Anglican Primates meet in Canterbury

Primates 2016

Primates of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury Cathedral, 14 January 2016

Primates aim to ‘walk together’ but face challenge over restrictions for US Episcopal Church

Posted 30 January 2016

Following this month’s meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury, at which the issue of same-sex relationships had been to the fore, a communiqué was issued by the Primates indicating their “unanimous desire to walk together”.

However, they also outlined adverse measures aimed at the US Episcopal Church on account of its provision for same-sex marriage.

In their communiqué, the Primates stated: “Recent developments in the Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.”

They added: “The traditional doctrine of the Church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.”

The Primates further stated: “It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However, given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years TEC [The (US) Episcopal Church] no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

“We have asked the ABC [Archbishop of Canterbury] to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”

The traditionalist organisation, the Global Anglican Future Conference, responded, stating that it had to be recognised that “the continuing brokenness of the Communion is not the result simply of failed relationships, but is caused by the persistent rejection of biblical and apostolic faith as set out in Lambeth Resolution 1.10 [Lambeth Conference 1998 resolution on Human Sexuality]”, adding: “We are therefore disappointed that the Primates’ statement makes no reference to the need for repentance.”

The full range of issues discussed by the Primates last week also included the possibility of the Anglican Church in North America becoming an Anglican Communion member-Church, climate change, religiously motivated violence, child protection measures, the date of Easter and evangelism.

The Primates also supported the Archbishop of Canterbury in his proposal to call a Lambeth Conference in 2020.


Commenting to the Church of Ireland Gazette immediately after the Canterbury meeting, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, said: “There was a general acceptance among us that this was a good gathering of the Primates of the Communion. The extent of the full communiqué reflects the breadth and depth of our discussions.

“The unanimous certainty among all the Primates was that we want to walk together. The issues before us are serious but we want to continue together and restore relationships.

“The best way of doing this is by creating a safe distance – we did not use the language of ‘sanctions’ – thereby providing the space and context needed over the coming years.”

Later, speaking at the launch in Dublin of a Church of Ireland pastoral ‘Guide’ to engaging in dialogue on the issue of same-sex relationships, Dr Clarke also reflected on the Primates’ Meeting.

He said that there had been “remarkable moments truly of grace” at the Primates’ Meeting and emphasised that it was important to “leave space for grace”.

Referring to the way in which the Primates’ Meeting had been reported in parts of the media with regard to its placing restrictions on the US Episcopal Church’s participation in the life of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop said that to describe this as a ‘sanction’ was a case of “cynical manipulation” as the word had not been used and was not to be found in the communiqué that followed the Primates’ Meeting.

Dr Clarke said that Primates of diametrically opposed views on same-sex relationships had initially been asked to meet in small groups and that when they all came together there had been a determination that they would “walk together, no matter what it would take”.

The decision regarding the US Episcopal Church had been about creating a “safe distance”, he said, adding that the hope was that the Primates could eventually move “from safe distance to safe space together”.

At the Primates’ Meeting, Dr Clarke was elected to the Primates’ Standing Committee.


Shortly after the Primates released their communiqué, the Moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, the Ven. Malcolm French (Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Qu’Appelle), issued a statement challenging the authority of the Primates to take their decision regarding the Episcopal Church.

He commented: “The Primates’ Meeting has no authority to require anything of any member-Church of the Anglican Communion or of any of the other Instruments of Communion.”

He added: “The Anglican Consultative Council elects the majority of the 15 members of the Standing Committee. It would be unconstitutional to restrict the choice of candidates available to the members of the Anglican Consultative Council based on an ultra vires demand by the Primates’ Meeting. It would also make a very worrying precedent for future elections.”

Archdeacon French stated that the Episcopal Church could not be excluded on issues pertaining to doctrine and polity, “unless the Primates’ Meeting seeks to centralise doctrinal authority in the Anglican Communion in its own hands, in clear violation of Anglican ecclesiology and of the constitution and canons of every Anglican Province”.

Later, Professor Norman Doe, of the Cardiff [Wales] Law School, who is an eminent canon lawyer, told the Church Times that the Primates’ communiqué did not bind anyone because the Primates’ Meeting has no jurisdiction, stating that the decision regarding the US Episcopal Church was “completely unacceptable interference” with the autonomy of the bodies to whom it had issued requirements.

• Full text of the Primates’ communiqué –

[This is an updated Gazette report; original reports, Gazette issues 22 & 29 January 2016]