In US visit, Anglican Communion secretary general defends structure, while conservatives call for changes

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 24, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, preached April 23 at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York on Anglican unity during his continuing visit to the United States for meetings with Episcopal leaders, parishes and organizations.

Last week, while Poggo began his U.S. trip, a large group of conservative Anglicans were meeting in Rwanda. The meeting, known as the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, included members of breakaway churches that are not recognized as part of the Anglican Communion. It concluded April 21 by collectively adopting a statement, “The Kigali Commitment,” repudiating Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s role as one of the four Instruments of Communion and casting doubt on the Anglican Communion’s structure.

Preaching at Trinity Wall Street two days after GAFCON, Poggo affirmed the value of Anglican unity in the face of theological differences.

“Although Jesus is not physically present with us, he is there with us” through Scripture, the sacraments and individual discernment, Poggo said. “This is why as Anglicans we come together through our four Instruments of the Anglican Communion, to share, discuss, agree, disagree. We do it prayerfully and respectfully.”

The other three Instruments of Communion are the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops and the Anglican Consultative Council.

Poggo has had an active American trip so far. On April 19, he delivered the keynote lecture at an event hosted by Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, and the next day, he met with staff from Episcopal Migration Ministries. Poggo, a bishop from South Sudan who once was a refugee himself, focused on migration issues in his appearance at VTS.

“Sadly, my story is not uncommon,” he said in his keynote lecture. “The economic and environmental crises of our time are resulting in mass migration of peoples across the regions of the world.”

These are crises that speak directly to Jesus’ call to Christians to welcome the stranger and to show hospitality to neighbors, Poggo said.

“I believe that the church has a responsibility to respond to the needs of migrants and to advocate for their rights and dignity. This perspective is rooted in the Christian understanding of God’s love for all people, and the belief that all human beings are created in God’s image and deserving of respect and care,” Poggo said. “The church can use its moral authority to challenge the cultural and governmental context in which it exists, particularly when that context is hostile to migrants or contributing to their mistreatment.”

Later this week, Poggo is scheduled to meet with American Friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudans. On April 28, he will visit United Nations headquarters in New York, to introduce Martha Jarvis as the Anglican Communion’s new representative to the U.N.

The release of the GAFCON statement rejecting Welby’s authority is the latest evidence of division among Anglican leaders worldwide. Its immediate impact remains unclear. Conservative archbishops have made similar statements in the past, and GAFCON is not part of the official Anglican Communion structure.

“We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him … are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture,” the GAFCON statement says. The document posted online did not include a list of signatories, so it was not clear which Anglican archbishops endorsed it.

The conference has been chaired since 2019 by Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA, which is largely made up of members who left The Episcopal Church a decade or more ago over theological objections to The Episcopal Church’s progressive stances on women’s ordination and LGBTQ+ inclusion. ACNA is not recognized as one of the 42 member provinces of the Anglican Communion, defined as those that share historical roots in the Church of England and that remain in communion with the See of Canterbury.

In February, the Anglican provinces of Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda declined to participate in the 18th Anglican Consultative Council in Ghana over their conservative leaders’ disagreements with some provinces, including The Episcopal Church. The ACC meeting also happened days after the Church of England’s decision to allow blessings of same-sex couples.

In Ghana, Welby said he was open to discussing reforms of the Instruments of Communion and the role of the archbishop of Canterbury. A group of conservative archbishops responded by saying instead they would advocate to “re-set the Communion on its biblical foundation.”

Welby’s office reacted to the GAFCON news by issuing a statement asserting that “no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion.” It also underscored that there had been “widespread support” among the 39 provinces that participated in the ACC meeting in February for “working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship.”

So far, those conservative Anglican leaders have stopped short of calling outright for schism or separation from the communion. One prominent conservative leader, Indian Ocean Archbishop James Wong, declared last week at GAFCON that “we are the real members of the Anglican Communion,” according to a report by The Living Church.

Poggo, who assumed the role of secretary general last September, did not mention GAFCON or its leaders by name in his sermon at Trinity Wall Street, though he defended the existing structure for maintaining relations between the Anglican Communion’s independent, inter-connected provinces.

“The Instrument of the Communion are there to maintain our unity, and it is with this in mind that the archbishop of Canterbury … has said the instruments are not static, the instruments evolve,” Poggo said. “However, this review should be within our existing instruments or processes and sanctioned in an orderly and respectful way. Walking to Emmaus, as we read in our Gospel, is a very important thing.”

Poggo concluded his sermon by further emphasizing the theme of the day’s Gospel reading, of walking together in faith and showing hospitality.

“Mission flourishes best through collaboration,” he said. “It’s important that we come together. It’s important that we trust each other and we continue to prayerfully share concerns with each other. It’s important that we fellowship with others. It’s important that as we meet each other, even though we don’t know each other, it’s important that we reach out to each other – the same way that Jesus Christ reached out to these people who were walking.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at