The Archbishop of Canterbury could face a walk out Wednesday of conservative archbishops, whose call for him to honor past agreements of the primates meetings and to restore “godly order” to the Anglican Communion, appears not to have been met. Though no walk out has happened so far, and ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach has been a full participant from the start, the tone of the meeting has changed, and the pace has quickened.
On the second day of the gathering of primates, sources tell Anglican Ink, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was asked by leaders of the GAFCON and Global South Anglican movements to address the divisions within the Communion caused by innovations in doctrine and discipline adopted by the Episcopal Church of the USA and Anglican Church of Canada. Late on Tuesday, it appears he has failed to do so to their satisfaction.
In statements released before the meeting, African, Asian and South American church leaders warned they would leave the meeting -- not leave the Anglican Communion -- if the two North American provinces were not disciplined for introducing liturgies of same-sex blessings/marriages and consecrating non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy as bishops.
The chairman of GAFCON, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya on 17 Dec 2015 said the January gathering “a basic church-defining principle will be at stake: Will Christ rule our life and witness through His word, or will our life and witness be conformed to the global ambitions of a secular culture?”
The capitulation of some Western provinces to the cultural relativism, nihilism and sexual antinomianism of the age was a challenge to the integrity of Anglicanism’s witness to the Gospels of Jesus Christ, he said. The issue was not homosexuality, per se, but the corrosive culture of the West.
“We are praying that the Communion will emerge from its current crisis repentant, renewed and restored for its global mission of proclaiming the gospel which is good news for all people, in all places and at all times. This is the hope and testimony of the GAFCON Primates as they approach this gathering,” he said.
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali spelled out what such repentance would look like in a letter to the clergy of Uganda on 6 January 2016. He noted the Church of Uganda’s synod had adopted a resolution withdrawing the province from participation “any official meetings of the Anglican Communion until godly order is restored.”
It had been eight years since the Primates had unanimously agreed to a plan “to bring discipline and restore order” to the Communion, but Archbishop Rowan William “unilaterally overruled it and did not implement it.”
The GAFCON primates had met with Dr. Williams’ successor, Archbishop Justin Welby, in Nairobi in 2013 and Egypt in 2015 and explained that they could not participate in official meetings where representatives of the American and Canadian churches were present. The January Canterbury assembly was a “gathering” and not a “meeting”, he said, allowing him to attend to discuss the future of the communion.
GAFCON had a “clear vision” for the church, and Archbishop Welby “understands that the first topic of conversation in the ‘gathering’ of Primates is the restoration of godly order in the Anglican Communion. This is the unfinished business from the non-implemented, but unanimously agreed, Communique from the 2007 Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam.”
“If godly order is restored during the “gathering” of Primates, then I will be free to join any subsequent Primates Meeting that may be convened immediately thereafter in Canterbury. If such godly order is not restored, then I will uphold the Provincial Assembly’s resolution and withdraw from the meeting.,” Archbishop Ntagali said.
Details of the deliberations of the second day are unclear, as no press statements or briefings have been given to the media. However, sources tell Anglican Ink that they believe an agenda was set on the first day that included discussion of the concerns over the US and Canada for Tuesday.
On Monday evening the GAFCON and Global South primates were upbeat. Archbishop Welby had delivered an address to them that acknowledged the virtues of their position, and outlined how the Church of England was attempting to hold the line against secularist and relativist encroachments in the moral life of England and in the doctrines and discipline of the Church.
Sources present at the worship service on Monday evening tell AI there was an “electric” atmosphere in Canterbury Cathedral, where the words of Scripture read in the Evensong service seemed tailor made for the issues before the archbishops.
However, when the question was put to the group on Tuesday, the trajectory of the meeting shifted. Though details remain unconfirmed, it is believed Archbishop Welby attempted to use a technique he brought to the 2011 Dublin primates meeting.
In Dublin, Archbishop Welby -- then the Dean of Liverpool -- served as a facilitator of conversations amongst the primates using the Delphi Method. Developed by the RAND Corporation in the USA, the Delphi method is structured communication technique, where participants break into small groups and discuss set questions. A facilitator or change agent provides an anonymous summary of the discussions as well as the reasons for the participant’s judgments. Participants are encouraged to revise their earlier answers in light of the replies of other members of their group -- during the process the range of answers decreases and the group converges towards a “correct” answer.
Use of the Delphi method at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and other pan-Anglican gatherings has been sharply criticized by non-Western clergy, who see it as a paternalistic attempt to manipulate them and achieve a predetermined outcome, by adopting a “divide and conquer” approach. It is believed this method of discussion was resisted by some primates who wished to proceed as a committee of the whole.
Worship on Tuesday evening in Canterbury Cathedral gave witness to the discord amongst the primates. One participant (not a primate) told AI the atmosphere had changed. “Spiritually it was totally different. Last night it was electric with the Scriptures speaking clearly and powerfully, as if God was speaking.”
On Tuesday it “felt spiritually totally different .. it felt blue.”
Coupled with these spiritual observations was the absence of from half to a third of the primates from worship -- including all of the GAFCON primates and many of the Global South primates. Among those present, the pleasantries and casual conversation of the first evening were now absent. The Archbishop of York scowled throughout the service, while the Archbishop of Canterbury spent two thirds of the service on his knees in silent prayer. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry appeared to be exhausted, and dragged his leg as he walked up the aisle, while Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz was “stoic” throughout the service.
Unconfirmed reports state some primates met on Tuesday evening to discuss their next move. Speculation centers around several scenarios: leaving at once, leaving in the morning, attending the morning session to see if the situation changes overnight, or staying put and insisting on reform and pushing back against the cultural biases that could derail the gathering.
Questions about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership skills have also arisen amongst the primates, AI has learned, with some privately saying a solution could be found if he stepped to one side, placing less reliance on Western managerial techniques and more on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Officially, nothing has happened. No one has yet left the meeting, and the sun may shine all day Wednesday. However, the day may well end with wounded and embarrassed Justin Welby.
A walk out, sources tell AI, does not mean an end to the Anglican Communion. For the GAFCON primates it has been broken since the 2003 emergency primates meeting at Lambeth Palace when for the first time the archbishops refused to take communion together at the same altar -- Eucharistic fellowship has been impaired for over 12 years. Nor will the situation worsen, as a walk out will see no immediate changes in structures or relationships of the 38 Anglican provinces. It will be, however, as Archbishop Welby told the BBC on Monday, a “failure” for him and his attempts to heal a broken church.