for the exercise of enhanced responsibility by the Primates’ Meeting by Archbishop Drexel W. Gomez & Presiding Bishop Maurice W. Sinclair

(The Archbishop of Canterbury’s initial response to these Proposals appears at the end of this article)


1.1 In the Gospel account, the sons of Zebedee were mending fishing nets when Jesus called them to follow him. A net formed part of the imagery Jesus used in his teaching on the Kingdom. Networking is a popular and creative part of the life of the Church today. But nets can be torn. This is an attempt on the part of a team of bishops and scholars to address the problem of a tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion. If not mended in time a tear can get worse. What is written here has a note of urgency but is also inspired by hope. The Gospel teaches us that a mended net can contain a miraculous draft through the direction of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Risen Christ.

1.2 We here present a Proposal for the exercise of the enhanced responsibility that successive Lambeth Conferences have asked the Primates’ Meeting to fulfil. The Primates are not singled out as the only instrument of unity nor with the idea that they have a monopoly of responsibility or authority. Rather it is because their meeting provides an authoritative and intimate centre, in touch with the full circle of Anglican membership across the world. The proposal challenges some approaches to the practice of provincial autonomy. It contemplates more active decision-making at international level: even hard decisions. Because the development it suggests is quite substantial a careful account is given for the underlying reasons and justification. The supporting essays [printed with this Proposal in the book, To mend the Net: Anglican Faith & Order in Renewed Mission] give a fuller explanation of these considerations.

1.3 It should be noted that as a team of writers [the Primates were assisted by a small group of bishops and scholars] we also in some degree reflect the comprehensiveness of the Anglican Communion. Some differences in emphasis will be detectable in the essays. We do however unite in the main points focused in the proposal. By applying our diversity to a common aim we humbly seek to model what we are commending.

1.4 The context in which we write is of a growing and changing family of member Churches bearing their witness in a world of accelerating change. What was three centuries ago a National Church is now a completely international and culturally diverse Communion of Churches. This growing ethnic diversity is matched and seriously complicated by some growing differences in doctrine, liturgy, discipline and moral norms. There is an unprecedented level of communication across the Communion, but we have to admit that this is not matched by mutual understanding.

1.5 In some degree the Anglican Communion reflects the anomalies of the modern world. Its centre of gravity in terms of membership has shifted South, but its centres of influence remain in the North and the West. It spans the huge contrasts in physical security and insecurity and in material wealth and poverty. One parish in North America may spend more money on a parking lot than the whole annual budget of an entire Province in Africa or Asia. There is some very generous sharing across the Communion but priorities in spending are mostly determined by those with wealth. At the international level staffing, administration, budgeting, and communications are in large part shaped and even controlled by representatives of the North. Access to large sums of money has a particularly distorting effect in the life of the Communion. These considerations do not negate the value of some vital work, but the Communion does suffer through this lack of balance in representation and influence.

1.6 The gap that exists between the search for relevance in the North and physical survival in the South has a particular bearing upon two of the controversies that have threatened and are threatening to divide the Communion. The ordination of women may be seen as implicit in the Gospel of Christ or alien to it: something which in itself represents a serious dilemma. This ordination, though, becomes an intolerable problem for the Communion if it is imposed against conscience. Adoption of a new sexual ethic that places great emphasis on pleasure and individual fulfilment creates a crisis of conscience in the Communion whether this novelty is universally imposed or not. This new understanding of sexual ethics and the consequent practices of easy re-marriage and the ordination of active homosexuals and blessing of their partnerships has of course been promoted by the most influential section of the wealthiest of our member Churches. In particular, the ordination of active homosexuals and the blessing of their partnerships are opposed by Provinces with a less powerful voice and for whom the repercussions of such western trends add one more difficulty to witness in regions hostile to the Christian Faith. There has been some consultation about these matters at international level, some mutual concern, but as yet no way has appeared of halting these novel and unauthorised ordinations and blessings. This is the case even though such experiment is devoid of Scriptural or historic precedent, lacking in majority support in the Communion and with totally unforeseen consequences not least for those it is intended to benefit.

