A warm East African welcome met Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams when he arrived in Tanzania yesterday (13 February 2007) for a crucial Anglican Primates' meeting ‚Äì but a gay Christian leader from Nigeria had a different experience, being interrogated for several hours before being given a visa.
Dr Williams was greeted by two young members of Dar es Salaam's St Mary's Church, who were waiting at the airport to present him with an ebony crucifix and a garland made from local flowers.
Also waiting to embrace Dr Williams on behalf of the Anglican Church of Tanzania was its Primate, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela. Tanzania's deputy minister for foreign affairs also greeted him and other Primates as they arrived in the nation's largest city.
However, Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, an organization of gay Anglicans which may soon be illegal under a new law repressing homosexuality, was delayed by seven hours after a visa denial on Monday.
Mr Mac-Iyalla flew in accompanied by two priests from the UK and the USA. Despite being advised to apply for a visa on arrival and the provision of evidence about the nature of the visit, the authorities decided that they were not able to grant him entry. Mr Davis was eventually able to talk to an immigration official from Nigeria and was given a visa after a seven hour delay when the Rev Colin Coward provided further notification from his hotel.
The Nigerian gay Christian leader has faced death threats in his home country, together with unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and other misdemeanours made by church officials. Anglican leaders in Nigeria have also given general endorsement to legislation which makes homosexual organizations illegal. Human rights activists are calling on churches worldwide to denounce these provisions.
The arriving Archbishop of Canterbury was accompanied by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who the Anglican Communion News Service says will chair the 15-19 February Primates' Meeting at the White Sands Hotel in Jangwani Beach near Dar es Salaam. Nigerian Primate Archbishop Peter Akinola is reported to have objected to Dr Sentamu‚Äôs presence.
Addressing the media gathered for his arrival, Dr Williams asked for prayers as the Primates embark on their five-day meeting, which seeks to find a way forward in the face of deep divisions within the 77-million strong worldwide Communion ‚Äì over sexuality, women priests, the interpretation of Scripture, and authority.
Archbishop Mtetemela said he was honoured that the Anglican Primates were meeting in his province for the first time.
The Episcopal Church USA is represented by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Some Primates from the ‚ÄòGlobal South‚Äô group have said that they will walk out if Dr Schori attends the meeting. There are also disputes about attending Holy Communion.
Meanwhile, the Rev Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria and the Rev Caro Denton Hall from Integrity USA will be following proceedings and seeking conversation with the Primates.
Those described as conservative lobbyists have set up headquarters at an adjacent hotel where they have been planning their strategy for the coming week with Archbishop Peter Akinola and Bishop Martyn Minns, head of a small breakaway US Episcopal church network affiliated with the Nigerian Church.
In a communiqu?© from Tanzania, the Rev Colin Coward tells supporters: ‚ÄúThe Primates and those involved in the organisation of the meeting are in a self-contained part of the building, protected by security guards. If they remain inside their own enclave, contact with any of them will be impossible. However, if they want to speak directly to their own lobby group, beyond phone conversations, they will have to come outside. Then Davis will [hopefully] have an opportunity to introduce himself to other Primates, including his own, Archbishop Peter Akinola, and engage with them as one Anglican to another.‚Äù