Ramblings on the Primates Meeting from the Global South and the Anglican Communion Institute

The upcoming Primates Meeting is the subject of two posts this past week from those from the 'slow-down' crowd - The Anglican Communion Institute and the Global South Anglican office. The GSA post is titled an editorial, the ACI post is just a post, but signed off by the whole of the writing group that constitutes the ACI.  

The Anglican Communion Institute consists of several gentlemen and various computers. Sometimes they post interesting and useful material. Often they do not. But the title for their web site suggests a greater importance to their work than is warranted.  The Anglican Communion Institute is in no way an "institute" of the Anglican Communion nor has it a particular claim to be a voice in any way for the Anglican Communion.  But there it is.  ACI articles are noted for length, deadly logic, and the willingness to beat the opposition with words until they cry out in brain pain. 

Their most recent offering, "It’s Broken. Fix it!"  presents an interesting proposition: no matter the right or wrong of primates not attending the meeting, no matter the charges that the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Presiding Bishop or any other person or body is attempting to manage the meeting so that it does not confront The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada, if the primates themselves do not address the situation, the "Primates as a Body" will become simply irrelevant.

ACI says,

"No one doubts that the Archbishop of Canterbury has certain rights and responsibilities in respect of the Instrument called the Primates’ Meeting. What is disturbing is the apparent concession that his power is infinite. One need not attribute to him any nefarious actions at all to acknowledge that such a view of his role would be intolerable to the good working of the Primates as a Body. If this is the problem, then let us hear from the Primates how they are prepared to address it. Anything less is just a counsel of despair and a sure way to watch the Communion slide deeper into dysfunction and distrust."

So ACI wants the Primates to take charge themselves, giving the meeting some teeth as an organization devoted to the unity of the Anglican Communion.

But the argument ACI produces indicates that the writers are unclear just why the Primates Meeting is without power. Nowhere do they address the fact that the Primates Meeting was initially intended to be for consultation and mutual support, not as a juridical tool.  ACI believes the Primates Meeting is a "council of the Church."  They say, "If the Primates Meeting is not really a Council of the Church and if the Archbishop of Canterbury has the power to defeat any influence from those fellow Bishops whose actual leadership and authority in the Provinces is not in question, then it must be renamed. It is The Archbishop of Canterbury Meeting."

Well, it isn't a Council of the Church. But it doesn't need to be renamed. The name "Primates Meeting" is not a designation as council. It is a MEETING.

Over at the Global South Anglican site, their post is titled an editorial, but there is no editor named. The GSA pages list  "The Revd Canon Terry Wong & Team" as Web Administration and Editorial group. Whoever wrote this editorial, "On the Dublin Meeting:  GSA Editorial  was not having a good editing day. It is a bit of a mish-mash. The editorial opines, "Both before, and more so after, The Episcopal Church has once again proceeded, against widespread appeals and warnings across the Anglican Communion, not least from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, to consecrate an openly lesbian Mary Glasspool as bishop." "before, and after" what?  And perhaps there is something missing in "openly lesbian Mary Glasspool." 

More importantly, the GSA editorial is stuck with the problem that it is not the whole of the GSA Primates who will be absent, but only some.  The editorial speaks of "some Primates" who "have arrived at the decision that it is neither right nor proper for them to be present at the Dublin Meeting." Will all the Primates in GSA be absent? We shall see.

The GSA argument for no attending the meeting is this:  "In light of the critical importance of the Meeting, the preparations are gravely inadequate. As it stands, the Meeting is almost pre-determined to end up as just another gathering that again cannot bring about effective ecclesial actions, despite the precious time, energy and monetary resources that Primates and Provinces have invested in attending the Meeting. This, most Provinces could scarcely afford. With the disappointingly lack of serious transparent planning and leadership beforehand to prepare the Primates for a genuine meeting of minds and hearts to face the very real and obvious issues before us, it will be strenuous to expect any significant, meaningful, credible and constructive outcome of the Dublin Meeting."

The GSA wants the Primates Meeting to be more than "just another gathering." In that they echo the ACI desire for a Primates Meeting with some "teeth."  Those teeth of course are in order to better chew the bones of the heretical and awful Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada.

Both GSA and ACI want the Primates Meeting to be, by self-determined agenda building and control, a "council of the Church," appropriately attired to exercise the power of inclusion and exclusion, the power to demand repentance and to accept compliance.  Otherwise, they contend, why attend?

So much for mutual consultation and reflection. 

