Last week it was my privilege and pleasure to host a meeting of the Primates of the Americas and the Caribbean at the Convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in Toronto. This was the third in a series of six regional meetings being held across the Anglican Communion in advance of the next Primates’ Meeting and the Lambeth Conference in 2020.
As host, I was delighted to welcome:
Primate of Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil
& Bishop of Curitiba
The Most Rev. Naudal Alves Gomes
Primate of Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America
& Bishop of Panama
The Most Rev. Julio Murray Thompson
Representing The Church in the Province of the West Indies & Bishop of the Windward Islands
The Right Rev. Leopold Friday
Presiding Bishop of La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico & Bishop of Northern Mexico
The Most Rev. Francisco Moreno
Presiding Bishop of The Anglican Church of South America & Bishop of Argentina
The Most Rev. Gregory Venables
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
The Most Rev. Michael Curry
Primate of Iglesia Anglicana de Chile & Bishop of Santiago
The Most Rev. Héctor Zavala Muñoz (“Tito” Zaval)
We were also blessed by the presence and leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; The Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser on Anglican Communion Affairs; the Secretary General of the Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon; and the Chief Executive of the Lambeth Conference, Mr. Phil George, and Mr. Gavin Drake, the editor of the Anglican Communion News Service.
The Church as the Body of Christ
As I reflect on the meeting, two images come to mind. The first is the one St. Paul uses in his teaching on the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ. In his First Letter to the Corinthians he writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
We gathered as the Body of Christ in all its wonder and all its fragility, mindful of the sacred mystery that it is thorough time.
We gathered with a sense of anticipation and hope for this meeting, each of us having a deep love of our Saviour through whom all things are continually made new. We gathered with deep concern for our family of Churches not only in our own region, but throughout our beloved Communion worldwide.
We acknowledged the need for renewed relationships amongst us all. We did not shy away from addressing the mistrust that has marred some of our relationships. We engaged in conversations that were very frank and very honest. We spoke of how relationships could be restored. All of us had the strong sense that the Holy Spirit was presiding in our midst, enabling us to face our divisions and to commit ourselves to continuing dialogue in the spirit of repentance and reconciliation, and to much greater collaboration one with another.
We took considerable time in talking about the nature of “communion”, using as a reference point a publication entitled “Toward a Symphony of The Instruments of Communion”, produced by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order and commended by the Anglican Consultative Council in 2012 for study throughout the Communion. Our conversation was also inspired by the introduction of a 2018 publication entitled “Communion in Ministry and Mission”.
Looking to Lambeth 2020
Like all the Regional Meetings, this was an occasion for reflection on the upcoming Lambeth Conference in 2020. We talked about the historic and continuing value of the Lambeth Conference to which all the bishops of the Communion are invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Given the theme for 2020, “God’s Church for God’s World”, we discussed our hopes and expectations from the perspectives of our own Churches, our Region, and the Communion as a whole. We identified a number of matters of concern within the household of faith and within the entire human family including concern for our common home, the earth itself. We felt like we are making a helpful contribution to the work of the Lambeth Design Group chaired by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, the Primate of South Africa.
Having elected Archbishop Julio Murray of Central America to represent our region on the Primates’ Standing Committee, we took time to consider how he can both represent us and report back to us; and how we can support him in this role. That drew us into a much broader discussion on how we will maintain contact with one and how we will prayerfully uphold one another in our ministries. We discussed a “Come and See” initiative whereby a primate would invite a colleague to “come and see”, to learn about the social, cultural and political contexts in which their Church endeavours to be faithful to God’s mission. This opportunity was so well received that we also pondered the possibility of a Conference on Mission in the Americas in 2021.
What will our testimony be?
The second image that comes to mind by way of reflection on our meeting is from the Gospel of the Day for Wednesday, November 28th. It was Luke 21:10-19. As the homilist, I focussed our reflection on Jesus’ words “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (verse 13). Intrigued by this counsel from our Lord, I invited us to consider what our own testimony is and ought to be…
As episcopal leaders in our worldwide Anglican Communion, we recognize that while we are working to heal hurt and restore trust in the family of our Communion, we know we face pressing global issues that bind us together and require us to speak out and to be one in facing them.
When faced with persecution, betrayal, and hatred – what will we say as Christians? When we are faced with a choice to either remain silent or to speak out for justice in the name of Christ, will we trusting in Christ? Will we hold fast? Will we stand firm?
Will we speak out too protect the children of the world? Will we stand with Indigenous peoples across the globe? Will we with the poorest of the poor? In a world where unjust political and economic policies give wealth and power to a very few and heap upon hardship on so very many, what will our testimony be?
What will we say about gender-based violence, the crime of trafficking human beings for the sex trade and other forms of exploitative labour, the refugee crisis, and climate change? What will our testimony be? How will it take shape? How will it be fleshed out?
A watershed moment for our life together
Prayer was at the heart of our gathering. Each morning we joined the Sisters for matins. At noon, we gathered for the Eucharist and found ourselves renewed in the great truth that “we being many are one body for we all partake of the one bread”. (Breaking of Bread, Form 2, p 212, The Book of Alternative Services). Late in the evening, we came together to pray for one another, our Churches, our beloved Communion, and our world wearied by the violence and uncertainties of this time in history.
From the perspective of our yearning for restoring trust, rebuilding relationships, and refocussing our energies as partners in the Gospel of Christ, this meeting was a watershed moment for our life together in The Region of the Americas and the Caribbean. In no small measure, it was a lovely and lively prelude to Lambeth 2020.
Mindful that there is but “on body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling” (Ephesians 4:4) we are praying for continued grace to abide in this great and wondrous truth.
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