The Feb 1-5 meeting at the Helnan Palestine Hotel in Alexandria will open with a morning retreat led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams followed by worship at St Mark’s pro-Cathedral. Business sessions will be interspersed over the week with worship and excursions to local sites, including the Alexandria School of Theology and the newly renovated Bibliotheca Alexandrina.Read it all here.
However it is unlikely the agenda for the five-day gathering will survive unscathed. At their meeting in 2005 in Northern Ireland and in 2007 in Tanzania the primates rebelled, forcing the meeting to address the issues that had split the Anglican Communion.
In organizing the agenda, Dr Williams solicited the views of his fellow archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators, asking what topics they wished to discuss. From these responses he developed a lesson plan that will include a session on global warming, international finance, co-ordination of development work among church agencies, and the Communion’s theological working group. Time has also been set aside for a discussion of the May agenda of ACC-14 in Kingston, Jamaica, the Anglican Covenant, and a presentation from the Windsor Continuation Group.
Five primates: Uganda, the Episcopal Church, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa have been asked to prepare briefings on issues facing their churches, while leaders of the Gafcon movement have been asked to present a paper on the third province movement in North America.
The primates come into the Alexandria meeting with some degree of bad feeling amongst themselves and with the leadership of Dr Williams. The Gafcon primates are seeking a mandate to create a third province in North America, while liberal leaders are adamantly opposed. Last week, we heard Rowan Williams successor, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan tell delegates to the Diocese of Virginia’s annual synod that he would vigorously oppose any plan for parallel jurisdictions, while earlier this month the Church of Nigeria’s bishops said their call for a new province was non-negotiable.
Similar commentary has been heard in recent weeks, that the charm offensive has been underway since Lambeth to placate the Anglican primates into a non-active stupor. With Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's "defrocking" (for all intensive purposes) of a Church of England bishop this past week, one wonders if the primates are just going to gather to play a few rounds of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, or if they are actually going to justify the enormous expense they are incurring in traveling to the Middle East in the middle of one of the greatest economic downturns in recent history.
We heard the Archbishop of Wales vow to oppose with every fiber of his body any conversation on the creation of a third province in North America, mostly motivated by what appeared to be his own selfish fears that it could happen to him too. There's a major lesson there, but to actually stop and consider that perhaps the "new and improved" progressive innovations being imposed on the North American provinces are actually having a devastating affect on its ability to grow (which the provinces haven't actually done in recent memory). If the North American provinces were businesses, they would be heading to Washington for a TARP handout.
One of the major pulls for leadership of the Anglican Communion is do they listen to their people or do they listen to the Establishment? The Anglican Communion is blue blooded, not particularly red and that fact can be quite enticing, as we saw in the lavish afters-party at Lambeth when the bishops marked against poverty and then followed it up with a five-star party and a visit to the Queen of England. Will this meeting in Alexandria just be an expensive junket, or will they actually grow up and be the leaders God has called them to be and do something constructive, rather than play their global game of Kick the Can?
Will the need to preserve a historic well-defined caste-system that wants to retain the trappings of a bygone Victorian era while infusing it with progressive western cultural innovations continue to strong-arm the Global South into compliance? Who doesn't want to be hip? Will we see the well-financed Episcopalians running this show in Alexandria (while the British charm offensive continues), as the majority of the Anglican Communion are swept aside in irrelevant silence?
Rowan Williams is deeply into his role now as Archbishop of Canterbury now. He was extremely effective at Lambeth in accomplishing what he set out to do, so much so that the Presiding Bishop stood with arms folded in defiance in the end. The staffers from bygone years are now gone. Who will the Episcopalians saddle up to now that Jim Rosenthal is gone? What sort of leverage does Katharine Jefferts Schori enjoy over the Archbishop of Canterbury, even now?
We will know not by what he says, but by what he does.
If the Episcopal Church - which has no intention of ever embracing an Anglican Covenant as it kicks that can down the road this summer - is able to come through this Primates Meeting unscathed then it will be obvious that Rowan Williams is under the authority of the Episcopal Church. Who can remove from ministry (i.e., defrock) a Church of England bishop and get away with it, except someone who has the power to do that without fear of reprisals? Rowan Williams made it clear he sees the Anglican Communion as the Church and we enjoy recognizing the orders of all our provinces as one church. How can one "primate" remove from ministry in a punitive fashion a bishop in from another province without their be consequences in the Church of England, where Rowan Williams is the Primate? Will there ever be any consequences to the actions of the Episcopal Church for the past five years?
Even the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is now circulating liturgies for same sex blessings - what more evidence does Canterbury need, unless he too agrees that this is the future for the Anglican Communion, to embrace the innovations of Western culture and impose those innovations on to the rest of the world?
He doesn't seem to me to be that sort of person, for he has appeared to be a man without guile - but this Primates Meeting will show us the truth.
Perhaps this is a good time to recall this historic event in Jerusalem.