Members of Anglican Consultative Council prepare for meeting

Busy agenda aims to make room for relationship-building, listening
April 30, 2009

Hopes for renewing relationships and recommitting to common mission ran high May 1 as members of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) began gathering here for their twelve-day meeting.

Diocese of Southern Malawi Bishop James Tengatenga, who represents the Province of Central Africa, told ENS May 1 that he hopes that this 14th meeting of the ACC will mean "a recommitment to each other as we meet again and, of course, welcome those that are coming for the first time. Fellowship is important. My hope is that we will truly have fellowship and therefore a helpful interaction."

Canon Elizabeth Paver, one of the Church of England's ACC members, referring to conflicts about homosexuality and other theological differences, said in an interview that while "many things within the communion seem to be dividing us," the meeting is "our opportunity to say that there's huge possibility of a positive way forward to bring people together, rather than to divide them."

The outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus in Mexico has prevented Sarai Osnaya-Jimenez from attending the meeting as the only representative of La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico. The Ven. Paul Feheley, ACC media relations officer, said that Osnaya-Jimenez withdrew over her concern about the spread of the virus.

She is among nine of the ACC's 82 delegates who will not attend, for various reasons. Visas are still pending for three other participants.

The ACC is the Anglican Communion's most representative decision-making body and includes bishops, clergy and laity. It makes policy, approves the Anglican Communion Office's budget and guides the communion agenda for mission and ministry.

While it has no jurisdiction over the 38 individual provinces of the communion, its constitution says that among the council's duties is a mandate "to develop as far as possible agreed Anglican policies in the world mission of the church and to encourage national and regional churches to engage together in developing and implementing such policies by sharing their resources of manpower, money, and experience to the best advantage of all."

The 14th meeting of the 40-year-old body officially begins with a retreat on the morning of May 2 led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, following a trend adopted at the Lambeth Conference and a semi-regular meeting of primates, or national bishops. Daily Bible study groups will explore the Gospel of Mark.

An opening Eucharist will be held on Sunday, May 3 at the National Arena in Kingston. All of the Anglican churches in Jamaica will be closed that day as members are invited to attend the opening service. At least 7,000 people are expected.

On May 10, ACC delegates will participate in Mission Sunday at various churches across the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. They will discuss their experiences the following day. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will give his presidential address following Evening Prayer on May 11. The closing Eucharist will be held at the Cathedral of St. Jago de la Vega in Spanish Town on May 12.

The main sessions at the meeting will be divided into information plenary sessions, where material will be presented, and discernment groups. There will also be two business sessions scheduled for legislative action. Most plenary sessions and all worship services will be open. Daily news briefings will be held.

The discernment groups are an addition to the ACC's usual format. Those groups will be modeled on the small-group discussion process known as "indaba" that was 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.

The groups are "a way of trying to give voice to everybody who is present," according to Tengatenga.

Paver said she hopes the group conversations will mean that "the resolutions that we come to will be more owned by more people." She added that she hoped the new structure for the meeting will help transform the ACC from what she called a "debating and resolving presence" into one in which "we will actually come to know and understand people's positions in their own provinces and then move together in the mission to the world."

Included on the council's agenda is its consideration of the latest version of the proposed Anglican covenant and the Windsor Continuation Group's final report that was made public during the early February meeting of the leaders, known as primates, of the communion's provinces.

The Windsor Continuation Group has been charged with addressing questions arising from 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. Its 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 continuation group also addressed 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. At their February meeting, the primates called for "gracious restraint" with respect to such actions.

ACC members will consider both documents in open and closed sessions May 4-6. One of the open sessions, on May 6, will feature a report by the Rev. Canon Phil Groves on the communion-wide "listening process". The process, which Groves has led since late 2005, is meant to encourage efforts to listen to the experience of homosexuals and of those who struggle with homosexuals' full inclusion in the life of the church.

An open "decision-making" plenary session on the covenant and the continuation group's work is set for May 8.

Paver said that the covenant "might well prove to be the way that we can all come and live together through our 38 provinces."

Tengatenga told ENS that his "biggest hope" for the conference is that the ACC will commend the current text of the proposed covenant to the communion's provinces "to now make the final decision as to whether the member churches would now like to adopt it." He said such a commendation would represent "a renewal of our commitment to one another to try and find a solution to the current impasse in the communion."

The ACC will hear about mission and ministry around the communion by way of reports from its various networks and will spend time reflecting on the communion's relationships with ecumenical partners.

The council is scheduled May 11 to consider a proposal to add a sixth item to the Five Marks of Mission, which it agreed to during its 1984 and 1990 meetings. Those five marks are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom; to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by loving service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. The Anglican Church of Canada and the recent Conference of the Anglican Churches of the Americas in Mutual Responsibility and Mission have proposed adding a sixth mark that would call Anglicans to work for peace, conflict transformation and reconciliation.

Consultative Council background

The ACC is one of the four instruments of communion, the others being the Archbishop of Canterbury (who serves as president of the ACC), the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, and the Primates Meeting.

Bishop John Paterson of Auckland, New Zealand, chairs the ACC and Professor George Koshy, a lay representative from the Church of South India, serves as vice chair. Their terms expire at the end of this meeting. The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, serves as secretary to ACC meetings.

Formed in 1969, the ACC includes clergy and lay people as well as bishops among its delegates. The membership includes from one to three persons from each of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a lay person. Where fewer members are appointed, preference is given to lay membership.

"It's an evolving body … that hopefully will give more expression to what we are together," said Tengatenga, who is attending the last meeting of his three-session term. "As the life of the communion evolves, we hope that [the ACC] will evolve to be that instrument that energizes in as much as it challenges the Anglican Communion."

Paver said that the roles of the four instruments of communion need to be explored. "We have a lot of work to do about where authority lies really with that group," she said.

The Episcopal Church is represented by Josephine Hicks of North Carolina; the Rev. Ian Douglas of Massachusetts; and Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is attending the meeting in her role as a member of the ACC/Primates Joint Standing Committee which met here earlier in the week.

Hicks is a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and serves as chair of its Administration and Finance committee. Douglas, also a member of Executive Council and its International Concerns committee, is Angus Dun professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Roskam is bishop suffragan of the Diocese of New York..

At its last meeting in Nottingham, England in June 2005, the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada representatives had voluntarily withdrawn themselves from the meeting and attended only as observers following a request from the primates. Both delegations are participating as full members at the Kingston meeting.

The daily program is available here.

A list of participants is available here.