Declaring a "powerful will" for their provinces to continue in relationship, a panel of four Anglican primates, introduced by Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland and including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, addressed the media at a news conference at the conclusion of the Primates Meeting, held February 20-25 at the Dromantine Conference Centre near Newry in Northern Ireland.
Williams and Eames were joined by Archbishops Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, Henry Orombi of Uganda, and Peter Carnley of Australia, who chaired the drafting committee for the primates' official response to last October's Windsor Report. The primates released a communiqué February 24 offering recommendations about next steps towards "healing and reconciliation" and agreeing to create space for one another and preserve unity in the Communion.
The 5-page communiqué requested that the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "voluntarily withdraw" their representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council, the Communion's main legislative body, until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. It reaffirmed the importance of provincial autonomy and interdependence, and committed the primates to the pastoral support and care of homosexuals. It also committed the primates to a promise "neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions," calling on Williams to appoint a panel that could supervise the "adequacy of pastoral provisions" for those in theological dispute with their bishop or province.
Carnley described the weeklong meeting as "a very agreeable process .... because it was clear that we were all of a common mind." He emphasized that the North American churches are not being asked to withdraw from the Anglican Communion. "We see the need for a listening process and we think that the withdrawal of members from the ACC will create a space ... to allow the listening process to happen," he said. "Just as importantly we have called on the primates to cease cross-boundary intervention. The intervention of bishops from outside that church is unhelpful and we have committed ourselves unanimously."
Creating space, fostering respect
According to Williams, the primates displayed "a powerful will" to stay in contact and in touch with one another. "The willingness to stay together has been impressive ... but there is a challenge for everyone," he said. "We are trying to create some space."
Williams highlighted the fact that that the Primates' Meeting "is not an executive body, it's not a synod or star chamber." It has no authority to set in motion any of this week's decisions, he added, but made it clear that the primates as a body were committed to uphold the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 on sexuality. "The resolution affirms respect for gay and lesbian people," he said. "This communiqué makes it clear that we have not been very good at this and not very good at fostering respect.
In his closing remarks, Williams said that "what we are trying to do in the lead-up to the  Lambeth Conference is equip ourselves to be a responsible, articulate church."
Describing the Windsor Report as holding up a vision of what Anglican life and work should look like, Gomez said that each province has been challenged to live up to that vision. "I was impressed with the honesty and civility of the meeting," he added. "Some of us came to this meeting thinking it could be the last. I was relieved and inspired by the way in which we could be honest with one another and agree to create the space, and preserve our unity."
The primates hold a deep affection for the Anglican Communion, Gomez added. "We are determined to see to it that our Communion not only lives, but thrives as well."
Impressed with the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Orombi explained that he was "touched by the way in which he enabled us to be honest with each other and gave us the freedom to speak [openly.]"
In a good place
In an interview with ENS following the meeting, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said that "the week had been difficult but we have emerged in a very good place." (Griswold's statement to the church can be found here
"The report seeks to make space in a number of areas for different perspectives to be held with integrity," he added. "My sense is that the communiqué ... asks for us to slow down a bit, lets us make room for one another, let us reason together, lets us explore more deeply some of the underlying issues that are represented by some of the actions that have recently occurred."
One thing that has become very clear through listening to the voices of other primates, Griswold added, is "how very different the contexts are in which we seek to articulate the Gospel and be faithful to the ministry of Christ."
"This week has given us the opportunity, with great candor and frankness, to explore more deeply and to present to one another more fully the realities out of which we come and the effects on us various actions have had or may have in the future," he said.
Griswold expressed "encouragement in the Anglican primates' willingness to seek to find a way forward even when they disagree deeply ... I think that commitment to one another is a demonstration of the bonds of affection which are at the heart of Communion."
Unity amid disagreement
The Windsor Report was requested by the primates at their meeting in October 2003 and completed one year later after a 17-member commission examined interrelationships among Anglicans and offered recommendations on ways in which the Anglican Communion could maintain unity amid strong differences of opinion.
The report followed the consecration in New Hampshire of a bishop who is in a committed relationship with a person of the same sex, and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster's adoption of rites for the blessing of same-gender unions.
The 35 primates who met at Newry acknowledged that these developments within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have proceeded "entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements," yet agreed that the teaching on matters of human sexuality, "as expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, should be upheld," raising concerns that this had been "seriously undermined" by the recent developments in North America.
In light of this, the communiqué requested that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference," but acknowledged that time needs to be given for consideration of these recommendations "in accordance with constitutional processes."
"...[W]e continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people," the communiqué added. "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship."
The communiqué asked that further consideration be given to some of the recommendations set forth in the Windsor Report, such as the establishment of an Anglican Covenant and further development of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. "While we welcome the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury ... we are cautious of any development which would seem to imply the creation of an international jurisdiction which could override our proper provincial autonomy," it stated, asking that the Archbishop of Canterbury explore ways of consulting further on these matters.
The Anglican leaders gave careful consideration to 322 Communion-wide responses received by the Reception Reference Group, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in conjunction with the Primates' Standing Committee on October 20, 2004. A group of conservative Anglicans from North America also traveled to Northern Ireland to offer the Global South primates guidance and counsel in their deliberations.
Hearing in Nottingham
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) - the Anglican Communion's chief legislative body, comprising more than 100 bishops, clergy and lay representatives -- will receive the Windsor Report and the Primates'communiqué when it meets in Nottingham, England, in June 2005.
The ACC, one of the Anglican Communion's four "instruments of unity," which also include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meeting, and the Lambeth Conference, is the only body that has the authority to act legislatively on the recommendations of the report or the primates' statements.
In their communiqué, the primates encouraged the ACC to organize a hearing at its Nottingham meeting "at which representatives of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, invited for that specific purpose, may have an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Provinces."
The U.S. House of Bishops, which includes all active and retired bishops, will address the primates' comments and continue its discussion of the Windsor Report during its annual retreat meeting March 11-16 at Camp Allen, Texas.
A full, representative response from the Episcopal Church cannot be made until the General Convention -- its national governing body - meets in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006. The General Convention consists of the House of Bishops and a House of Deputies, which includes up to four laypersons and four clergy from each diocese, each area mission, and the Convocation of the American Churches in Europe.
Reconstruction and relief
During the opening session of the primates' gathering, reports were heard from the Provinces most affected by the recent tsunami disaster in South East Asia and relief work undertaken by Anglican churches worldwide. The primates offered prayers for the victims, and for the ongoing work of reconstruction and relief work.
In the second half of the meeting, the primates addressed the ministry of African churches among people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly the dying, bereaved, and orphaned children, and accepted that their concerns must be broadened to include those suffering from TB and malaria. "We have also been called to support the General Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and world leaders in developing effective strategies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015," the communiqué added. "In addition to the commitment to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, these MDGs include reducing absolute poverty by half and reducing hunger by half by 2015. In the longer term we must eradicate both."
Two sessions were devoted to "the discernment of theological truth and the development and improvement of theological education through the sharing of resources across the Communion," the communiqué stated, an area that the Archbishop of Canterbury has identified as a priority concern during the period of his leadership.
Three primates unable to attend the meeting in Ireland due to personal reasons or illness were: the Most Rev. Peter Kwong, Archbishop of Hong Kong; the Most Rev. James Terom, Moderator of the Church of North India; the Most Rev. Samuel Ndayisenga, Archbishop of Burundi.