Clues as to what transpired during Monday’s gathering of Anglican Communion Primates are few: reportedly no one walked out, and all 38 primates, plus Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), attended the public evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral following an initial meeting in the afternoon.
Unlike previous official Primates’ Meetings, there will be no press conferences and all sessions are to be conducted in private. Even the agenda is unknown, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby stating that the Primates themselves will determine the topics of discussion.
Background on the gathering, which Welby announced in September, can be found here.
But while there are few official communications from the gathering, different groups of church officials have been communicating with their churches. Both ACNA — and the broader Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) group with which it is affiliated — have shared prayer requests and created web sites around the gathering, as has Welby via an official web site operated by the London-based Anglican Communion Office.
In contrast to Welby, who has granted multiple interviews in advance of the gathering, Episcopal Church officials have said little publicly. New Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is not regularly active on social media (Curry averaged one tweet a month for the past three months) and he has faced both an unplanned emergency surgery and the administrative suspension of three high-ranking church staff in the past month.
On January 6, church officials released Curry’s only statement about the gathering:
“I look forward to being present with my fellow primates as we gather for prayer and conversation and as we support each other in ministry.
I invite Episcopalians to join me in prayer for this gathering, that God will be fully present with us and that we may follow our Lord Jesus in the ways of His love and in so doing be part of God’s blessing to the world.”
This morning the Episcopal Church’s official mouthpiece, the Episcopal News Service (ENS), released an article about the gathering, but primarily offered quotes from a Welby interview on BBC radio and excerpts from a letter signed by liberal Church of England clergy calling for the church to repent of its response to persons identifying as gay or lesbian. Aside from a brief reference to Curry’s earlier statement, there was no comment from the Presiding Bishop of the U.S.-based church. Nor is there context given of why traditionalist bishops might depart the meeting “unless Welby meets their demands to discipline the Episcopal Church and other provinces whose actions they dispute.”
Other primates, including the Archbishops of Uganda and Kenya, have each issued detailed calls to prayer to each of their churches, portraying the gathering as an opportunity to call errant provinces back to Gospel truth from which they have strayed. The Archbishop of Canada, Fred Hiltz, wrote to his province and played down the gathering as a consultation focused upon issues of climate change and development goals.
Clearly, different parts of the global family of churches descended from the Church of England are understanding – or at least preemptively framing – the gathering as about different things.
The gathering is set to continue through the end of the week.
UPDATE: The Nigerian newspaper Vanguard has posted what purports to be the text of Archbishop Welby’s address to the gathered primates. Journalist and Episcopal Priest George Conger reports that officials with the Lambeth Palace press office will neither confirm or deny that the text is Welby’s.