[ENS, Dar es Salaam] The Primates’ Meeting of the worldwide Anglican Communion has convened February 15 for its five-day agenda near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with every indication that all participants are present at the table.
Three of the 38 Primates — the Communion’s presiding bishops, archbishops and moderators — are unable to attend the meeting: Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales, who is on sabbatical; and Archbishop Joseph Marona of Sudan, who cited health reasons; and the Most Rev. Joel Vidyasagar Mal, Moderator of the Church of North India, for reasons unspecified.
The Episcopal Church is represented by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who said before the meeting that she looked forward to the Primates’ collaborative work.
Upon arriving in Tanzania, the Presiding Bishop — who is one of 13 Primates to attend the meeting for the first time — said she welcomes “the opportunity to meet new colleagues and build upon existing relationships for common mission.”
In an earlier statement she said: “There is much we can achieve together in building the Reign of God, but it will require us to see that God’s larger purposes transcend our internal differences. That willingness to trust in God’s leading despite our own fears and divisions is the trust Jesus showed us. May we seek to follow in his road.”
Contact with the Primates is prohibited during business sessions, as a matter of policy for the meeting. Media and other visitors are housed in a separate area of the White Sands Hotel complex in Jangwani Beach, where internet access is intermittent.
One of the first items on the Primates’ agenda was the response of the Episcopal Church’s 75th General Convention to the Windsor Report, a document that recommends ways in which the Anglican Communion can maintain unity amid differing viewpoints.
All Primates present are believed to have attended the sessions despite some ‘Global South’ Primates indicating last October, through their spokesman Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda, that they would not sit at the same table with Jefferts Schori because of her support of gay and lesbian Christians.
The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, the Communion’s main policy-making body, joined the meetings for the day’s proceedings.
Three U.S. Episcopal bishops have been invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to address the Primates about their own experiences and perspectives of the state of the Episcopal Church: Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church’s ecumenical and interfaith officer; Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network of Dioceses and Parishes; and Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana, chair of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice.
The three bishops were present in Jangwani Beach in advance of their presentations.
A letter from the ‘Global South’ Primates, who had met in a nearby hotel beforehand to strategize, was presented to Williams on February 14, according to Canon James Rosenthal, communications director of the Anglican Communion. The letter’s contents have not yet been officially confirmed.
At Williams’ request, the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, joined the meeting for the first time as the official representative of the Church of England and to give the Archbishop of Canterbury the freedom to chair the meeting unequivocally.
A February 15 evening media briefing — chaired by the Primates’ official spokesperson for the meeting, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Australia — is scheduled to recount of the day’s proceedings.
— Matthew Davies is international correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.