The occupant of the See of Canterbury, the Primate of all England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the President of the Lambeth Conference (which he calls every ten years), the President of the Anglican Consultative Council (whose creation gained the approval of all the Provinces in 1968) and the President of the Primates' Meeting (created 1978).
Yet each of the Thirty-Eight Provinces is autonomous in that the Primate of all England, like any other of the 37 Primates in the Anglican Family, can only enter other provinces than his own by invitation. There are no rights of entry.
Thus the Archbishop of Canterbury only enters a diocese of the ECUSA by invitation.
Not all Primates are welcomed in all Provinces. Since the introduction of the ordination of women as presbyters and then as bishops, there has been an impaired communion between certain provinces and thus, for example, Primates who have ordained women have not been invited to provinces where this innovation is seen as wrong.
It is also the case that autonomous provinces and indeed individual dioceses can declare themselves in impaired or wholly broken communion with other provinces and/or dioceses because of the perceived error, heresy,& condoning of immorality in the other provinces or dioceses. This is happening in 2003 over the matter of sexual practices approved in the ECUSA and deemed immoral by other provinces/dioceses. As yet none has declared itself out of communion with the Province of all England.
Thus there is between the 38 provinces something short of a rightly ordered federation, let alone a genuine Communion of Churches. This situation of impairment and division may become more obvious and pronounced after the regional meeting of evangelical bishops in Kenya later in September 2003.
However, all the Provinces without exception look to the See of Canterbury as the focus of unity and see their bishops in communion with the Archbishop thereof. Thus the Anglican Communion of 38 provinces remains intact even if it merely now just a loose federation.
None of the Primates has refused to attend that special Primates' Meeting in London on October 15-16 (but perhaps illness may keep several away). There will be pressure there, especially from the African lobby, upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to act in a way which only he can uniquely act - that is to tell the ECUSA that he is not prepared to invite its bishops to the next Lambeth Conference of Bishops unless its General Convention in 2006 reverses its decisions on sexuality & other matters. If he so acts the ECUSA will be disciplined in a way that has never occurred before in the history of the Communion. It will be on notice to reform or to be dismissed.
We need to be clear that no majority vote in the Anglican Consultative Council and certainly no majority vote in the Primates Meeting can discipline or expel the ECUSA. It is simply and only the Primate of all England (Canterbury), advised by the Primate of England (York), and such others as he cares to consult, who determines the membership of the Anglican Communion.
We do not know the full mind of the present Archbishop of the See of Canterbury on these matters; but, we do know that he knows that he has tremendous responsibility which must be hard to bear. He has told us that he is also very concerned about the evangelical intention in Sydney to use Lay Celebrants for Holy Communion. So if he decides to give warning to the ECUSA he may also do the same to Sydney, and in both cases, many will judge, he would be justified in terms of the central doctrines and traditions of the Anglican Way and the departure of Sydney & ECUSA from them.
Let us pray daily for ROWAN that wisdom, charity, insight and strength will be given unto him abundantly from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit so that he truly acts not only as the Primate of all England but as the President of the Primates of the Anglican Family of 38 Churches.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)