Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is playing host to the senior archbishops, presiding bishops or moderators from across the Anglican Communion this week, at a Primates’ Meeting being held at Lambeth Palace, London.
The leaders of the independent-yet-interdependent autonomous national and regional churches of the Anglican Communion were first invited to gather for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation” by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan in 1978. Since then, successive archbishops of Canterbury have invited their fellow primates to gather at varying intervals at venues around the world.
This week’s meeting is the first in-person gathering of Anglican primates since they met in Jordan in January 2020. International travel restrictions to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented further in-person meetings until now. The primates held online meetings in November 2020 and 2021 to discuss a range of issues, including the global impact of the pandemic.
It had originally been planned for the meeting to take place in Rome, but was switched to London at a time when travel restrictions in Italy meant that a significant number of primates would not have been able to fully participate. There are currently no COVID-related travel restrictions for visitors to the United Kingdom, but a small number of invited primates will be taking part in the meeting online because of return-travel restrictions in their home countries.
This week’s Primates’ Meeting is a precursor to the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering to which all bishops in the Anglican Communion are invited. Postponed from 2020, the Lambeth Conference will take place in Canterbury in July and August this year.
There is very little “formal” business in this week’s Primates’ Meeting – the emphasis is on prayer, Bible study, relationship-building and spiritual reflection. In some ways, it returns the focus of the Primates’ Meeting to an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.”
While in London, the primates will hear from Dr. Marion Watson, dead of operations at the Center for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford. Watson has overseen a wide range of clinical trial research and development activities on vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis and emerging pathogens, including vaccine trials for COVID-19.
They will also hear from a government minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; and visit the House of Lords.
The church leaders will agree to their agenda on the first day of their Primates’ Meeting, but the limited “business” sessions are likely to include updates on the Lambeth Conference and on the next plenary meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is due to take place in Accra, Ghana, in early 2023.
They are also expected to discuss a consultation from the Church of England on extending the involvement of the wider Anglican Communion in the choice of future archbishops of Canterbury.
They will have Bible studies on 1 Peter – the biblical focus for this year’s Lambeth Conference – and hear reflections on chapters 15 and 16 of John’s Gospel. The primates will worship at services in Lambeth Palace and elsewhere in London.