Sunday, February 24, 2008


What the heck is all this deal with “Primates” in the Anglican Communion? Where did these people come from, and who do they think they are?

Well, of course in a sense they have been around for a long time. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the “Primate of All England,” and the Archbishop of York is the “Primate of England.” (That’s quaint. How English!) In imitation whereof, presumably, the Archbishop of Armagh is the “Primate of All Ireland” and the Archbishop of Dublin is the “Primate of Ireland.” The Scottish Episcopal Church has a “Primus” rather than a Primate. But since “Primus” is simply a Latin variant for “Primate,” more or less, it’s not clear what real difference it makes. Except that the chief Scottish bishop is somewhat less likely to be confused with one of the Pongidae, which is probably advantageous. But back in the Olden Days, we didn’t have a Primate in the Episcopal Church. We had a Presiding Bishop. If I remember correctly, our first Presiding Bishop to be designated as our “Primate” and to be styled “The Most Reverend” was John Allin in the early 1980’s. (I think we were feeling left out.)

Maybe this was related to the fact that along about this time, the Anglican Communion first started having Primates’ Meetings. We had never done that before. Lambeth Conferences had seemed organizationally entirely adequate for the previous century, supplemented with such splendid parties as the Anglican Congresses of 1908, 1954, and 1963, and several Anglo-Catholic Congresses in the 1920’s and 30’s.

And in fact it seems entirely reasonable to me, since it is probably not practical for the Lambeth Conference to meet more frequently than once a decade, that the Primates of the constituent Churches of the Anglican Communion should get together more frequently to pray and talk and share about how things were going. (Actually, many of these bishops apparently did not become “Primates” until they started having “Primates’ Meetings.” They had simply been Archbishops Metropolitan, or Presiding Bishops. England, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were the only Churches with “Primates” before then.)

Well, that’s okay. I’m perfectly fine with the idea that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is our Chief Pastor and Primate. (Actually, I kind of like the title “Primus,” and since we initially received the episcopate from the Scottish church it would seem appropriate to use that. Except that +Katharine would be the “Prima,” and then some dumbwit would make jokes about “prima donnas.” I have had the honor to meet Bishop Katharine, and she is no prima donna. For that matter, most of the leading operatic sopranos in the world are not “prima donnas” either: they are very talented, charming, and thoughtful women. But I digress.)

But now all of a sudden the Primates’ Meeting, originally designed to be interim consultations between Lambeth Conferences, has erupted as a Curial Authority! They are now one of the Anglican Instruments of Communion. Who says??!! How did that slip by without anybody taking much appropriate notice? This looks a lot like a fait accompli, and I say it is not too late to say, “Wait just a minute here!” As I said at the beginning, who do they think they are?

I think it will be entirely sufficient for the Anglican Communion to have three Instruments of Communion:

1. The Archbishop of Canterbury;
2. The Lambeth Conference (of bishops);
3. The Anglican Consultative Council (comprised of laity, clergy and bishops).

Again, it’s perfectly appropriate that the Primates (Moderators, Presiding Bishops, Archbishops Metropolitan, whatever) meet regularly to share joys and concerns. But they do not have and should not have executive or legislative authority. I suggest that they study and meditate on Mark 10:41-45 and Romans 12:3.

Comments on the St Andrew’s Draft for an Anglican Covenant will be forthcoming.

The Curmudgeon.

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