Stretching the soul

Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, is accompanying Archbishop Fred Hiltz to the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt and is filing occasional reports.

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—In my first report on Sunday I said that this meeting does not seem to have the tension that previous meetings have had. At the first official news conference yesterday Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, the Primate of Australia and official spokesperson,  confirmed that, “There are not the levels of anxiety that have accompanied other Primates’ Meetings.”

He suggested that the recent gathering of the Lambeth Conference played a role in this. I received a similar confirmation from Archbishop Maurício José Araújo de Andrade of Brazil who told me that the meeting feels a lot different to him than the last one in Dar es Salaam in 2007. The security is much less and the Primates are not sequestered in the same way as they were in Tanzania.

When asked if all of the Primates were taking Holy Communion together, Archbishop Aspinall replied, “Communion was celebrated by all the Primates and no one has absented themselves. No one has made any statement that they are not participating in Holy Communion.”

This calmer gentler style of meeting may suggest a few differences, but one should still be cautious in reaching early conclusions. “It’s only the beginning,” one Primate was heard to say.

Yesterday, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, our Primate, made a presentation on the question, “What impact has the current situation had on your province’s mission priorities?” His presentation was one of five the Primates heard, the others being by the Primates of Uganda, Myanmar, Southern Africa and The Episcopal Church of the United States.

Archbishop Aspinall said that the presentations were quite different and depended on the context. What he and others confirmed was that all of the presentations had a high commitment to mission and to the role that culture plays in shaping that mission. One of the presenters said that the issue of homosexuality was simply not on the radar screen in his province where virtually everyone has a traditional view of marriage.

The Australian Primate rarely identified who said what, but gave a moving example from Archbishop Thabo of South Africa who in talking about the divisive debate around the ethics of armed struggle to overthrow apartheid said, “It was a real life and death issue in South Africa at the time and the church managed to stay together through all of that.”

The Primates spent some time in small group discussions. I asked Archbishop Aspinall about cross-border interventions and he confirmed that the matter was part of the discussion and that those conversations would continue today as the Primates consider the final report of the Windsor Continuation Group.

I was surprised by his answer to another question on the emergence of the entity in North America that wishes to become a province. Archbishop Aspinall said this was not on the agenda and only was referred to in passing.

Some of his most interesting comments were centered on the conversations around the proposal for an Anglican Covenant. (The Primates are working from the latest version of the draft Covenant and their provinces have until early March to respond to that draft after which a third draft that will be prepared for the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in May.) Archbishop Aspinall talked about a warming up to the idea but also said that must be measured against an increasing understanding of what a covenant can and cannot accomplish.

He said: “I sense a pulling back from language of ‘sanctions’ and ‘teeth’ and

there was a discussion on whether that is appropriate language for the body of Christ. There’s a growing appreciation that what we are talking about is a framework for koinonia, fellowship, for communion, for relationships and if there is a failure in koinonia the way that such a failure needs to be addressed is through further investment in koinonia, fellowship and relationships, not hitting people over the head with sticks.”

My sense is that that those words would not have been spoken at the last two Primates’ meetings.

One of the critical pieces to come from these meetings has been the final communiqué. The drafting group consists of a Primate from each of the five regions:  archbishops Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi (chair), Paul Kwong of Hong Kong, Alan Harper of Ireland, Ian Ernest of the Indian Ocean, and Carlos Touche-Porter of Mexico.

Today the Primates will discuss the report from the Windsor Continuation Group that I mentioned above, theological education in the Anglican Communion and address the issue of global warming.

Archbishop Aspinall indicated that the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked that the Windsor Continuation Group report be kept private until the Primates have concluded their meeting.

It is difficult to get an exact read on where this meeting is going. One can only hope that the spirit in which the meeting began can continue to permeate the conference.

Sunday, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams referred to the concept of “stretching the soul” which comes from Origen, an early Christian scholar, and theologian. Origen was an Egyptian who taught in Alexandria and who  revived the school of theology. His words about how to pray may go a long way in helping this meeting to be centered on that concept of fellowship.

Origen said: “This is how he should come to prayer stretching out his soul, as it were, instead of his hands, straining his mind toward God instead of his eyes, raising his governing reason from the ground and setting it before the Lord of all instead of standing. All malice toward any one of those who seem to have wronged him he should put away as far as any one would wish God to put away His malice toward him, if he had wronged and sinned against many of his neighbours or had done anything whatever he was conscious of as being against right reason.”

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