When he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was cox of a Trinity College rowing eight. Perhaps coincidentally, rowing metaphors flowed in September when he announced that he had invited all 37 global Anglican primates to Canterbury for a conference starting on January 11th, in what some see as a last-ditch attempt to save the Anglican Communion. One aide suggested that bishops should not spend so much time “trying to placate people and keep them in the boat, without ever getting the oars out and starting to row”. Frustrated that bickering is keeping Anglicans from their primary mission, the archbishop will need all his powers as a cox to head off a collision, or even the sinking of the global Anglican boat.
The problem is a row between liberals, mainly North American, who want the church to allow same-sex marriage, and conservatives, who think it must not. Some leaders from each side are not on speaking terms. Archbishop Welby is said to want a looser affiliation, so that both groups can keep relations with Canterbury and continue to call themselves Anglican but not have to deal with each other. He has no “papal” powers to kick out any provinces; previous attempts to discipline those who defy traditional Anglican teaching have been stopped from below. The archbishop is “not so much trying to get closer unity”, says one informed cleric; “he is trying to prevent greater disunity.”