1.7 Since the Reformation Anglicans have consistently and rightly avoided an over centralisation of authority. The new controversies and the new levels of diversity have, however, prompted a search for ways of maintaining the bonds that hold us together. Of especial importance among these have been The Virginia Report and the prior Reports of the Eames Commission, which related more specifically to the question of ordaining women to the presbyterate and episcopate. Our purpose here is to affirm and build upon the best emphases and intentions of these Reports. We recognise in them a strategy of time. Our concern too is to cherish communion and work to avoid unnecessary or premature ruptures. We welcome the very pointed and relevant questions that these Reports raise, but our supporting essays in To mend the Net question aspects of their underlying theology, and the depth of diagnosis and the effectiveness of cure they prescribe. We would add that the strategy of time must work two ways: not only the avoidance of explosive reaction, but also the enablement of timely intervention.

1.8 The current situation in the Communion makes it necessary to know how better to identify the limits of Anglican diversity and relate them to our classical Formularies. We need to be clear as to what kind of new practices can be accepted into a process of open reception, how the necessary openness can be guaranteed, and how a proper collegiality among Anglican bishops can be restored when it is eroded or broken. Three recent developments, in particular, have brought this matter to a head. (a) The widespread refusal of dioceses, especially in the United States, to respond positively to the Lambeth ’98 resolution on sexuality and (b) the recent decision of ECUSA’s General Convention to monitor progress towards women’s ordination in all dioceses and (c) its placing of non-marital sexual relationships alongside marriage for support by the Church. Such revision of the Christian ethic is unacceptable to a majority of Anglican Provinces and to an important sector within the member Church most affected by it. Should it go unchallenged by the Primates’ Meeting, the immediate prospect is of a division within ECUSA, leading in its turn to a split in the Communion with the various Provinces lining up on the different sides.

1.9 This prospect is cause for great alarm and a reason for prompt action. Care must be taken, though, not to fall into the trap of negative reaction. We see our current disputes and novel practices as highly divisive and very damaging to Anglican witness and a cause of dismay to our ecumenical partners. We recognise their tragic pastoral consequences for the sexually broken. Nevertheless, we also believe God is pointing his Church to a better way. Our difficulties can in fact drive us to develop a truly Anglican polity, which is fully adequate for an international Communion.

1.10 Some may be tempted to imagine that democratic structures linked with democratic values will solve our problems. Instead we may be shown afresh that our unity requires much more than this: both truth and holiness of life. Our chief stumbling block is our own sin and our only remedy is salvation and sanctification wrought through Christ and his Spirit. We want to allow the authoritative Scriptures to speak into and redeem our Church and our world and we refuse to relativise or domesticate the Word of God. We are not trapped in a secular, unpredictable and fragmented process of change. We are instead set free to co-operate in an unfailing and universal purpose of God, perfectly revealed in his Son and through his Spirit, to which his prophets and apostles have given a clear, accessible and normative testimony.

1.11 The proposal we present for the exercise of enhanced responsibility by the Primates draws upon these insights and concerns. We have no brief for placing legislative structures above our Provinces, but we do affirm the exercise of a form of political authority at the international level. That is, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Primates and Bishops, has authority to call together the Bishops of the Communion, to withhold this invitation in specific cases and in extreme circumstances to suspend communion with a given Province or diocese. We propose a patient and pastoral exercise of this authority. The Proposal also faces the question of what is to happen when moral influence or godly admonition is refused. What we are recommending identifies practical procedures for repairing order but also points to the Spirit-inspired virtues and graces which are needed if this order is to be a bearer of life and thus a truer instrument of mission in the world.



1.1 In common with all other Anglican ministers, the Primates are called to serve the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ in faithfulness and in truth. The enhanced responsibility, which successive Lambeth Conferences have asked the Primates to exercise, is thus a Gospel and a mission responsibility, to be undertaken in holiness of life. “Positive encouragement in mission” is placed first among the commitments Resolution III.6 of Lambeth 98 requires the Primates Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury to fulfil. In implementing this responsibility the Primates would, as envisaged in Lambeth 48 strengthen the bonds between Provinces binding them in a common loyalty to our Lord and Master and in an agreed purpose in world evangelism.

