The Archbishop of Canterbury meets Pope Francis
One of the first things people new to the Episcopal Church are likely to ask, especially if they come from a Roman Catholic background, is what we think about the pope. Usually I launch into a mini-historical overview that begins with King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I and takes us through the Colonial era in the U.S. right down to the Second Vatican Council. Which is a round-about way for me to say that, no, the pope does not exercise authority over Anglicans/Episcopalians and that the Archbishop of Canterbury is an important figure as a spiritual leader of the world-wide Anglican Communion but he is not our version of a pope.
Episcopalians live into the Via Media or Middle Way of our heritage and theology: we are of the catholic tradition with influences from the Protestant Reformation. Many of our new members come to our church because they are comfortable with the middle ground we create. Clearly we have many former Roman Catholics in our pews.
So I do pay attention to when any Archbishop of Canterbury travels to Rome. Their meeting happened on June 14. The former oil executive turned priest and then archbishop Justin Welby met with the Argentina-born Jesuit priest turned pope. Both men made all of the right public statements that Christian leaders should make for the good of the universal church. Pope Francis has already in his brief pontificate shed increased light on the need to alleviate poverty and minister to the poor: he has chosen not to live in the palatial papal residence in favor of more modest lodging. The two men also agreed on the need for Christians to act as peacemakers around the world, which they acknowledged could only be done if Christians "live and work together in harmony," the pope said. "I pray that the nearness of our two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the Church," Archbishop Welby said.
Both the archbishop and the pope acknowledged that differences between Roman Catholics and Anglicans have caused pain in the past and would present challenges in the future. But the archbishop said that a firm foundation of friendship "will enable us to be hopeful in speaking to one another about those differences."
I'm glad the ABC and Pope met. May Christians everywhere remember that we share more in common than what may appear to separate us. We need to work together and know one another. Closer to home, may we continue to work with ecumenical partners on the Seacoast to make our corner of God's earth resemble the kind of world that God desires for us.
The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton