#Primates2016 – The Journey Through Four Stages of Community

Canterbury Crypt

I was reading George Conger’s Second Day Report of the Primates of the Anglican Communion Meeting in Canterbury, England, this evening. In his report he writes:

On Monday evening the GAFCON and Global South primates were upbeat. Archbishop Welby had delivered an address to them that acknowledged the virtues of their position, and outlined how the Church of England was attempting to hold the line against secularist and relativist encroachments in the moral life of England and in the doctrines and discipline of the Episcopal Church.

Sources present at the worship service on Monday evening tell AI there was an “electric” atmosphere in Canterbury Cathedral, where the words of Scripture read in the Evensong service seemed tailor made for the issues before the archbishops.

However, when the question was put to the group on Tuesday, the trajectory of the meeting shifted. Though details remain unconfirmed, it is believed Archbishop Welby attempted to use a technique he brought to the 2011 Dublin primates meeting.

In Dublin, Archbishop Welby—then the Dean of Liverpool—served as a facilitator of conversations amongst the primates using the Delphi Method. Developed by the RAND Corporation in the USA, the Delphi method is structured communication technique, where participants break into small groups and discuss set questions. A facilitator or change agent provides an anonymous summary of the discussions as well as the reasons for the participant’s judgments. Participants are encouraged to revise their earlier answers in light of the replies of other members of their group — during the process the range of answers decreases and the group converges towards a “correct” answer.

Use of the Delphi method at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and other pan-Anglican gatherings has been sharply criticized by non-Western clergy, who see it as a paternalistic attempt to manipulate them and achieve a predetermined outcome, by adopting a “divide and conquer” approach. It is believed this method of discussion was resisted by some primates who wished to proceed as a committee of the whole.

Worship on Tuesday evening in Canterbury Cathedral gave witness to the discord amongst the primates. One participant (not a primate) told AI the atmosphere had changed. “Spiritually it was totally different. Last night it was electric with the Scriptures speaking clearly and powerfully, as if God was speaking.”

On Tuesday it “felt spiritually totally different .. it felt blue.”

Reading George’s report, including the report that the Delphi Method was introduced into the Primates Meeting on Tuesday, brought back memories of years of meetings in the Episcopal Church before we experienced the division, where the Delphi Method was also employed regularly in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. I attended many of those meetings as President of Region VII in the Diocese of Virginia and it was how George describes it in his article. It was clear that it was manipulative and designed to produce a particular result. If this method was used by the leadership from the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace, that would be a significant blunder.

What also came to mind though, is what can happen when we participate in building community. M. Scott Peck wrote in his landmark book, The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, about the stages a community (short term and long term) may go through in its effort to become a community of trust, transparency, honesty and joy.

He identified four stages of community. Here are the four stages and their descriptions:


The essential dynamic of pseudocommunity is conflict avoidance. Members are extremely pleasant with one another and avoid all disagreement. People, wanting to be loving, withhold some of the truth about themselves and their feelings in order to avoid conflict. Individual differences are minimized, unacknowledged, or ignored. The group may appear to be functioning smoothly but individuality, intimacy, and honesty are crushed. Generalizations and platitudes are characteristic of this stage.


Once individual differences surface, the group almost immediately moves into chaos. The chaos centers around well-intentioned but misguided attempts to heal and convert. Individual differences come out in the open and the group attempts to obliterate them. It is a stage of uncreative and unconstructive fighting and struggle. It is no fun. It is common for members to attack not only each other but also their leader, and common for one or more members–invariably proposing an “escape into organization”–to attempt to replace the designated leader. However as long as the goal is true community, organization as an attempted solution to chaos is unworkable.


The way through chaos to true community is through emptiness. It is the hardest and crucial stage of community development. It means members emptying themselves of barriers to communication. The most common barriers are expectations and preconceptions; prejudices; ideology, theology and solutions; the need to heal, fix, convert or solve; and the need to control. The stage of emptiness is ushered in as members begin to share their own brokenness–their defeats, failures, fears, rather than acting as if they “have it all together.”

True community

True community emerges as the group chooses to embrace not only the light but life’s darkness. True community is both joyful and realistic. The transformation of the group from a collection of individuals into true community requires little deaths in many of the individuals. But it is also a time of group death, group dying. Through this emptiness, this sacrifice, comes true community. “In this final stage a soft quietness descends. It is a kind of peace. The room is bathed in peace.” Members begin to speak of their deepest and most vulnerable parts–and others will simply listen. There will be tears–of sorrow, of joy. An extraordinary amount of healing begins to occur.

From George’s article we see that Monday exemplified Pseudocommunity. People may have felt upbeat, but knowing the depth and extent of what divides the Anglican community—well, it would be surprising to see evidence of real community so soon.

That being said, it was remarkable and surprising that they enjoyed a kind of community in such a short time, evidence perhaps of the real desire by the participants to find solutions, real solutions to the breakdown of relationships and doctrine in the Anglican Communion. But to be overly disappointed and crushed when Chaos showed up the next day may be an over-reach.

If the primates who gathered in the Crypt Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral came out of the meeting Tuesday night feeling blue, that might not actually be a cause for despair. “The way through chaos to true community is through emptiness,” wrote Dr. Peck. “It is the hardest and crucial state of community development.”

To feel blue is to feel true. It is blue.

Certainly that stage of emptiness is where we discover our own barriers to building honest relationships with others, where we want to “Heal, fix, convert or solve” and most especially “need to control.” Those are very hard to lay down. These things all break communities down, not build them up. It is at this stage we may find our own brokenness, our own need for forgiveness and expressions of repentance—where we admit our “defeats, failure, fears” and give up they illusion that we “have it all together.”

It is the stage of repentance.

It is a great temptation to stay far, far away from this stage and instead organize some kind of institutional structure or committee to solve the problem or at least introduce a predesignated outcome. “Whew, that was close,” we might say to ourselves. We end up, however short-circuiting the good work all ready done. We want to be in a community that is both “joyful and realistic.” To do so, it appears that we must recognized that we’ve been “crucified with Christ—it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Let us continue to pray for the primates of the Anglican Communion as they once again gather on Wednesday—all of them—to speak truthfully to one another with compassion, mercy, and grace.

Let us pray for wisdom and discernment for the Archbishop of Canterbury, to put away old organizational methods and instead press through the emptiness to that amazing place of transparency and repentance, to listen with ears that can truly hear because  indeed, as St. Francis wrote,”it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”