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CANTERBURY: Anglican world waits with baited breath for word from primates

CANTERBURY: Anglican world waits with bated breath for word from Primates
Canon David Porter is pushing hard for reconciliation

By David W. Virtue in Canterbury
January 13, 2016

It is Wednesday. The sun is shining in Canterbury. Cathedral spires glisten in the morning sun. All is quiet. I bought a ticket pretending to be a tourist and got onto the cathedral grounds. A priest was ending a prayer for the assembled primates in the empty cathedral as visitors hovered on the edges, waiting to get the official tour.

Scuttlebutt and speculation emanate from various quarters, but it is generally thought that today will be the day the balloon goes up and we will know whether we still have a communion.

Various bloggers have been trying read into the appearance and non-appearance of primates at evensong, wondering who processes with the ABC or who is already seated, who is wearing robes and who is in mufti.

The primates are meeting at the lodge opposite the cathedral. Two policeman guard the gate. They all worship together each day in the crypt under the cathedral.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information is the two chapels where the primates meet for prayer. This situation is reminiscent of Dromantine where there were two different stations for Eucharist because the two groups of Primates could not agree, let alone get along.

The infighting was fierce and set the marker for future breakdown.

None of the markers here are good, however. There is a true feeling that this day will end badly for the Communion. Nobody is sanguine about its future.

I have bumped into a BBC reporter, GAFCON minders, AAC leaders and a Canadian bishop. Everybody is waiting on tenterhooks. I shook hands briefly with Archbishop Foley Beach through the gate and learned from a source that the hold-up is because Canon David Porter, the ABC's personal Director of Reconciliation, is pulling out all the stops to keep the Communion together.

It's hard to know how he will succeed.

It is now the third day, and there is little hope the Anglican Communion will rise from the dead in any appreciable recognizable form.

All the Anglican primates save one from New Zealand, are here. The Primates are playing everything close to the chest, very close. There is not even a hint of a puff of white or black smoke, as in a Catholic conclave, to signal to the world what is going on behind closed doors.

What is irritating to this reporter is that there are no daily press conferences and the primates are not tweeting, blogging, or posting on Facebook what is going on behind the scenes. Mum's the word.

Even the official Primates 2016 website is virtually silent. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's address Monday to his fellow primates was first posted on the Nigerian website Vanguard and the address has yet to be posted on the Primates' website.

The only item posted under the Primates 2016 NEWS button are two pictures of the primates celebrating Evensong on Monday. The pictures were released by Canterbury Cathedral. However, the cathedral was promptly chastised for posting the pictures because they showed that some of the primates were in full choir dress and fully engaged while others were simply attired in their cassocks or clerical suits and did not participate in the procession.

True, all the primates showed up for Monday's Evensong service, but the picture shows that they were not of one mind and in one accord. Twenty-four hours later reporters on the ground in Canterbury noted that some of the Global South primates were missing in action at Tuesday's Evensong, signaling that a breakdown in congenial conversation might be in the works behind the closed doors.

The threat that Global South primates would walk has hung over the Primates' Gathering since the beginning and has been reported by the news media.

Uganda's Archbishop Stanley Ntagali posted on the GAFCON site his determination to walk if necessary:

"The Provincial Assembly of the Church of Uganda has resolved to not participate in any official meetings of the Anglican Communion until godly order is restored," he wrote. "Equally concerning was the sustained inability of the structures of the Anglican Communion -- including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself -- to discipline The Episcopal Church and restore godly order to the Anglican Communion," noting his frustration, "[a]fter five years of endless meetings, conversations, commissions, and reports ..."

This wouldn't be the first time that visible friction has been seen between the Anglican primates basically over the stance that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have taken over homosexuality and gay "marriage."

In 2005 following the consecration of Vicky Gene Robinson (IX New Hampshire), primates at the Primates' Meeting in Newry, Northern Ireland refused to attend the Service of Holy Communion with Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

When Katharine Jefferts Schori became the Episcopal presiding bishop in 2006, at least 22 Anglican provinces were in broken or impaired communion with The Episcopal Church over homosexuality and Schori's elevation as an Anglican primate. Then when the primates met in Dar es Salaam in 2007 seven Global South bishops refused to receive Holy Communion.

In fact Justin Welby permanently postponed his first Lambeth Conference as Archbishop of Canterbury, citing the possibility that a vast majority of Anglican bishops would boycott the event. Many African and Global South bishops were a no show at the 2008 event. The next Lambeth Conference was tentatively slated to take place in 2018.

However, Archbishop Welby has been able to bring all the Anglican primates together under one roof for the first time in more than a decade, even if he can't get them all to pray together. This is something former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was unable to do following The Episcopal Church's consecration of Bishop Robinson. Only one primate, 92-year-old New Zealand Archbishop William Brown Turei, did not make the trip. His absence is possibly due to age. Even the new-kid-on-the-block, ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, is present and reportedly actively participating. He wasn't shown the door after the scheduled "Meet & Greet."

The Archbishop of Canterbury is committed to reconciliation between the primates. However, he is quick to note that disagreement might reign.

"Certainly I want reconciliation," Archbishop Welby said. "Reconciliation doesn't always mean agreement. In fact it very seldom does. It means finding ways of disagreeing well."

The Guardian is reporting that at least six African primates are prepared to walk out if The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada cannot be pressured to realign themselves with the Gospel and traditional morals and be restored to "godly order." The primates are: Archbishop Stanley Ntagali (Uganda); Archbishop Eliud Wabukala (Kenya); Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria); Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak (South Sudan & the Sudan); Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje (Rwanda); Archbishop Kahwa Henri Isingoma (the Congo).

"There's going to be a lot of drama," a senior CofE source told The Guardian. "It's 90% likely that the six will walk out. If we get past Tuesday, we'll be doing well."

Archbishop Welby also noted that if primates did walk out he would be powerless to stop it.

"There is nothing I can do if people decide to leave the room," he told the BBC.

The Guardian also notes that in addition to The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada six other Anglican provinces are openly embracing same-sex unions, including: Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, South India, South Africa, and Brazil.

"At stake is a basic church-defining principle," CAFCON Chairman Archbishop Eliud Wabukala posted on the GAFCON site before heading to the Primates Gathering. "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?"

Tuesday GAFCON's General Secretary Archbishop Peter Jensen posted on the GAFCON website a plea for continued prayer: "The discussions at Canterbury are at a crucial stage and we know that God is sovereign, hence we ask you to pray with us ..."

GAFCON also posted a dissertation on Sexuality and Humanity by Paul Mayo on Tuesday.

The Anglican drama continues to unfold behind to closed doors in Canterbury as the world waits for news.

Mary Ann Mueller contributed to this story.

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