, explaining that it is unusual for formal votes to be taken at Primates’ Meetings. There was a “consensus” he said.
Bishop Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church said:
“In June the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to change its Canon on Marriage. This decision was ours to take as a self-governing province of the Anglican Communion. However, I recognize that this decision is one that has caused some hurt and anger in parts of the Anglican Communion and that the decision taken at the last Primates’ Meeting, which was to exclude our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church [ in the United States] from debate on doctrine and from chairing Anglican Communion committees, is a decision that now also pertains to us.
We will continue to play our part in the Anglican Communion we helped to establish, and I will do all I can to rebuild relationships, but that will be done from the position our Church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes and in the belief that love means love.”
Justin Welby said he also clarified some points regarding some confusion over the limitations of the Primates’ previous decision to “sanction’ the Episcopal church.
“One was that the Episcopal Church . . . was at the Anglican Consultative Council Meeting in Lusaka last year. Of course the ACC is a Trust under English law. They are members of that trust. In fact one of them at the time, although he has stepped down, was a trustee. I have no power to overrule English law and say they can’t come. And so that was explained. I don’t think that had been fully understood.
The other was asking why the Presiding Bishop of TEC was on the task group looking at walking together. When you look at the wording of what was decided last time it was perfectly clear that there needed to be a conversation, a dialogue, about what it meant. And you clearly can’t have a conversation when you only have one group in the room.”
It should be noted though that the governing documents of the Anglican Communion do not provide any authority for the Primates to impose sanctions or consequences on any constituent member. The Primates do not constitute any kind of magisterium for the Anglican churches, each of which are self-contained church bodies. The truth is they do not have the authority nor does the Anglican Communion have the mechanisms for them to truly enforce their will.
Concerning Bishop Curry being invited to offer prayer at an evensong service, Canon Andrew Gross, Canon for Communications and Media Relations for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), speaking on behalf of GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference), said that the decision to invite Curry to lead the congregation in prayer at the Evensong service “put the GAFCON primates in a difficult spot.” Speaking at a press conference in a nearby hotel, he said they were “forced to look like they are walking together when they are not walking together.”
It was not clear whether Gross was actually speaking on behalf of any of the individual Primates, even though several present were members of GAFCON. The leader of the ACNA, Bishop Foley Beach, was not present nor invited. Though some GAFCON churches are in communion with the ACNA, they are not members of the Anglican Communion and have had no role in this meeting. The most vocal members of GAFCON, the leaders of the Anglican Churches in Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda boycotted the meeting.
A clearly frustrated Welby answered in reply,
“Michael Curry, who is a citizen of the United States, was asked by us – after we had talked with anguish about the events in Las Vegas – we said: ‘Could you lead a prayer as we begin our prayers together at Evensong?
People all over the world are praying for Las Vegas, I don’t think we ought to bring church politics into Las Vegas. I mean, it is the most dreadful, horrendous, appalling event. I suppose that I would be surprised and disappointed by that comment.”
In a statement, GAFCON has expressed frustration over the characterization that their members are “walking together” with their fellow Primates.
“The persistent assertions that the Primates of the Anglican Communion are ‘walking together’, do not reflect the reality.
Three of the leading Primates of the Communion are absent from the meeting in Canterbury on firmly stated principle.
They have chosen to witness to the truth by their absence.
The presence of the Primates from Canada and the United States and the absence of Archbishop Foley Beach whose Church is recognised by Anglicans around the world, is a further testimony to a Communion in which the leaders are not walking together.
Several of the other primates who are attending the meeting are equally concerned about the divisions over the authority of scripture within the Communion, but intend to remain in defence of the Gospel. The Primates are not walking together. At best, they say, “they are walking at a distance.” At worst, they are walking in different directions.
Overall, the meeting has been described as a positive one. According to Church Times;
Sources have described the fellowship among those at the closed gathering as “extraordinary”. Any suggestion that the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church might feel uncomfortable was inaccurate.
One long-standing Primate is said to have described the meeting as “the best he can recall” in terms of relationships within the group, as well as the tone of the conversation between the Primates.