1.2 This proposal for carrying out what has been entrusted to the Primates retains this mission priority. As requested by Lambeth 98, this responsibility relates to “doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters”. It addresses the question of “the limits of Anglican diversity” and makes provision for “intervention in cases of exceptional emergency.” In doing so, it seeks to be true not only to a teaching and supervisory role but also to missionary obedience.

1.3 Christian mission ought also to demonstrate a true unity. The steps in the proposal, which follow, are designed to cherish unity and to deal pastorally with divisive issues. The appeal is to collegial loyalty, and mutual responsibility. The proposal does, however, squarely face what needs to be done in the event of this appeal being refused. Again a series of measures aimed to preserve unity are recommended, and suspension of communion is reserved only in the case of dioceses or provinces finally rejecting these overtures. The Primates’ Meeting will thus fulfil its role as an instrument of unity alongside the other instruments of unity in the Communion. The proposal may indeed prove a means of moving “towards a maturity in the exercise of authority,” as first anticipated by Archbishop Donald Coggan at Lambeth in 1978.

1.4 In making this proposal, we share the commitment of the Lambeth Resolution, which asks that these responsibilities be exercised “in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.”

Resolution III.6 of Lambeth 98

Instruments of the Anglican Communion

This Conference, noting the need to strengthen mutual accountability and interdependence among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion:
[a] reaffirms Resolution 18.2 (a) of Lambeth 1988 which “urges that encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates’ Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates’ Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters”;
[b] asks that the Primates’ Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, include amongst its responsibilities positive encouragement to mission, intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within Provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity, in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.”

Genuine Collegiality

2.1 At a time, as recognised in Resolution III.6, when there is “the need to strengthen mutual accountability and interdependence among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion” the Primates must clearly set an example in genuine collegiality. We understand this in terms of respect and affection. Collegiality includes a commitment to discern together how in its essential integrity the apostolic message can be delivered and the apostolic task fulfilled in the widely different contemporary situations in which we serve. There must be the will to press ahead with the priorities that are fully agreed. In addition there needs to be the willingness on the part of the Primates to wait upon God and wait for one another especially where there is substantial disagreement as to what the Gospel requires. The discipline for acting promptly or waiting patiently requires personal holiness. Upon this virtue depends the ability of the Primates to work fruitfully together.

2.2 Genuine collegiality will normally require a minority to respect decisions supported by a majority of the Primates. The authorisation of significant innovations in doctrine, discipline or ethics even on an experimental basis must, however, be supported by a consensus or a very substantial majority of primates. Conscience informed by the Gospel must at all times be affirmed.

2.3 Both positive endeavour and necessary restraint are essential parts of working together of collegial ministry. An informed and thorough inter-cultural awareness is also required. Collegiality is broken when those from a dominant culture insist upon their innovative agenda against the insights and convictions of fellow Primates. Collegiality is similarly threatened when a particular Province/diocese allows local options, which have no proven legitimacy in its own context and very seriously prejudice mission in others.

2.4 If a breakdown in the collegiality of the Primates actually occurs there will be the risk of unprecedented divisions in the Anglican Communion. For this reason we seriously commend the kind of co-operation and restraint described above. In fact for unity in mission such discipline is not optional but essential.

The exercise of Enhanced Responsibility

3.1 Self Examination: Human sinfulness and pride lie at the heart of disagreement and disunity in the Anglican Communion. Cultural, sociological or even theological differences also contribute to them. The Primates as a body and as individuals are subject to human weakness and sin. So they must approach the exercise of this greater responsibility in a spirit of repentance and in humility towards God and towards one another. The Primates must give a positive example if they are to give leadership that unites.

