Primates of the Anglican Communion, at their annual meeting, this year avoided the contentious issue of homosexuality, but tackled the issue of HIV/AIDS and developed a statement concerning the nature of God.
Thirty-five of the 38 national leaders attended, including Archbishop Michael Peers of Canada and Archbishop Frank Griswold of the United States. During the closed meeting, held April 10-17 in Canterbury, England, each primate outlined areas of concern in his province and how the church is meeting those challenges, according to a report released after the meeting.
One huge challenge, especially for some African bishops, is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, was given a mandate by the primates last year to coordinate a communion-wide strategy on AIDS.
A statement by the primates, noted that "it is in African nations that women, men and children are living with and dying from HIV/AIDS in greatest numbers."
The statement also noted that the church has been a "voice of condemnation" in the past and now wants "to make it clear that HIV/AIDS is not a punishment from God."
The primates called for AIDS drugs to be more widely available and said they are committed to sharing financial resources to provide assistance to churches addressing the crisis. The primates gave Archbishop Ndungane a mandate to lead the Anglican Communion's policy development and strategy concerning AIDS.
The statement represents "quite a step forward" in terms of attitudes toward AIDS, said Archbishop Peers in an interview after the meeting.
The development of a statement concerning the nature of God (see accompanying story) arose from a request from Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland, Archbishop Griswold said in a published interview.
Some observers saw the statement on God as having a conservative tilt, with references to "our" God possibly negating other faiths and references to God as exclusively masculine denying modern theology that sees feminine and masculine qualities in the Deity.
Canon Eric Beresford, consultant on ethics and inter-faith relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, said the statement is an attempt to focus more on what the primates agree upon, rather than on disagreements.
"It's about creating a space where a more sensible conversation can be had, This is the primates saying, "We stand in historic Christianity, but we know there are disagreements,'" he said.
Archbishop Peers and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales made presentations as part of a session on canon law. Not all provinces in the communion have the same resources when questions of church law arise, Archbishop Peers said.
For instance, he said, "What happens when there's an episcopal election and a group in the diocese contests the result in a civil court, as happened in East Africa and Kenya? …