Anglican Consultative Council meeting closes on hopeful note

Communion still faces questions about future shape, authority
May 11, 2009

Members of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) ended their May 2-12 meeting here with a sense of hope and commitment to the communion, rather than simply, as one delegate put it, with "an answer about sex."

"We are going home with a sense that the communion is about all of us hopefully having discussions together on many topics, and developing and living into reconciliation and peace-making, not by ignoring everything else but by considering everything else and emerging hopeful," said Suzanne Lawson, lay representative of the Anglican Church of Canada.

"We go home with hope," she added in a report to plenary from a discernment group discussion. "Almost all of us came here with very little of it. We were very worried, very burdened -- some were afraid and told to come back with an answer about sex."

Returning to her seat, Lawson gave her one of tablemates, Diocese of Umuahia Bishop Ikechi Nwachukwu Nwosu, episcopal representative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, a smile, a wink and a pat on the shoulder.

"We are leaving here hopeful, and very committed to each other and very committed to the communion," Episcopal Church lay representative Josephine Hicks said, describing the final reflections of her discernment group that met nearly every day of the 11-day meeting.

Diocese of New York Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam, the Episcopal Church's episcopal representative, said before the meeting's closing Eucharist that "the deep friendships and connections we make here give us hope."

She added, "That hope deflects from all the tension around documents.”

Hicks noted "the extraordinary difference, the enormous difference" between this meeting and the last ACC meeting in Nottingham, England in June 2005. The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada representatives voluntarily withdrew from that meeting and attended only as observers following a request from the primates (Anglican Communion leaders).

She said that, for members of her group, ACC-15, expected to be held in New Zealand in 2015, "can't come soon enough." That remark was greeted by smiles, sighs and nods of assent throughout the plenary room.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said at a later news conference that some of the difference in tone between the two meetings was due to "the healing effect of time; the issues are not quite as raw."

Williams said that while ACC-14 "hasn't necessarily dealt with the problems that face the communion, once and for all," it did "deepen our sense of obligation" to and with each other.

Episcopal Church clerical representative Ian Douglas said he leaves Kingston "guarded and hopeful." The meeting's engagement with people from all over the communion "who are doing the real work of the church on the ground has been tremendous."

Douglas described as "absolutely real" the representatives' "sense of understanding, and mutuality and common commitment to God's mission, and the sense that there's so much more that holds us to together than divides us."

However, he continued, "it's a fallen world and there's lots of forces in the communion that would seek to divide us, and I am not naïve to think that because we have had a good and positive experience here, that those forces who seek to divide us will not continue in their efforts when we all depart from Jamaica."

Before leaving on May 11, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the representatives spent time dwelling on more issues other than the ones that "have made the communion most neuralgic." Those discussions, she said, centered on issues of shared mission, theological education, relief and development and "how we can better partner to accomplish our mission together."

"We are indeed reminded that we are united in the work that we share and thechallenges we share," Jefferts Schori, who attended the meeting in her role as a member of the ACC/Primates Standing Committee, told ENS. "We leave this meeting of the ACC with hope for the future and the reality and realization that we have hard work ahead of us."

Anglican Church of Southern Africa Archbishop Thabo Makgoba told ENS that he is comfortable with "either leaving here afraid or leaving here full of hope, because this is God's church and the story of God's gospel actually reflects the nature of our communion and the fact that there will be times we wrestle, but the good news is we serve a wonderful God."

"We are on a journey and we should never jump off the boat and we should never go for quick solutions, but we should wrestle together as we try to reveal who God is in Jesus Christ as we build the body of Christ in the here and now," Makgoba said.

While the ACC expended a lot of energy considering the current and future shape of the communion, Williams acknowledged that "for 90 percent of Anglicans across the world," those debates over structure and the shape of the communion don't matter to their service in mission.

"People will do the work of God as they see fit in prayer and in dedication in their local settings," he said. "For those local settings to be most fully enriched by that presence of the body of Christ, spiritually and also materially, I believe very strongly that is better to have a closer communion relationship than not. I believe that with all my heart -- that is for the health of our global communion."

"God finds ingenious ways of getting around our ecclesiastical dead-ends, as history suggests," he added.

New meeting process praised by most participants
The addition of discernment groups to the ACC's usual format drew praise from many of the representatives. Those groups were modeled on the small-group process, known as "indaba," used during last summer's Lambeth Conference of bishops in Canterbury, England. Based on a Zulu concept, indaba means purposeful discussion and refers to a group meeting where differences can be aired and a consensus agreement reached.

