Primacy is a gift rather than a right, Archbishop Winston Halapua told the Primates Meeting in Dublin this week.
He was speaking on day three of the meeting as the primates shared in plenary their provinces' differences and similarities. The meeting, at the Emmaus Retreat & Conference Centre, runs till January 30.
Explaining the concept of ‘tikanga’ within the Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Archbishop Winston
said it meant “the place where you stand – sacred ground gifted to you by your ancestors, your people, the environment."
The position of primate, Ashbishop Winston added, was gifted to the role-bearer as a responsibility for a time and for the future. “You don’t own it,” he said, “the place [role] owns you. It’s a gift, not a right. It’s a privilege.”
Other speakers saw the primate as having a ministry of reconciliation and peace building; of linking the local with the global and vice-versa; of being a consensus builder, a symbol of unity in the Province and the wider community; of being a pastor to other bishops; and of having a prophetic voice, to interpret the signs of the times in their local context.
“A primate is the first among equals,” one archbishop fed back to the meeting, “an apostle, a servant, who is often on the road visiting dioceses, carrying and embodying the vision of the province, the mission of the church and the values that hold that province together.”
Another primate explained that “none of us are able to or are inclined to speak for ourselves only, but always after consultation with the bishops, with the synods and council.” He added that in his small group discussion there had also considerable conversation around the primates’ voice as representatives of their province when they went into other councils that were ecumenical, interfaith or political in nature.
There were, however, clear differences in the responsibilities and scope of the role of primate between provinces. Some primates are also diocesan bishop as well as primate, while others have no diocesan responsibilities.
Length of primatial service also varies across the Communion – from two years renewable to retirement. Some primates are responsible for administration, others are not.
Whereas in some provinces the primate can veto a synodical decision (after consultation with the council/house of bishops), in other provinces the primate needs permission from the bishop before even travelling to that bishop’s diocese.
A few primates have extra-provincial responsibilities — the example being Cuba where three primates form the Metropolitan Council that oversees ministry there.
The primates' role in safeguarding the life of the Communion was raised but not discussed in plenary.
The primates spent the afternoon sessions of the third day sharing their expectations of Primates’ Meetings. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, outlined the history of the meetings and explained that the original meeting – established in 1978 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan – was seen as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation”.
Since 1979, the primates have met in Ely, England in 1979; Washington, USA in 1981; Limuru, Kenya in 1983; Toronto, Canada in 1986; Cyprus in 1989; Ireland in 1991; Cape Town, South Africa in 1993; Windsor, England in 1995; Jerusalem in 1997; Oporto, Portugal in 2000; Kanuga, United States in 2001; Canterbury, England in 2002; Brazil, May in 2003; London, England in October 2003; Newry, Northern Ireland in February 2005; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in February 2007; and Alexandria, Egypt in February 2009.