3.2 Educative Role: The Primates should further develop together a role which not only highlights opportunities in world mission but also the best Anglican theology that undergirds it. They should share a vision for stronger mutual support and accountability between Provinces. Further, while positively affirming the comprehensive nature of Anglicanism, the Primates should exercise a responsibility to specify the limits of diversity and the frame of reference of provincial autonomy.

3.3 Advanced Sharing: Making maximum use of annual meetings and contacts between meetings Primates should share with each other news of major initiatives in mission which their Provinces contemplate. Before changes are implemented the Primates should inform each other of what is contemplated especially adaptations to local culture, which may have widespread implications and repercussions.

3.4 Preparation of Guidelines: When in the judgement of at least a significant minority of the Primates these contemplated changes exceed the limits of Anglican diversity, then the Meeting should ask the Province(s) to refrain from implementing them. Conversation concerning such changes can continue but should not be pre-empted by unauthorised innovation. In the event of Province(s) or diocese(s) continuing the disputed teaching or practice the Primates meeting should prepare guidelines, which address the situation created and identify its remedy.

3.5 Godly Admonition: The Primates should communicate and commend the guidelines to the relevant Province(s) and or diocese(s) and ask for approval and confirmation of their acceptance. There should be a willingness for face to face meeting and discussion. The Primates would look for openness to godly admonition but themselves exercise sensitivity to local issues and concerns. This step would be taken with a very positive intent.

3.6 Observer Status: If the guidelines are refused or if they evoke an unsatisfactory response, then the Primates Meeting should recommend to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he offer observer status in international meetings (Primates or Lambeth Conference) to the non-co-operating Province(s) and diocese(s).

3.7 Continuing Evangelization: Parallel with the measure in 3.6 the Primates Meeting should recommend to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he authorises and supports appropriate means of evangelization, pastoral care and episcopal oversight in the affected dioceses or Province(s).

3.8 New Jurisdiction: In the event of prolonged and evidently permanent rejection of the guidelines, the following should occur. The Primates’ Meeting should advise the Archbishop of Canterbury how best to establish a jurisdiction whose practice lies within the limits of Anglican diversity. This jurisdiction then would be recognised as a representative part of the Anglican Communion. There would be the simultaneous recommendation that communion be suspended with the intransigent body.

3.9 Primates’ Commission: A Primates’ Commission should be called together for two specific purposes: to act in collaboration with the Archbishop of Canterbury in relation both to the furtherance of priorities in mission and the re-ordering of cases of disorder. The Commission would also be available to assist the Archbishop when called upon to mediate in a serious dispute or respond to an emergency such as caused by genocide or civil war. The approach of the Commission would be outward looking and positive, seeking to maximise the mission element and to engage only when required where the integrity of Anglican witness is threatened or actually broken.

[The book, in which this Proposal appears together with explanatory material in Five Essays, is entitled TO MEND THE NET, Anglican Faith & Order in Renewed Mission, is edited by Drexel W. Gomez & Maurice W. Sinclair, and was published February 2001 by The Ekklesia Society, 1415 Halsey Way, Carrollton, Texas 75007. $10.00 per copy from the Publisher. Phone 972 446 2267.]

Drexel W. Gomez is Archbishop of the West Indies; Maurice W. Sinclair is Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone of the Southern Cone of America.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s initial response to these Proposals follows below….

The Text of this statement is taken from the Lambeth Palace Website

DURING the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 the role of the Primates within the Anglican Communion was discussed. Resolutions proposed that the possibilities for Primates acting more collegially should be examined. Primates continue to contribute to this debate publicly and privately.

I welcome the proposals in the book To Mend the Net by Archbishop Gomez and Presiding Bishop Sinclair as a serious contribution to that debate. To Mend the Net will also be studied by the new Inter-Anglican Doctrinal Commission chaired by Bishop Professor Stephen Sykes. The mending of the net referred to in this book is an apostolic task and we mend nets best when we> are faithful to the gospel and in step with one another. This and other useful contributions will assist the Primates in developing, collegially, their role within the Anglican Communion.

Members of the Anglican Communion should heed that while much may be gained by healthy debate ‘in communion’ much will be lost by action which challenges lawful authority in the body of Christ.