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Constant dialogue

· Relations with the Anglican Communion and World Methodist Council ·

When he was installed as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby met with all of his 37 fellow primates and committed himself to visit each of them in their own provinces within his first 18 months. Given his high profile interventions in the political and social life of his own country, and his various ecumenical visits, this was a demanding commitment which was brought to completion, on schedule, when Archbishop Justin visited his neighbouring primate, the Most Rev. David Chillingworth, of the Scottish Episcopal Church, in November of this year. This extraordinary personal effort puts flesh on the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the first of four Instruments of Unity that bind the Anglican Communion together, the others being the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Archbishop Welby’s worldwide tour can be seen as a ministry in service of the Communion, a ministry of unity.

The Communion is under very significant strain and in the wake of the completion of the Archbishop’s visits something of this strain has become clear. In a December interview with The Times of London the Archbishop said, “I think, realistically, we‘ve got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together, or not hold together for a while.” Archbishop Welby has also made clear that the next Lambeth Conference will not be held in 2018. The Lambeth Conference is another of the four instruments of unity and since 1867 has generally been held every ten years, the only exceptions being due to the two World Wars.

Significantly Archbishop Welby has maintained since his very first meeting with the primates at his instalment his intention that they should discern the future of the Lambeth Conference together. He has invited the Primates to consider when and how they wish to meet, and indicated that it will now be for the Primates, as a body, to call the next Lambeth Conference. There is an important shift taking place here. That it will now be the Primates’ Meeting that calls the Lambeth Conference, makes this a collegial act of the Primates who represent the 38 Provinces of the global Communion, rather than the prerogative of the Archbishop of Canterbury alone.

Archbishop Welby does not hide, however, from the real tensions that exist in the Communion and that threaten the Communion’s future integrity. The last Lambeth Conference of 2008 was overshadowed by the fact that a quarter of the bishops did not attend, and dissent focussed principally on the issue of homosexuality, and particularly the Episcopal Church’s decision to elect a homosexual man openly in a relationship, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire. These same issues continue to prove divisive, and the fragmentation of Anglicanism in North America threatens to draw lines of division across the global Communion.

In the United States the Episcopal Church (TEC), with approximately 2 million members, remains the Anglican Province recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office with whom the Pontifical Council remains in official dialogue. However, its actions have incurred sanction. The 2004 Windsor Report and the subsequent Primates’ meeting in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, called for a moratorium on further ordinations of actively homosexual bishops and same-sex blessings (then sanctioned an Anglican diocese in Canada) and asked the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to temporarily withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council. When the agreed moratorium was broken in 2010 with the consecration of Mary Douglas Glasspool as suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, Archbishop Rowan Williams issued a rebuke to the Episcopal Church and barred it from taking part in international ecumenical dialogues.

It is particularly Robinson’s and Glasspool’s episcopal consecrations that have resulted in a number of groups breaking away from the Episcopal Church though other issues have also played a part. Perhaps the best known of these in the Catholic world is the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, established on 1st January 2012 following the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, which has an estimated 7,000 members, about 30 priests and 36 communities under the leadership of Mgsr Geoffrey Steenson. This represents those former Episcopalians who were most “Catholic” in sensibility and theology. However, a significantly larger reality is the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Even before the consecration of Gene Robinson a number of Episcopalians unhappy with the progressive agenda pursued by the Episcopal Church had put themselves under the jurisdiction of Anglican Provinces in South America, Africa and Asia. Born of several of these groups which had ceded from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, ACNA is now approximately 110,000 strong with 29 dioceses and 983 congregations. Theologically ACNA is predominantly evangelical Protestant rather than Catholic. It identifies seven essential elements as characteristic of Anglican belief which emphasise the Bible and the 1562 Thirty-Nine Articles “taken in their literal and grammatical sense”. Most of its dioceses ordain women, though not to the episcopate. ACNA’s evangelical identity is reflected in the support that they have received. While the Archbishop of Canterbury has said unequivocally that ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion, the Anglican provinces of Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan have all declared themselves to be in full communion with ACNA and in impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. These three provinces account for more than 30 million out of a worldwide Anglican population of 85 million. Ecclesiologically this is a confusing situation: ACNA’s bishops are ordained by bishops in good standing who remain fully part of the Anglican Communion, while ACNA itself is not recognised as part of the Anglican Communion by the four instruments of unity and the Anglican Communion Office.

Issues and fault-lines which are most marked in the North American context run throughout the rest of the Anglican Communion which is why evangelical Anglicans in North America have built alliances with Anglicans from Asia, Africa and South America. The Church of England, in December 2014, named its first female bishop, the Rev Libby Lane who will be ordained as Bishop of Stockport, following the vote of the General Synod in July to admit women to the episcopate. Moreover, the Church of England is engaged in a two year listening-process aimed at healing divisions and formulating teaching on the question of human sexuality. Here, as in other parts of the Communion, there are concerted calls for the blessing of same-sex relationships and the acceptance of openly homosexual clergy.

While the stresses on the Communion are considerable, as Archbishop Welby’s candid assessment of the situation indicates, it remains to be seen how far the Archbishop’s ministry of reconciliation can bring healing to the divisions. The Primates’ Meeting he proposes and the next Lambeth Conference which this meeting will convoke, will be key moments in this process. Addressing the Church of England Synod in November Archbishop Welby said that, although the Communion is fragile, it is also flourishing and that the only strategy to face its difficulties is one of prayer and “growing closer to God in Jesus Christ”.

