In Jamaica, thousands attend Anglican Consultative Council Opening Eucharist

Archbishop of Canterbury calls church to focus on mission
May 2, 2009

The Anglican Church must challenge itself and challenge its neighbors to respond to the material and spiritual needs of the world, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told more than 6,000 people May 3 who attended the Caribbean-flavored opening Eucharist of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting here.

Williams' message reiterated remarks he made to ACC the day before when he called for a "proper focus on theology and our mission" and called mission "one of the elements that most securely and profoundly binds us together as a communion, not just an assembly of local enterprises."

The Anglican Communion is made up of around 77 million members in 44 regional and national member churches around the globe in 164 countries. The 14th meeting of the 40-year-old council is being held in Kingston from May 2-12.

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 members 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.

The opening Eucharist May 3 was hosted at the National Arena in Kingston by the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and the Province of the West Indies and featured Jamaican drummers and dancers, and combined reggae music with incense-laced Anglican high-church liturgy. Deacon Garfield Campbell chanted the gospel and the congregation sang Jamaica reggae legend Bob Marley's "One Love" during the passing of the peace.

A hymn, "Lord of our diversity," was commissioned for the gathering. Poet Mervyn Morris and composer Noel Dexter of Jamaica used music that recalled Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" to ask that God would "sanctify our listening and help us get the sense of perplexing arguments before we take offense." Another verse prays that God would "teach us that opinions which at first may seem quite strange may reflect the glory of your great creative range."

All of the Anglican churches in Jamaica were closed May 3 so that their members could attend the service. Between 6,000 and 7,000 people worshipped with the ACC, including ecumenical and interfaith leaders as well as representatives of the Jamaican government and the diplomatic corps. The Eucharist was broadcast live on Jamaican television, complete with color commentary from the back of the hall.

Josephine Hicks, the lay member of the Episcopal Church's delegation to the ACC, told ENS after the service that "the energy in the service was spectacular."

"The hymn that was commissioned for our meeting was particularly grounding and appropriate," she added. "It reminded us to listen to one another and to consider positions we may not have considered before and to be open to the spirit working through us as we work through the work we have to do."

Archbishop asks church to incarnate God's love
Williams told the congregation during his sermon that "we as the church have to be the kind of community that shows what God's promise is for humanity and we shall do that by asking ourselves day by day and year by year: is ours a community in which there are still people in need?"

"The answer, sadly, is yes, isn't it?" Williams said.

"In the church and in the world there is need wherever we look," he said. "We are still on the way to becoming the church that God wants us to be."

He noted that Jamaica and many of the societies represented in the Anglican Communion well know "the way in which the economy of our world seems to turn its back on those in need."

Williams asked those in attendance to pray that the church would be "shaken by the Holy Spirit" and become "a community where the needs of the poorest are always before our eyes, where we seek to create a community in which there is no needy person."

"The hunger and the need of this world are not met simply by policies, not by words, not by documents, but by the gift of ourselves," he said.

Williams reminded the congregation that the gospel says that people do not live by bread alone. "The needs that are around us in the church, the needs that are around us in the world are not only the need for material health, the need for food, the need for health care. Our needs go deeper. We need forgiveness. We need reconciliation. We need justice."

"We need to hear from one another words of hope," Williams continued. "Once again this is a challenge to us as a Christian family and a challenge to us as a human family."

After the Eucharist, Abraham Yisa, the lay representative from the Anglican Church of Nigeria, told ENS that Williams' sermon "reminded us Christians of our relevance to the world" and how Christians are called to meet humanity's material, physical and spiritual needs.

"If we Christians are able to abide by that, the world would be a far, far better place," he said.

(A video stream of the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon is available here.)

Council hears its charge
During a formal welcoming session May 2, Williams, who is ACC president, said that he hoped that once the council had dealt with the questions of the proposed Anglican covenant and the report of the Windsor Continuation group, the representatives would turn their attention to mission.

"To strengthen the communion is not an end in itself," Williams told the welcoming plenary. "We are not here to design more and better committees. To strengthen the life of the communion is surely only important if it strengthens the mission of the communion. That is why the agenda moves in that direction."

Although the group that drafted the current version of the covenant and its two previous drafts has not characterized the current Ridley-Cambridge Draft of the covenant as such, Williams referred to it as the "final draft" during his opening remarks.

"We hope that out of this council will come some clear direction about the future of the covenant," he said.

Diocese of Auckland Bishop John Paterson, who chairs the council, had told reporters earlier on May 2 that "we will look hard at the text and decide whether it goes to the member churches," adding that the ACC is not meant to change the text.

Anglican Communion Secretary General Kenneth Kearon told reporters that "you can't predict what the ACC is going to do with it, but I think the expectation -- the hope -- would be that they would commend what is there."

Kearon explained that the current text says, in his words, "the covenant will only be operative for those who agree to the covenant." The adoption process is not envisioned as one that would require "some sort of substantial majority [of provinces to sign onto the covenant] by which time it applies to everyone," he said, adding that the covenant "would only apply to those churches of the communion which decide to covenant."

Member provinces that did not sign on would "just not be a church within the covenant" but such decisions "doesn't alter their relationship as a member church of the Anglican Communion," Kearon said.

The Windsor Continuation Group had been charged by Williams with addressing questions raised in the 2004 Windsor Report, a document that recommended ways in which the Anglican Communion can maintain unity amid diversity of opinions, especially relating to human sexuality issues and theological interpretations.

The group's report calls for the development of a "pastoral council" and supported Williams' plan to appoint "pastoral visitors" to assist in healing and reconciliation within the communion. The group also addresses the Windsor Report's call for moratoria on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.

Williams told the opening session that he hopes the ACC would give "some clear direction about what the instruments of communion might be doing to respond to the challenges of the Windsor Report." He added that he hoped the council would find ways for those responses to be "more responsive, flexible and user-friendly ways to the crises which the communion continues to face."

ACC members will consider both the covenant and the continuation group report in open and closed sessions May 4-6. An open "decision-making" plenary session on the covenant and the continuation group's work is set for May 8.

During the May 2 news briefing, Paterson said that it was his "personal contention that if the ACC meets well, it's good for the communion."

More information about plans for the meeting is available here.

Video streams of Williams' sermon and opening remarks can be found here and a podcast of the May 2 news briefing is available here.