Handicapping the Primates sweepstake

Who’s who and doing what at the primates gathering — gossip from the crypt

I’ve been round the stables. Spoken to the jockey, and dressed in my loudest tweed suit and flat cap, am ready to handicap the horses in the 2016 Canterbury cup. I picked Justin Welby in 2013 and Katharine Jefferts Schori in 2006 in those race meetings — and a bit of inside knowledge of the players and ponies might help while away the hours until the results are announced.

Gathered inside the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral the archbishops and moderators of the Anglican Communion, accompanied by translators, and a few aides, have weathered three days of intense conversation about the shape and future of the church. As of the lunch break on the third day, no one has left and no one has been ejected. The conservatives primates are still at the negotiating table and neither the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Church in North America’s primates have been shown the door.

What does this mean? No news briefings or updates have been, or are expected to be offered by the conference organizers. But news is leaking out of the meeting providing a sense of what is happening inside the Canterbury crypt.

The opening day speech of Archbishop Justin Welby, made public by a Nigerian newspaper but whose provenance has yet to be confirmed by Lambeth Palace, was interpreted by the GAFCON and Global South primates as a statement of support for their position. He was on their “side” in the fight with the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada. A similar intervention occurred during the 1998 Lambeth Conference, when Archbishop George Carey (speaking from the president’s center chair on the dais) gave his unreserved support for what would become Resolution 1.10 — the statement on human sexuality.

Lord Carey’s intervention in 1998 was the pivotal point in the debate — while the numbers were always present to ensure a conservative “win” — Lord Carey’s robust support brought the undecided bishops on board and moved those of an institutional mindset to back the resolution. The majority of bishops of the Episcopal Church of the USA would back the resolution. The Bishop of Long Island, the Rt. Rev. Orris Walker, who had voted against the resolutions until the archbishop’s intervention, joined the majority from that point. Sitting immediately in front of the Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop Walker’s hand now rose in unison with his evangelical colleague in the US House of Bishops.

Did Archbishop Welby’s early intervention move any hearts or hands? Who heard Archbishop Welby’s opening statement is unknown — Lambeth Palace tells Anglican Ink they do not have a list of those present.

If all the Primates invited were present the groupings would roughly fall along the lines of:


GAFCON: ACNA, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, South America, Rwanda
Global South: Burundi, Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Myanmar, South East Asia, Sudan
Anglo-Catholic: Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Central Africa
Center: Australia, West Africa, West Indies, Central America, Tanzania, Southern Africa, Mexico, Philippines, Church of Ireland, Hong Kong, ACANZP (New Zealand), ACANZP (Maori), ACANZP (Polynesia), Archbishop of York, Archbishop of Canterbury

United Churches: Bangladesh, North India, South India, Pakistan

Progressives: Brazil, Canada, Korea, Japan, Scotland, Wales, Episcopal Church of the USA

Who is not there: The Archbishop of the Maori Tikhanga of the ACANZP is not present, while Melanesia elects a primate next month — the acting primate may have been invited. The Philippines are also believed to be absent.

Before Archbishop Welby’s speech that would have given a spectrum of 15 conservatives, 19 in the center or not committed, and 7 progressive churches.

However, some primate’s personal views differ from the stance of their churches — the primates of Australia and Scotland are more conservative than their province, while the primate of Southern Africa is more liberal. Other primates have in past meetings voted with the majority and have sought to follow the lead of the Archbishop of Canterbury: Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Polynesia, and the united churches. Some primates oversee provinces supported financially by Western provinces, but do not share their doctrines or disciplines: Central America, Central Africa, Philippines, Tanzania.

An unscientific headcount would shift the ratio to 28 conservatives, 6 liberals and 8 uncommitted — Archbishop Welby’s support for the GAFCON/Global South position having shortened the odds for the conservatives. One primate in the undecided column a the start of the meeting emailed his bishops on Tuesday night saying that he was on the side now battling against the Americans and Canadians. (What does that tell us — that there is a shift of positions within the meeting as the undecideds choose sides — and that there is a battle underway).

The disquiet that arose at the close of the second day came in part from the conservatives disappointed that Archbishop Welby had withdrawn his support — substituting management culture for ecclesial leadership. Some got off the fence as a result of the archbishop’s intervention — others were angered by what they saw as his lack of resolve.

One insider told AI that the longer the meeting lasted, the stronger would be the final communique in favor of the conservative position. The conservatives did not see the need to leave after the first two days because they momentum of the meeting appeared to them to be in their favor. If they walked out, it was because Archbishop Welby had flatly denied their request to discipline the Americans and Canadians. The Americans and Canadians had not left the meeting because the conservatives had not yet achieved their goal.

The question facing the primates on Wednesday would be whether Archbishop Welby would get out of the way or lead. And the question how did a Nigerian newspaper get a copy of the archbishop’s speech? It did not come from the archbishops — they were not given copies of the address. It came from a member of staff. Who among the Lambeth Palace staff or within the Anglican Consultative Council offices has written for the Vanguard newspaper, or has been the subject of favorable interviews? Google it for yourself.

The meeting continues.

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