Primates (bishop and archbishop leaders) from the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion met in England this past week for a special meeting. Much of the attention and press was devoted to relationships with the Episcopal Church. However, the primates also dealt with issues of Environment (following on the heels of the climate conference in Paris), Religiously motivated violence, measures for Child Protection to be available for study throughout the Communion, and Evangelism. The primates supported a proposal by the Archbishop of Canterbury to hold the next Lambeth Conference (a gathering of bishops from throughout the Anglican Communion) in the year 2020.
Many of the Anglican Provinces around the world have been upset with The Episcopal Church since 2015, when the General Convention decided that marriage is to be understood as between two people. This is a change from the traditional understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
While there was some expectation that the primates from the more conservative parts of the Anglican Communion might boycott the meeting, there was unanimous agreement that the primates continue to stay in relationship with each other, no matter how strained it may be. The strained relationships stem from the perception that the Episcopal Church did not properly consult with the other parts of the Anglican Communion before taking the vote to change the understanding of marriage.
Point 7 of the communique states “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these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal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.” At a press conference following the meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated that an overwhelming majority of the primates voted for the measures taken to express their displeasure with the Episcopal Church. At the press conference, the Archbishop also indicated that the Episcopal Church was still considered a vital partner in the other work of the church, such as work with refugees.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry shared his reflections on the meeting with the Episcopal Church in a video to the Episcopal Church. Curry acknowledged the pain he felt in representing the Episcopal Church at the meeting. He gave a message of hope to the people of the Episcopal Church in saying, “We are the Episcopal Church, and we are part of the Jesus Movement, and that Movement goes on, and our work goes on. And the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people,” Curry said.
Many bishops from the Episcopal Church have made comments and observations about the suspension. One of the most comprehensive comes from Bp Dan Edwards of Nevada.
In a pastoral letter addressed to the congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Bishop David Rice says, “I hope and I pray the decision of the Primates will increase our resolve concerning the ways we continue to work at being an inclusive church. I hope and I pray that our diocese and our continued discernment regarding who we are Called to be… will always lead us to be welcoming and encouraging to not only our LGBT Sisters and Brothers but all people who have been placed on the margins for whatever reason.”