Leaders of the conservative Anglican churches of the Global South have accepted the invitation of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to attend the meeting of the 38 Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion in January.
Their decision, made at the recent Global South Anglican meeting that was moved to Cairo from Tunisia for security reasons, augurs well for Archbishop Welby's hopes of restructuring the communion in line with a federal model. This would allow unity to be maintained through communion with Canterbury, while also acknowleding the deep divisions between the liberal provinces of the West and the more conservative provinces of the South over issues such as homosexuality.
It also sets the stage for the next Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of worldwide Anglican bishops and archbishops, with greater hope of averting the kinds of boycotts that undermined the last one.
In a statement released at the close of the Cairo meeting, the Global South Anglican bishops and archbishops said: "We studied the letter of invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the upcoming Primates' meeting. We have agreed to attend the meeting, and welcome the invitation for the Primates to suggest the items of the agenda. We appreciate this very helpful approach, one that gives us a sense of ownership and responsibility to our meeting. We agreed on the agenda items which we will request."
Last month Archbishop Welby issued an invitation to all 37 other Primates, the presiding archbishops and bishops of Anglican provinces, to a meeting in January to "review the structures" of the communion, believed by some to consist of between 70 million and 80 million Anglicans. He invited Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America to be present at part of the gathering, even though this church is not technically part of the communion as currently structured.
Archbishop Beach leads a traditionalist wing of the Anglican church that has resisted the liberal direction of the US Episcopal Church and the invitation signaled a desire to reunite the fractured communion in a new model.
According to influential conservative commentator George Conger, the first agenda item proposed by the Global South and other conservative primates who are part of the Global Anglican Futures movement, or GAFCON, will be a Communion-wide response "to the recent actions of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada in changing the received doctrine and discipline of the church on issues surrounding homosexualty."
In July, the Global South criticised the US province's vote to change its law to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages. The Global South said: "We are deeply grieved again by the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) resolution to change the definition of marriage in their church canons in their current ongoing General Convention. By this action, TEC has chosen by its own will and actions in clear knowledge to depart from the Anglican Communion's standard teaching on human sexuality." The Global South said that by this action, TEC was giving way to society to alter and shape its values. "In other words the church is losing its distinctiveness as salt and light in this world."
In their communique the Cairo group, which included Archbishop Beach and was chaired by Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Rev Mouneer Anis, wrote: "We grieved one more time at the unilateral decisions taken by the last General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA to redefine marriage and to accept same-sex marriages." These were "a clear departure from not only the accepted traditional teaching of the Anglican Communion, but also from that of the one Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church, which upholds the scriptural view of marriage between one man and one woman."