The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev Justin Welby has invited Jean Vanier, the Canadian Catholic theologian, to address the bitterly divided primates of the worldwide Anglican communion who have been meeting this week in Canterbury to discuss the themes of living together and the creation of a community.
After two-and-a-half days the 38 archbishops were still together, defying threats of an early walkout by some African leaders over the vexed issue of the western churches’ tortuous accommodation with homosexuality.
Third world archbishops, backed by some English and American conservative evangelicals, have repeatedly demanded over the last decade that liberal American, Canadian and some British churches should be punished for tolerating gay clergy and the meeting is seen as a last chance of compromise. There have been predictions that between three and a dozen archbishops may walk out if their demands are not met.
Preaching at evensong in the Cathedral on Monday, Welby urged reconciliation and described the divisions as an obscenity and a denial of Christ’s call: “If we exist to point people to Christ…our pointing is deeply damaged by division.”
The primates are meeting in complete privacy in the cathedral’s thousand year-old crypt, without mobile phones, lobbyists, or observers present. Symbolically, as an added inspiration, the community of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome has loaned the meeting the sixth century carved ivory crozier head which belonged to St Gregory, the pope who sent St Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, to convert the English in AD597.
Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, the worldwide network of communities for intellectually disabled people, who extols the virtues of humility over any pursuit of perfection.
In his book, Signs of the Times: Seven Paths of Hope for a Troubled World, he wrote that "we live in what could be called a tyranny of normality ... The values extolled by our wealthy modern societies often damage inner freedom and personal conscience."