Between the Primates' Meeting and the ACC: February to May 2009 – Fulcrum Newsletter 28, April 2009

by Graham Kings

Date added: 30/04/2009

Something imperceptible and intangible seems to have happened at the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria in February 2009. It is not clear how or what. ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’ (John 3:1-21).

The Primates in Alexandria, on the edge of Africa, met not only with themselves but with the one who spoke those words. The atmosphere, it is reported, was very different from the previous meeting at Dar es Salaam, in February 2007. Here, distracters and detractors were kept away. Those GAFCON Primates who were not present at the Lambeth Conference were present here. Bible study, prayer and deep discussions led, it seems, to some sort of unity.

Jordan Hylden has described the significance of this very perceptively in his Fulcrum article, ‘The Anglicans in Egypt: a Deeper Communion’.

It is precisely the “federal model”—Anglicanism as a federation of autonomous, doctrinally diverse local churches—that did not fare well at Egypt, just as it found disfavor last summer at Lambeth. We have seen, in both cases, something of a consensus emerging. The great majority of Anglicans worldwide seek a “deeper communion” with each other, and are prepared to cede a certain amount of their autonomy to achieve it.

I would be even more precise: that the ‘non-Canterbury Federal Conservative’ position, encouraged by some of the distracters and activists not present, was again rejected by the GAFCON Primates. I described this position in the CEN last year (13 June): it is conservative on issues of sexuality, but relegates the ‘Communion’ to a ‘Federation’, which is not centred on the see of Canterbury.

The Anglican TV interview and press conference with Henry Orombi and Greg Venables at Alexandria after the meeting was most illuminating. Henry Orombi, in response to a question on this subject stated: ‘I think the truth, though, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a main figure in the Anglican Communion - whether he defines it is another story’. George Conger reported in his article ‘Anglican Primates Agree Mediation Process’: ‘The question of recognizing a parallel province in North America was premature, they said, as the underlying theological differences had not been addressed.’ This was most encouraging.

Since then, the GAFCON Primates have met in London in the week after Easter, as the Primates Council of the ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ (FCA). GAFCON was a conference: the FCA is the continuing movement. Did these FCA Primates go back on the spirit of Alexandria and the conclusions they had signed up to in the Alexandria Communiqué?

Well, the precise wording of their own communiqué is important and worth noting: it suggests they did not renege on Alexandria:

The FCA Primates’ Council recognizes the Anglican Church in North America as genuinely Anglican and recommends that Anglican Provinces affirm full communion with the ACNA.

There are two important distinctions in that sentence which have often been overlooked in the reports: first, between the FCA Primates’ Council and the Provinces they represent and second between recognition as ‘genuinely Anglican’ and recognition of ‘a New Province’.

The Council did not declare the ACNA to be a ‘New Province’ – it seems to accept that it does not have that authority - but recognised it as ‘genuinely Anglican’. The Council did not affirm, as a Council, full communion with the ACNA, but recommended Anglican Provinces to do so. Both of those distinctions are significant and indicative, perhaps, of recognising the wider authority of the Anglican Instruments of Unity.

The FCA Primates’ Council stepped back from drawing to itself an extraordinary ‘declaratory power’, and thereby claiming to be a separate and parallel authority to the Anglican Communion. That, in effect, would have been a ‘non-Canterbury Federal Conservative’ position. It would be helpful to have an elucidation on the hints of these intriguing and vitally important distinctions.

It may be that this also relates to the significant change between the draft and final edition of the FCA Primates’ Council communiqué concerning the Ridley Cambridge draft of an Anglican Covenant. The first, released by mistake and published by various papers including the Church Times, stated, somewhat off handedly:

If those who have left the standards of the Bible are able to enter the covenant with a good conscience, it seems to be of little use.

The final edition states more positively:

We welcome the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant and call for principled response from the Provinces.

What brought about the change? Well, the key GAFCON/FCA theologian is Stephen Noll, american missionary Vice Chancellor of the Christian University of Uganda. The Council received a report from the FCA theological group on the Jerusalem Declaration and since then Stephen Noll has published, on his web site, a surprisingly positive appreciation of the Ridley Cambridge draft of an Anglican Covenant. This is very encouraging, especially his recommendation at the end:

It is my conclusion that the GAFCON churches should move to the front of the queue and sign on to the Covenant.

This text of the Covenant clearly states the continuing importance of the four ‘Instruments of Communion’ of the Anglican Communion: it seems that Stephen Noll is no longer a ‘non-Canterbury Federal Conservative’, but we shall see.

True, he still stresses the need for the Anglican Church of North America, but his article has led to considerable rethinking on the part of conservatives in America concerning the Anglican Covenant.

Robert Pigott, the BBC religious correspondent, perceptively headed his final Lambeth report, published on the BBC site, 4 August 2009, ‘Daring the Extremes to Leave’. It is worth rereading, for it seems that the Covenant is having an intriguingly subtle effect on the FCA.

We await to see how this will affect the leadership of The Episcopal Church (TEC) at its General Convention in July, which will be attended, for a while, by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, is against having a discussion of the Ridley Cambridge draft of an Anglican Covenant, but at least two resolutions will relate to it.

First, there is the campaign by supporters of Integrity to repeal the key, last minute, resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, which stated:

Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

The House of Bishops of TEC, in September 2007 in New Orleans, clarified that resolution: ‘The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.’

There have been no such consecrations since 2006, but there is tremendous pressure to repeal resolution B033. The debate on that resolution will, in effect, be a debate on the Anglican Covenant. If it is repealed, TEC will clearly signal its rejection of the Anglican Covenant. It would be a reiteration of ‘autonomy’ alone, rather than the Covenant concept of ‘autonomy within interdependence’. So in debating resolution B033 of 2006, General Convention will in effect be debating the Covenant. It may well be, to the surprise of many, that B033 is not repealed: though even if this were to happen, it would still leave open the specific subject of the Ridley Cambridge draft.

This leads us to the second related resolution which Dan Martins, of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, submitted to the General Convention office on the afternoon of 24 April 2009. It is co-sponsored by Christopher Wells, also of Northern Indiana, and Bruce Robison, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (TEC not Southern Cone version).

It is entitled, ‘Provisional Acceptance of the Anglican Covenant’, and is causing much discussion already. All three sponsors are involved in the Covenant web site.

‘Communion Partner Bishops’, the positive ‘Communion Conservative’ movement of those who have not split off from The Episcopal Church, representing about 14 dioceses, met in Houston in April. Their statement, very perceptively, set out the grounds for individual dioceses of TEC to sign the Covenant. It has already been the cause of considerable debate.

So, this is the setting for discussion of the Covenant at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting which begins this week, 1 May in Jamaica. Other key items on the agenda include evangelism and church growth, the theology of inter-faith relations, coordinating Anglican development work, and the reshaping of the Anglican Instruments of Communion. May the unity of Alexandria, given by God and centred on the pre-eminent one born of the Spirit, be echoed in Jamaica.


Graham Kings

Graham Kings


A bronze

Wood panel

Wood panel