Letter to the primates from the Archbishop of Canterbury

Our battle is not against flesh and blood, least of all against each other.

28 November 2016

“And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him’?”  (Mark 4:41)

Wherever we look in the world there seem to be storms. This has always been the experience of the Church, the people of God since the first days, even since the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In St. Mark’s account of the calming of the storm, the word “great” occurs three times: it was a great storm, there was a great calm, and they are filled with great fear of Jesus. It is clear in the passage that the storm, the calm and the fear were all spiritual as well as physical. The disciples were seeing the reality of the great spiritual battle in which we are engaged, and our minds are taken to Ephesians 6:12. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, least of all against each other.

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

We are all in the one boat. There is no other boat than the church, because only there do we find the presence of Jesus and only from the boat are we able to witness to the Kingdom of God. Even in the fiercest storm the safest place to be is in the boat, where Jesus is.

I have been reminded of this passage as I reflect on the leadership we are called to exercise. It is so often a leadership amongst storms. Yet, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, says in reflecting on the leadership of Jacob, true leadership is not found in perfect decisions but in persistence through the trials. Rabbi Sacks ends his reflection on Jacob writing: “to try, to fall, to fear, and to keep on going: that is what it takes to be a leader. That was Jacob, the man who at the lowest ebbs of his life had the greatest visions of heaven.”

There are many storms in the Anglican Communion. As always so many Provinces are struggling with war and persecution, with poverty, governmental corruption and political struggles which weigh heavily on the church. The week before I last visited our brothers and sisters in Pakistan who have had to endure storms which cost them lives. Across the Communion I treasure our fellowship, even in times of difficulty and internal conflict, because in it I find the rebukes and encouragements of those who seek truly to testify to the Kingdom of God.

On this occasion I write about three matters. First, as I wrote in July, the Archbishop of York and I are calling the Church of England to prayer for evangelism in the period between Ascension and Pentecost next year. A number of Provinces have said they wish to join us in their own areas. We are also being joined ecumenically by the majority of churches in the UK, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Furthermore the World Methodist Conference have said they wish to take part. It promises to be a great and global moment of prayer, and you will find more details on

Second, as you know when we last met in Canterbury for a special Primates’ meeting we agreed to meet again as that Instrument but only as Primates of the Communion in 2017. The dates have been notified to you by the ACO, after consultation, and it will take place the week commencing 2 October 2017, with arrivals during Saturday and Sunday before, and departures on Friday 6 or Saturday 7 October. I am therefore writing now to invite each of you formally to Canterbury between those dates. As last time, it will be for the Primates attending to decide on the agenda, and I will be consulting with you about this over the next year. From my own point of view, it seems to me that a serious consultation on the shape of Lambeth 2020 would be in order, as well as how we meet (all together or regionally or both) between October 2017 and the Lambeth Conference.

The third reason for this letter has been to respond in person to the unfortunate and continued inaccurate comments on the situation over same sex relations in the Church of England. I attach the latest letter from our Secretary General.

As always, I write with great love in Christ, praying for you that the joy of the Lord may be your strength, and that in our storms, we will remain faithful, because the one who was, who is and who is to come is with us by His Spirit. Advent raises our heads and our hopes as we wait and work for his coming. With expectant and gladdened hearts, we fervently pray, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!”

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