The Primates’ Meetings are one of the “four instruments of unity” which are widely mentioned in discussions of the Anglican Communion.  They are the “youngest” of the four instruments having been mandated in 1978 and meeting for the first time in 1979.  The complete list of four is as follows:

  1. the Archbishop of Canterbury
  2. the Lambeth Conference
  3. the Anglican Consultative Council
  4. the Primates’ Meeting.

The 1978 Lambeth Conference requested that meetings should be set up to enable regular consultation between the Primates of the Anglican Communion.  The report from Section 3, “The Anglican Communion in the world-wide Church”, noted in its section D page 103, of the official report:  “We have noted that there have very occasionally been meetings of the primates of all the Provinces.  Since such meetings are important for a Communion which is both episcopally led and synodically governed, we hope that such meetings will be held more often, perhaps in connection with meetings of the ACC” 1  In a speech on “Authority in the Anglican Communion” made by the Most Rev. Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 7 August 1978 at the Conference, Archbishop Coggan also mentioned these meetings in connection with the question of authority.

“I do not think there is a quick or easy answer to the question `Where is authority to be found?’  Nor do I think it is of the genius of Anglicanism to define too rigidly, though there is always, on the part of some of us, a craving for a rigid neatness.  But I am coming to believe that the way forward in the coming year — and it may be a slow process — will be along two lines: first, to have meetings of the primates of the Communion reasonably often, for leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.  There have been such meetings, but on very informal and rare bases.  I believe they should be held perhaps as frequently as once in two years.  But if that meeting not on some fairly regular basis is to be fruitful, those primates would have to come to such meetings well informed with a knowledge of the mind and will of their brothers whom they represent.  Then they would be channels through which the voice of the member Churches would be heard, and real interchange of mind and will and heart could take place.  That’s the first thing.

The second line, I think, on which we might well make progress would be to see to it that that body of primates, as they meet, should be in the very closest and most intimate contact with the Anglican Consultative Council” 2.

The Primates’ Meetings are private and closed to the public and media although there is usually a public statement or pastoral letter released at the end of each one.  The first meeting was held in Ely, England, in 1979.  Between 1979 and 1997 meeting were usually held every two years.  Between 2000 and 2003 the meetings were held every year.  There was an extraordinary Primates Meeting held in London, England, in October 2003.  The next “regular” Primates’ Meeting was held in February 2005.  The complete list of Primates’ Meeting dates and locations to date is as follows:

Meeting Number



1st1979 November 26 – December 1
2nd1981, 26 April – May 1Washington DC, U.S.A.

1983 October 15-18Limuru, Kenya
4th1986 March 12-16London, Ontario, Canada
5th1989 April 26 – May 8Larnaca, Cyprus
6th1991 April 8-17Newcastle (Belfast), Northern Ireland
7th1993 January 16-31** Joint Meeting with Anglican Consultative CouncilCape Town, South Africa
8th1995 March 10-19Windsor, England
9th1997 March 9-17Jerusalem
[1998 August]Canterbury, England(Brief meeting following the 1998 Lambeth Conference)
10th2000 March 22-29Oporto, Portugal
11th2001 March 2-9Kanuga, North Carolina, U.S.A.
12th2002 April 10-17Canterbury, England
13th2003 May 19-25Porto Alegre, Brazil
Extraordinary2003 October 15-16London, England
14th2005 February 21-26Dromantine (Newcastle), Northern Ireland
15th2007 February 14-19Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
16th2009 February 1-5Alexandria, Egypt


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1 The Report of the Lambeth Conference 1978.  (London: CIO Publishing, 1978), p. 103.
2 The Report of the Lambeth Conference 1978.  (London: CIO Publishing, 1978), p. 123-124.