October 8th – 10th 2014, New York City
A meeting of five African Primates with bishops of The Episcopal Church took place at the General Theological Seminary in New York, from the 8th to the 10th of October, 2014. It was convened by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jeffert-Schori. The meeting, described as groundbreaking, is the first in over a decade where a group of African Primates have met with leaders of The Episcopal Church to discuss matters of mutual interest in doing God’s mission.
Severe disagreements have tormented the Anglican Communion since 1998, paralysing the Communion’s formal channels of engagement and bringing the global family perilously close to a breaking point. Tensions reached a peak in the events leading up to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. In June of that year a new movement called the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) emerged in the Communion, threatening to derail the 14th Lambeth Conference. The movement quickly became a place of refuge for schismatic groups in The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada. It would subsequently claim to be a global alternative to the Anglican Communion itself.
Since then, tensions have been gradually receding. We have seen a growing number of bishops and Primates around the globe reaching out to one another, seeking to restore good working relationships among themselves. Most of this has been happening through small groups of leaders meeting outside the formal structures of the Communion.
One such process is the Canadian initiative known as the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue. The Consultations are a series of conversations involving mainly African and Canadian bishops but now also including bishops from the Church of England and The Episcopal Church. The group has met every year since 2010 and has become an ad hoc voice of reconciliation in the Communion.
At their most recent meeting in Coventry UK, participants called for more informal gatherings of this kind. “They recognized a new opportunity focused on rebuilding trust among leaders.” says Canon Kawuki Mukasa, Global Relations Officer for Africa in the Anglican Church of Canada. “The formal structures of the Communion are for the moment frozen because of the on-going disputes. The most promising way forward,” he says, “is through informal networks where leaders have the opportunity to discuss issues and build relationships unencumbered by the confining protocols of formal structures.”
The meeting of African Primates with bishops of The Episcopal Church in New York was in part a direct response to this appeal. They acknowledged the abundance of gifts in the churches they represent and confessed their profound need for one another in fulfilling God’s will in their respective mission fields. They framed their conversation in the context of human dignity, the sustainability of ministry and the care for the earth, and discussed a wide range of subjects that provide opportunities for fruitful collaboration and sharing of one another’s gifts. “We have made a conscious decision to walk together,” they said, “in order to go the distance.” In their message to the wider church, the group expresses their fervent and urgent hope for a second Anglican Congress (this time on the African continent) to provide a new vision for global Anglicanism in the same way that the first Congress influenced the last few decades.
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