The Primates' Meeting: "The person praying next to me…"

Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, is accompanying Archbishop Fred Hiltz to the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt. This is his second report.

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—”I remember a signboard outside a church,” began the Archbishop of Canterbury, “that was filled with activities and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had left any space for God.” Preaching at the dedication of Saint Mark’s Pro-cathedral in Alexandria Egypt on the first day of the Primates’ Meeting, Archbishop Rowan Williams went on to challenge people about observing, honoring and understanding that Jesus prays with them, for them and through them. He said it is important to remember “the person praying next to me is a person in whom Jesus is praying … When I diminish them, I am in danger of destroying Jesus’ voice in them.”

The day began with a Eucharist after which Archbishop Williams lead the Primates in a “quiet morning” with a focus on the third chapter of the Revelation of St. John. After lunch there was an introductory session and then the visit to the cathedral as well as an introduction to a relatively new enterprise the Alexandria School of Theology. It was founded in 2005 and its vision is “to train Middle Easterners to reach the Middle East for Christ.” In a sense it is a restoration of an ancient school. St. Mark is said to have preached here in the first century. He was also martyred here in Alexandria and famous theologians and Church Fathers of the early centuries of Christianity were centered in this city.

The Pro-cathedral is a beautiful building from the 19th century and yet it felt strange to be surrounded by plaques honouring English nobility and military leaders in what is now a very multicultural church with Arabic as the dominant language. Much of the liturgy was familiar including A litany of Thanksgiving for a Church which was a duplicate of the one found in the Canadian Book of Alternative Services.

Monday began with Morning Prayer followed by a Eucharist and bible study.

After morning coffee Archbishop Fred Hiltz, our Primate, will be the first of four Primates to speak to the question “What impact has the current situation had on your provinces Mission priorities?” The Presiding Bishop of the United States, the Primate of Uganda and the Primate of South Africa will make other presentations addressing the same question.

Archbishop Hiltz will be distributing a folder of information to each Primate. Some of the items in the folder include our Mission statement, the recent statement from the House of Bishops, the edition of MinistryMatters on the Millennium Development Goals, the DVD “Amazing Together” celebrating the Amazing Grace project and a brochure on the Council of the North. He will in the course of that presentation also speak to the question of cross-border interventions.

In his New Year’s Day address at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa, Archbishop Hiltz said: “Across the board, irrespective of where bishops stand on the matter of blessing same-sex unions, no one is content with the continuing havoc created by cross-border interventions by Primates and bishops of jurisdictions other than their own. I remain committed to addressing the matter in the Communion and particularly at the meeting of the Primates next month in Egypt.”

The day will continue with conversations about The Anglican Covenant and a discussion on Zimbabwe.

It is not clear at this point how the Primates and others will address questions like cross- border interventions. The last few words of the Biblical passage addressed by Archbishop Rowan in the quiet retreat talk of hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Perhaps what is needed is for that prayer and the words from Archbishop Rowan’s sermon to be heard and understood in a new way: “The person praying next to me is a person in whom Jesus is praying… When I diminish them, I am in danger of destroying Jesus’ voice in them.”

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