As it stands now, if the reader will recall, it is the Archbishop of Canterbury who is "the focus of unity," and the Primates Meeting is an "instrument of unity."  Both articles seemed to me a bit rambling, attempting to grab onto a vision of the Primates Meeting that would make it the focus of unity in the Communion.  Both assume the Archbishop of Canterbury will not take the lead in disciplining TEC and ACoC.  Both essentially wish for a Primatial coup, replacing the Archbishop of Canterbury with themselves, and taking on powers never granted any instrument or focus of unity in the Communion.

The problem is, of course, that if they stay away the 10 Primates of purity are pure but not in the midst of the meeting. If they come they are still only 10 out of 38 and it is hard to imagine that they will have their way either in the coup effort giving power to themselves as a group or in exacting the expulsion of TEC or the ACoC from their midst.


  1. In some ways I am disinclined to disagree with you (for once!) because I am not sure that either ACI or Global South have made the best possible case for the best possible outcome to the Primates' Meeting.

    The one bit of power the primates do have when meeting together is to bring their perspectives together in a statement, perspectives brought from their unique leadership roles to the meeting, and then shaped in the meeting by conversation together, united (hopefully) in concern for the good health of the Communion.

    If all were to attend, what they might confront is not TEC and its actions (accepting that this is not a meeting empowered to be a council to do so) but the divided situation the Communion is in and offer some wisdom on whether division can be overcome (and how that might happen) or some honesty in assessing that it cannot/will not be overcome (and what that might mean for the future).

    On one point I will demur: the 10 primates may be a minority of primates (as you observe), but I understand them to come from a set of Anglican churches which constitute a majority of Anglicans (which you omit to mention). I would hope that the 28 primates who do meet take seriously the possibility that if they contribute in some way to not closing the division in the Communion, then they may find themselves to be meeting in the future as primates of the smaller of two global Anglican entities!

  2. There has been a movement towards empowering the Primates and it appears that some believe that they already have the power that has never been granted them. In the book that Paul Zahl and Ian Douglas wrote about the Windsor Report, Douglas observed that it was something of a departure from Zahl's Protestant convictions for him to hope that the Primates would act decisively to discipline the Episcopal Church. I have long thought that those who want the Primates to have this kind of power should be very careful. Who knows what ethical or theological questions the Primates want to settle, e.g., how to understand the Atonement.

  3. If the Primates were to issue the sort of statement de jure or de jour that Peter Carell imagines how does that serve to heal any division already de facto in place.

    Far better to ignore the division and the absence of the renegade provinces in much the same manner the roll call was called for the missing southern delegates during the American civil war.

    The fact remains the division was stoked by American extremist discontents and power hungry foreign primates whose tempest in a teapot has boiled over but in the future will quite likely evaporate away. Or if not,not.

  4. I think musculars proposes a good example: the 1862 General Convention which did nothing about the non-attendance of the Bishops and Deputies from the Southern dioceses other than to record their absence. I suggest the Primates just get on with it except to note regarding any non-attending Primates: "We missed you."

    I'm a little concerned about Peter Carrell's assumption that a minority of Primates come from a set of churches that constitute a majority of Anglicans. That's probably true. But what does that signify? I suspect that not very many of those Anglicans spend very much time worrying about North Atlantic sex and gender issues. If asked, they might well think that TEC, ACC, CofE, etc., are wrong about these issues. If asked, we might well think that they are wrong about some issues too. These are matters about which we can talk with each other, or on the other hand we can choose to pout or rant and rave.

    It seems to me that there are two possibilities for the future (and keeping in mind that even in the North Atlantic churches, the sex and gender issues have been live for less than half a century):

    (1) It will become evident throughout the world, including the "Global South," that the full inclusion of women and of lgbt people in the life and ministry of the Church is a gospel imperative, and in the world around us, a justice imperative. And as this becomes more evident, our present divisions will cease.

    Or (2) It will become evident that we have made a serious theological and moral error, of which we will need to repent.

    I don't believe that (2) will happen. But we shall see. A bit of Gamaliel's wisdom might be appropriate.

    Peter, just what does the "good health of the Communion" require, and in what does it consist?

  5. I suggest the Communion is healthy when its bishops meet together in conference (did not happen in 2008); its primates gather together (not going to happen in 2011); the ACC meets and conducts its business according to clear, agreed, and transparent processes (seems to be some dispute as to whether than happened in 2009); when business is conducted at its meetings, decisions which are made are implemented(some dispute as to whether that has happened re earlier Primates Meetings) and not regretted with accusations in hindsight of being railroaded (see Lambeth 1998); and it can contemplate agreeing to a Covenant as a congenial matter rather than disagreeing with it because it is (allegedly) a tool of the power hungry; other signs of health could be offered (including many less institutionally orientated) but that will do for now ... so, no, I do not think the Communion is healthy at the moment.

