The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury takes a selfie with his fellow primates during the pilgrimage visit to Tre Fontane Abbey on day one of the Primates Meeting, Rome 2024. Photo: Neil Turner for ACO. Monday 29 April 2024

I’m Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, and my day job is as the managing director of the College for Bishops, but I also serve as the vice president of the House of Bishops; and, in the season of the presiding bishop’s health concerns, one of my tasks has been to do some of his job. And he asked me—and the archbishop of Canterbury invited me—to attend the primates’ meeting on his behalf because he was not able to manage the travel at this time.

It was a really great meeting, I thought. I enjoyed myself very much. I was very honored to be in the room. I was not the only bishop who was there on a primate’s behalf. So I had a partner in that sense, that there were a couple of us who were fulfilling a role for our primate.

The meeting itself was held in the context of pilgrimage in Rome. The meeting for Rome was scheduled a couple of years ago but because of COVID it didn’t actually happen, so that’s why it was in Rome at this time.

Our pilgrimage really coincided quite beautifully with our Bible studies and our worship, which was grounded in the book of Acts; and, as we know the stories in the book of Acts are about how a church is born and the conflict and the conversations and problem-solving and reconciliation that is inherently involved in a process of a new thing being born, like a church. So being in Rome was an amazing setting, to be there to reflect on those things. We went to the places where Paul allegedly, in terms of legend, was killed and also buried.

And we visited a beautiful ministry, lay ministry of Sant’Egidio. I never make it exactly right, in terms of the pronunciation, but an absolutely beautiful ministry that is present in 70 countries, that serves the poor and also works for peace.

And, being in the context of real lives, as we all have in our own setting, and looking at what it is to have to migrate across the world in order to eat and have basic things, to be in the room with those folks in Rome, and to see the church at work as they do that, problem-solving and reconciliation for people who they don’t know but who are their neighbors and whom they love in the name of Christ, was an amazing place to consider our own Anglican Communion.

So of course it’s no secret that the Anglican Communion has had conflict in recent years, and the primates have sometimes had a tense time of things in terms of their own meetings. But I think there was a lot of consensus that this was actually a well-designed meeting, but also one where everybody came hoping to make space for new conversations and for reconciliation, for offering a place in this particular instrument of communion, where people could gather even amidst unreconcilable differences of opinions and values about things.

I think all of us understood that reconciliation is not about agreement, but actually about being one in Christ and asking the question, how much reconciliation could we have at this time in our relationship?

And much of the conversation centered on that, which I think was the thing that touched my heart the most—that we were in a place where we were able to speak in those terms. It made the visit to the holy father poignant. We talked about synodality quite a lot.

We had a cardinal, (Mario) Grech, who came to speak to us about that.

It’s a major theme for the pope, and we were living that in the sense that as we came to have a visitation with the pope—which was an amazing experience, and he is as amazing as everybody experiences him to be—we experienced that as well, but recognizing that we were in the room not in full communion together, but experiencing a great amount of communion together as we centered ourselves on Christ and understood the source of our salvation.

The things that I came away with were certainly recognizing that the primates were having a conversation that seemed different than it has been in the last couple of years. So that there was a shift, and in any conflict, there is often a generational shift, where things, people, change out, but also sometimes you soften. You get more perspective as time goes on, and there was definitely some openness, in terms of—not in changing opinions; I really want to be clear about that, nobody left with changed opinions say around human sexuality or anything like that—but actually having a listening heart and saying, can we dwell in the same space? You know, how much communion can we achieve? So I definitely want to say that in in all of our context, we’re probably in some place of conflict, and so to gain some wisdom from the primates’ gathering, I think is a gift from the leaders of our Anglican Communion.

So I take that away as I consider the things I think are intractable that, you know, maybe it’s not. The reality is that salvation is a long work, and it is eternal in nature, and so God is always looking for the open spaces for reconciliation. That is the core of our mission as a church, and I felt like I was part of it and witnessed that in very good form at the primates’ meeting. So in your own context think about how much communion is possible in this place and in this relationship.

I would like to commend the communiqué that came out from the primates’ meeting. There was very good work done on it. It was a very collaborative process. We reviewed it entirely before it was published.

The other thing that I would want to say—and this matters as we perhaps pursue communion partnerships—that three of the major consistent and common concerns that we all have are climate change, migration, and poverty. Those three exist across the communion.

We heard lots of stories, especially around climate change, and the movement of people on the planet because of it is extreme, and we know that in our context, in The Episcopal Church, but it is enormous, and so to be mindful of that. I also, as one who had a really great partnership with two other dioceses in the Anglican Communion, those are ways that we can globally support each other, and I think there’s a lot of desire certainly from the primates to encourage that.

So, I would encourage you to review the communiqué and also just widen your horizons around this great big, beautiful, fascinating Anglican Communion of ours.