Given the current strains within the Anglican Communion over ethical questions, and in the context of the two Synods on the Family, the theme of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International dialogue (ARCIC) is particularly apposite. ARCIC is examining the relationship between the local and the universal in the ecclesial discernment of ethical teaching. While recognising that the two Communions are in very different places with regard to ethical teaching, nonetheless we do face common ecclesiological challenges in formulating this teaching in Communions with a truly global reach. ARCIC, now in its third phase, is building upon the work of the previous commissions, and indeed is preparing for publication the collected documents of ARCIC II. However, by adopting the methodology of Receptive Ecumenism commission members are looking to see what each partner can learn from the other. In particular the commission is looking to compare structures and ministries that operate at Local, Regional and Universal level. A drafting committee will meet early in 2015 to work on this ecclesiological part of the mandate.

2014 has been an important year for the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). This Commission’s purpose is to promote the reception of the work of ARCIC as well as the work of regional Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogues. A steering group chaired by Bishop Donald Bolen, Roman Catholic bishop of Saskatoon, and Bishop David Hamid, the Anglican Assistant Bishop of Europe, and with representation from the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Anglican Communion Office, meets monthly by telephone conference. Over the last year this group has identified pairs of bishops in different parts of the world with significant Anglican and Catholic populations, and through these pairings IARCCUM can both learn of local initiatives and promote best ecumenical practice. Key to this task has been the establishment of the IARCCUM website ( which, as well as publishing ARCIC’s agreed statements, contains a wealth of archival material and documents from national dialogues. The website was formally launched in June 2014 by Archbishop Welby and Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

On a visit to Canada Archbishop Justin Welby described Christian unity as a goal that must be “our burning desire”. In pursuing unity he emphasised the importance of dialogue at a “passionate theological level” while at the same time developing a closer relationship in acting together in the service of the world’s poor. Of a piece with the Archbishop’s exercise of a ministry of unity ad intra, as discussed above, is his commitment to building ecumenical relationships, and 2014 has been an important year in this regard.

Archbishop Justin Welby’s first ecumenical visit of 2014 was to Patriarch Bartholomew on 14th January at which the Archbishop praised his host as "an example of peace and reconciliation," ecumenically, politically and environmentally, going on to say that such a ministry of reconciliation is “very dear to my heart” and “one of my key priorities”. However, the Archbishop has also been keen to develop ecumenical relations closer to home and in particular with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, with whom he meets regularly. Perhaps their most high profile joint venture this year was the Lenten campaign “Listen to God: Hear the Poor”. The campaign involved a number of high profile visits to Catholic and Anglican projects such as the London Catholic Worker community, where they met and prayed with refugees and asylum-seekers. The week long initiative also involved a series of videos on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website introduced by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

Archbishop Welby made two visits to Rome this year. During the first of these in June the Archbishop met with a number of communities across Rome: the Anglican communities of All Saints, and St Paul’s within the Walls; the Camaldolese community of San Gregorio in Celio; the Sant’Egidio Community and the community of Chemin Neuf. The Archbishop met Pope Francis on Monday, 16th June. In his address, Pope Francis cited the Lord’s question to his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way?” (Mk 9: 33) saying that, like the disciples, we too must be ashamed of our arguing, and at the distance between the Lord’s call and our meagre response. Responding, Archbishop Welby praised Pope Francis’s “remarkable witness of care for the poor and suffering of the world” and for his “passion for reconciliation”. Archbishop Welby also described Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, as “inspirational for all Christians”. In a gesture which foreshadowed Pope Francis’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew in November, at the conclusion of the audience Pope Francis bowed and asked Archbishop Justin to pray for him. Archbishop Welby then received the Holy Father’s blessing.

Archbishop Welby returned to Rome on 2nd December as a signatory to a Declaration of the Global Freedom Network against human trafficking and modern day slavery. At the gathering of global faith leaders the Archbishop stated their shared aim: “We gather to affirm a shared deep commitment for the liberation of those humiliated, abused and enslaved.” The issue of human trafficking was raised at Archbishop Welby’s first meeting with Pope Francis in June 2013 and since then the establishment of the Global Freedom Network is the fruit of a remarkable Catholic and Anglican collaboration. This work is headed by Bishop Marcello Sanchez Sorondo of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences; Archbishop Sir David Moxon, of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Official representative to the Holy See; and the Anglican philanthropist, Mr Andrew Forest. It reflects the shared desire of Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby that our ecumenical engagement is both a theological one, and, as the Archbishop has said, a “closer relationship of action”.

The dialogue between the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Communion continues in an atmosphere of great friendship and a desire for mutual enrichment. The focus of our current dialogue is Holiness and so touches on doctrinal questions ranging from creation and human anthropology to eschatology. The Commission met in Assisi in October 2014 and will draft its report in 2015 in order to present this to the World Methodist Council in 2016.

In Rome, Rev Kenneth Howcroft left his ministry at Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church in order to take up the role of President of the British Methodist Conference. Rev Howcroft has been a great friend of the Pontifical Council and a helpful liaison in our relations with the World Methodist Council. His replacement is Revd Dr Tim Macquibban who is a member of both the World Methodist Council and the European Methodist Council, bodies which recognise his role as Director of the newly created Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome. Dr Macqibban and his wife Angela hosted a reception for members of the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission in October on the day of his formal welcome and induction to his new role. We anticipate great future collaboration.

Anthony Currer, Official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Untiy




St. Peter’s Square

June 26, 2019