Primates begin their meeting in Northern Ireland

The 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion begin their week-long meeting today in Northern Ireland, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

The meeting is being portrayed as a final attempt by the Primates to try to avert schism over homosexuality. There are warnings that it could descend into a bitter confrontation and officials are not discounting the possibility of walkouts. Dr Williams will be in the invidious position of attempting to mediate between seemingly irreconcilable factions without any papal-style authority or power to impose a solution.

The conservative primates who come mainly from Africa and Asia, are led by Archbishop Akinola from Nigeria and are thought to total up to half of the 38 primates. Archbishop Akinola is reported to be demanding that the liberal leadership of the American Episcopal Church repents by the end of May or is suspended from the worldwide Church. The conservatives will be seeking similar sanctions against liberals in Canada. The churches of Canada and the USA, being Synodically governed, have to follow the proper process and timescale in their churches which makes it impossible for them to comply within the timescale the conservative’s demand.

The conservatives are understood to be worried that the agenda will limit the amount of time spent on debating the Windsor report. Of the 22 sessions planned over five days, only five will focus specifically on the Windsor report. Much time will be taken up with prayer and Bible study and other issues on the agenda include Aids and the relief efforts following the Asian tsunami. Officials hope that the other issues will demonstrate that the Church’s shared problems outweigh its differences. The conservatives want much more time for discussion of the Windsor report with the intention of reaching a clear resolution to the crisis. They are thinking of trying to change the official agenda in order to achieve this.

Insiders say that Archbishop Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria, has warned the Archbishop of Canterbury that the conservatives will boycott the daily church services during the conference if the liberals are there. This particular problem could become most acute when Dr Williams presides at Communion – a sacrament supposed to symbolise the unity of the Church. The conservative archbishops have said they will demonstrate their anger with their liberal counterparts by refusing to receive Communion alongside them.

Conservatives were further dismayed that Bishop Frank Griswold, the liberal primate of the American Episcopal Church, was invited to preach at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast yesterday.

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