Archbishop of Canterbury on the future of the Anglican Communion: 'We have no strategies beyond prayer and obedience'


The Archbishop of Canterbury today gave the presidential address at the meeting of the General Synod in London, in which he praised the Anglican Communion for its diversity, but warned that it "may be too much to manage".

Speaking immediately after the final vote to promulgate legislation allowing women bishops, Archbishop Welby highlighted the breadth of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as a whole.

"The Anglican Communion exists and is flourishing in roughly 165 countries. There has been comment over the last year that issues around the Communion should not trouble us in the Church of England because the Communion has for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Not only does it exist, but almost everywhere (there are some exceptions) the links to the See of Canterbury, notwithstanding its Archbishop, are profoundly valued," he said.

"Within the Communion there are perhaps more than 2,000 languages and perhaps more than 500 distinct cultures and ways of looking at the world. Some of its churches sit in the middle of what are literally the richest parts of the globe, and have within them some of the richest people on earth. I had my first experience of meeting billionaires – they are very much like millionaires, only richer, in case you were wondering," he added, to laughter from Synod.

"[But] the vast majority are poor. Despite appearances here, we are, to use Pope Francis' phrase, 'a poor church for the poor'."

The Archbishop went on to highlight the ways in which the Church demonstrates "profound unity", despite divisions regarding sexuality, war, marriage and a myriad other issues.

"Underpinning us is a unity imposed by the Spirit of God on those who name Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This diversity is both gift and challenge, to be accepted and embraced, as we seek to witness in truth and love to the good news of Jesus Christ," he said.

"The potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve."

Welby argued that a unified Church, able to love one another in the face of difference, is able to "speak with authority" to a world incapable of dealing with diversity.

"In Christ we are held together In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace," he said.

However, the Archbishop added that he did not want to sound "triumphalist", and acknowledged the presence of "deep divisions" in many areas of the Communion. "Our divisions may be too much to manage," he said, denouncing tribalism within the Church.

"There is a belief that opponents are either faithless to the tradition, or by contrast that they are cruel, judgemental, inhuman. I have to say that we are in a state so delicate that without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures," he said.

After highlighting the persecution of Christians all around the world, the Archbishop concluded his address by underlining the importance of holding "unity in diversity and love in difference".

"It is almost unimaginably difficult, and most certainly cannot be done except with a whole-hearted openness to the Holy Spirit at work amongst us," he acknowledged.

"It comes with prayer, and us growing closer to God in Jesus Christ and nothing else is an effective substitute. There are no strategies and no plans beyond prayer and obedience.

"The future of the Communion requires sacrifice... We must grasp that challenge, it is the prize of a world seeing Christ loved and obeyed in His church, a world hearing the news of his salvation. So let us here, in the Church of England and above all in its General Synod, be amongst those who take a lead in our sacrificial, truthful and committed love for the sake of Christ for His mission in His world."