Williams said in his news conference that the process "in which very tough issues can be confronted without having to take votes proved very constructive."

The groups "really worked," Douglas said, adding that "people had the opportunity to speak honestly and openly" and felt "genuine support and love."

He added, however, that one member of his group felt that the plenary sessions caught the ACC representatives between "the trust and the love of the discernment groups and the politics of the corridor where there were other people from outside the Anglican Consultative Council who were busy working their agendas."

And while the discernment process was seen as a way to air differences and build understanding, representatives reported on May 12 that the council needs to fine-tune -- or at least better articulate -- the way in which it makes formal decisions.

After the often-confusing May 8 votes on the proposed Anglican covenant, Diocese of Auckland Bishop John Paterson, outgoing ACC chair, and John Rees, the ACC's legal advisor, said that the ACC's process of debate has moved in the last 10 years away from a "western parliamentary model" towards one that attempts to achieve consensus and allows the broadest range of voices to speak.

The Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, clerical representative of the Church of England, reported that her discernment group felt "perhaps our voting procedures were not very helpful in helping us find answers."

During his presidential address on May 11, Williams suggested that, while in Kingston, the council learned that "we are not good at resolution passing." He recommended that in the future the council hold a procedural meeting about how the resolution process works beforehand.

Yet, as Lawson of Canada said during her plenary report, many people felt that "the Anglican Consultative Council is not about resolutions."

"I will not take resolutions back, necessarily; I will take you back, individually and corporately," she said. "No matter what we say, this feels like communion."

Still, the ACC passed 40 resolutions and the complete texts are available here.

Archbishop says communion's future needs attention, warns Episcopal Church
During the May 12 news conference, Williams reiterated remarks he made during the conference and in his presidential address that provinces of the communion that choose to adopt the proposed Anglican covenant when it is made available will be showing that they "want to create a more intense relationship between them -- a fuller and freer exchange between them."

"Others are not choosing that and the difficult question is: what is the best and most constructive relationship between those who do choose and those who do not," he added.

Such a relationship will not make for an "inner circle and an outer circle" but, instead, some other kind of structure with "groups of Anglicans associated for different purposes in different ways."

Williams has been clear that he favors a more cohesive communion that more closely resembles a unified church, rather than a federation of Anglican entities.

Williams was asked how he would interpret a move by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to countermand Resolution 2006-B033, which asked bishops and diocesan standing committees not to consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

"Action to negate that resolution would instantly suggest to many people in the communion that the Episcopal Church would prefer not to go down the route of closer structural bonds and that particular kind of mutual responsibility," he said.

Earlier in the new conference, Williams had said that "holding back" on the episcopal ordination of people living in same-gender relationships "ought not to be seen as a denial of the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of Christ's body."

"These are our brothers and sisters," he continued. "They have gifts that Christ wants to give us."

That "axiomatic" reality, however, should not be translated to what he said sometimes sounds like a claim of "an absolute right to ordination," he added.

A video clip of Williams' news conference is available here.

The Anglican Communion is made up of about 77 million members in 44 regional and national churches around the globe in 164 countries. The ACC is the Anglican Communion's most representative decision-making body and includes bishops, clergy and laity. While it has no jurisdiction over the provinces of the communion, it makes policy, approves the Anglican Communion Office's budget and encourages the communion's members to engage together in mission and ministry.

Previous ENS coverage of the 14th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council has included:

May 2
Members of Anglican Consultative Council prepare for meeting

May 3
In Jamaica, thousands attend Anglican Consultative Council Opening Eucharist

May 4
ACC asked to send covenant to provinces for approval

Church of Uganda nominee denied participation in Anglican Consultative Council

May 5
Williams calls for more cohesive, theologically aware communion

'Evolving' covenant adoption process makes for ambiguity

ACC commits to communion's peace, justice and reconciliation work

May 6
Listening Process ready to move to next phase

Digest

May 7
Digest

May 8
Anglican Consultative Council postpones release of covenant

ACC affirms Windsor Continuation Group recommendations

May 9
Anglican Consultative Council reaffirms two-state solution for Israel, Palestine

May 11
Divisions are deep, but can be healed, Archbishop of Canterbury tells ACC

Ecumenical partners pledge to continue journey with Anglican Communion

Digest

May 12
Digest

An image gallery from ENS coverage is available here.

Video clips from the meeting can be found here.