    I am not saying it is ill, diseased, or even dysfunctional (though reviewing the list above, perhaps it is dysfunctional!), but all is not well. Perhaps the primates could offer some thoughts about remedies, or is that too much to expect?

  6. By that list Peter, then the Anglican Communion has never been healthy because most of that is a fantasy AC that has never existed.

    There is no "business" of Primates Meetings or Lambeth Conferences.

    There was no hindsight involved in labeling the railroading at Lambeth 1998, it was called such even as the railroading was unfolding.

    Perhaps now Peter you are engaged in a hindsight determination that there was a lack of following clear, agreed and transparent procedure at ACC 2009.

    We may be being paranoid regarding the intent of the "Covenant", but that does not mean that they are not out to get us! The basis for creating a covenant was for a process to punish provinces the self righteous determine to be naughty. And when that power was watered down, the self righteous are no longer in support of this particular covenant.

  7. Peter, you write: Perhaps the primates could offer some thoughts about remedies, or is that too much to expect?

    The problem with this is that one group of Primates absolutely refuses to meet with the rest or, even worse, refuses to share communion with some of their peers.

    They have made clear that the only solution they will accept is full expulsion of TEC and AC of C and a public enshrinement of their personal views and interpretations as dogmatic.

    How can healing take place in the temporal world when these parties refuse to even be in the same place together? We can trust God to work God's will on the spiritual level but unless and until these Primates are willing to work together without getting everything their eway first nothing much can be done towards healing.

  8. I am reminded of the title of Stephanie Coontz's book, "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap." Yes, there were times when the various groups of Anglicans could meet for discussion and mutual support, but, as has already been pointed out, there was rarely any "business" conducted at those gatherings. Even the passing of resolutions at Lambeth Conferences was only business of the sort that sense of the Senate resolutions are. Lambeth has never been a council with canonical authority within the Communion and the same is true about the meetings of the Primates. Member churches of the Communion have always been free to disagree with statements from either gathering, and have done so with great regularity. I suspect that Lambeth's condemnation of artificial contraception was widely ignored within the Communion, only to reversed ten years later. This is the way we are as Anglicans, and not the way some would like to think that we were in some golden age. The Communion's birth was marked by disagreements, some of them as profound as our current ones, and Anglicans managed to live with those disagreements. It is sad that some in the Communion are unwilling to do that now.

  9. Hello various commenters,
    Putting your comments together I see that (1) the Anglican Communion has basically jogged along more or less as it is, so it is as healthy as it has ever been; (2) there is really only one problem worthy of the description 'problem' and that is non-attending bishops and primates at conferences.

    How interesting! Then, somewhere in those comments, it appears something else is being said, namely that meetings of bishops and primates count for very little, if anything. Are they worth attending? If they are not, then it cannot be a problem that some won't attend.

    Ergo, All is Well!

    One point for clarification: when I hope that the primates might offer some remedies for current difficulties (not that there are any, but suppose, to humour me, there are a few) I mean those primates who actually do meet in Dublin.

    They have bothered to meet. Perhaps they might have something to say?

  10. Meetings of bishops and primates, are they worth attending?

    Perhaps the answer is based on what one's expectations are for the meetings. The meetings were set up originally as opportunities for those attending to experience quiet moments together of reflection, study, prayer, communion and possibly most important, conversation. The meetings are pregnant with opportunities both formal and informal for those attending to network. Chances of renewing old friendships and making new ones. Moments to find opportunities for dioceses or provinces to know of situations of one another's need and of one another's available resources. It is in these moments of grace that these meetings are instruments of unity.

    In recent times voices have arisen admonishing these meetings to evolve into something else, they want them to be determinative synods, vested with jurisdiction and authority. Yet we find that in the history of the Lambeth conference in particular that similar voices have been raised in the past, and they have always been resisted.

    So if your expectation is for these meetings to be deliberative, then you will truly be disappointed. If that disappointment colors what you would get from the meeting, as well as what you would contribute to the meeting, then you would need to take a decision of whether to attend - or not.

  11. The problem with much of what everyone says here is that the Primates have NO AUTHORITY - nor should they have any, this is not a magesterium.

    They (the Primates) manuever the rest of us to the point that we think they have power therefore they must.

  12. Sir, perhaps the point is that the ABC is no longer a 'focus of unity'.... as shown by his inability to gather all relevant people in 2008 and now, once again. Perhaps this is all irrelevant anyway... looks like the GS are going to move ahead with its own meeting and invite those in the US and Canada...and England who might feel more united with them. In a hundred years, none of this will matter - many organisations now making their moves will not even exist.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.