Middle East Council of Churches XI General Assembly, Amman
The Revd William Taylor, formerly the Anglican chaplain at the Jordanian chaplaincy, and now a Director of JMECA, was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to represent him at the Council Assembly. He writes:
The Assembly came at a critical time for Christians in the Middle East, and the tangible sense of solidarity was increased by the uniform threats to their existence which they all face in one form or another. The theme of the Assembly was “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 136:1.
I was unable to be present for the first day because of the Orthodox Round Table meeting at Lambeth, but most of the first day was taken up with more internal organisational matters – formation of different Committees, etc, but I was present from early morning on the second day, having travelled overnight via Cairo. I took with me, and delivered, messages from the Archbishop and from the Prince of Wales. Both were greeted with warm applause from the Assembly.
On the Archbishop’s behalf, I greeted in person:
- Pope Tawadros II.
- Catholicos Aram I.
- Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II.
- Patriarch Theophilus III of Jerusalem.
- Patriarch John X of Antioch.
- Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus.
- Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako of Babylon
The Patriarch of Babylon told me how much he appreciated the Anglican visits made to Iraq, and encouraged future visits. Anglicans from the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East were represented by Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Bishop Michael Lewis, and Archdeacon Bill Schwarz. The meeting had a high profile in the Jordanian media, especially on the third day when Heads of Churches had an audience with His Majesty King Abdullah II. The formal business of the Assembly in plenary had simultaneous translation in Greek, Arabic, and English, but the working groups were all conducted in Arabic. I was in the ecumenical relations working group.
As always at Conferences, much of the most important business and conversations took place in the margins. Moving accounts were given from church leaders from Aleppo and other parts of Syria, but (strangely) there was only one representative from Iraq - Patriarch Louis Sako, and only one from Iran, Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian. The fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury had sent a representative was important to them, and they told me this often, which I believe was genuinely more than diplomatic politesse. There is a genuine expressed desire to work more closely together, and many church leaders were quite direct in saying to me that our own internal Anglican debates were of less importance to them than the existential threats they face. In this, there is a clear division within the communities – between those who believe that the only pragmatic viable future is outside the region in the diaspora, and those who strongly advocate the importance of the continuing Christian presence in the region. I witnessed this for myself (more sharply) in an earlier visit to Erbil and Dohuk. (December 2014).
In terms of practical outcomes, the MECC has reformed and changed some of its structures to make itself more responsive and able to co-operate more effectively with other ecumenical bodies and donor agencies. Patriarch Louis Sako spoke to me of the importance of Anglican visits to Iraq – especially the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). There was a general sense that an Anglican visit to the KRG in the fairly immediate future would be of importance, given the present instability of the future of Mosul.
In essence, Archbishop Justin’s decision to send a representative to stand in solidarity with Christians of the Middle East at this critical time was deeply appreciated, and I hope that the momentum of the contacts I was able to renew, both formally and informally will be of future and continuing use.