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Comment > Letters to the editor >

Canadian and US Churches and the Anglican Consultative Council

From Miss Pamela Bird
Sir, — I am probably the only person still living who attended all the meetings before and during the constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council.

I was present at the Anglican Congress in 1963 in Toronto. I was secretary to the Archbishop of Algoma, and was invited to attend the Congress as secretary to Bishop Ralph Dean, the Programme Convenor. When he was appointed Anglican Executive Officer in succession to Bishop Stephen Bayne in 1964, I joined him in his London office in January 1965. I remained there as administrative secretary through two Lambeth Conferences, and the first three meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The Anglican Congress brought together representatives of the (then) 18 provinces comprising the Anglican Communion. From it arose the great concept of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (MRI). Bishop Bayne’s work as the first Anglican Executive Officer had made it clear that something nimbler and more representative of Anglicans generally than the Lambeth Conferences was needed to advise, support, and extend his work.

As part of the preparations made by our office for the 1968 Lambeth Conference, Bishop Dean and his aide Canon Ernest Jackson (also from Canada) drew up the terms of reference for an Anglican Consultative Council that would include men and women, clergy and laity, as well as bishops, but which, for reasons of finance and ease of more frequent meetings, would be limited in number. Larger provinces would have three members, and, depending on size, others would send two or one.

As a result of the preparations, the 1968 Lambeth Conference, in Resolution 69, proposed the establishment of the Anglican Consultative Council. “Approval [italics mine] shall be by a two-thirds majority of the member Churches of the Anglican Communion, and shall be signified to the Secretary of the Lambeth Consultative Body not later than 31st October, 1969.”

By that date, 17 of the 20 member Churches had informed the secretary of the approval of their General Synod or National Governing Body. Resolution 69 therefore came into effect.

Very shortly after, the secretary received approval of the resolution from the three remaining Churches. In April 1969, Bishop Dean was succeeded by Bishop John Howe, the third Anglican Executive Officer, and it was he who was charged with the task of implementing Resolution 69.

At the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in February 1971, in Limuru, Kenya, he became the first Secretary General to the Council. It met again in Dublin in 1973, and again in Trinidad in 1976, and has been meeting every two or three years since.

It cannot, any more than Lambeth Conferences or Meetings of Primates, legislate for the Anglican Communion, but, because it consists of bishops, clergy and laity, duly appointed by their national synods, it does represent the whole weight of the whole body of Anglicanism. It cannot impinge on the autonomy of individual provinces any more than can Lambeth Conferences or Primates’ Meetings, but can make strong recommendations for their consideration.

This preliminary history is necessary to make it clear that the Anglican Consultative Council is not a “club” from which members may be expelled. It is meant more as a forum in which just such issues as sex orientation may be discussed, and a way forward may be discovered and developed.

There have been issues before this latest where solutions have been sought in love and understanding. The ordination of women was one such at its very first meeting, as was also grave misgiving in South Africa over some World Council actions and Anglican participation. The Communion didn’t fall apart, nor suggest that some of its members should withdraw. I should like to stress the word “members”, not “delegates”.

It beggars belief that the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States — two of the three prime architects of gatherings and fellowship in the Communion —should be invited to depart or should themselves consider it; or that others of the original member provinces should concur.

The 1978 Lambeth Conference was more cautious than the 1968 one, and back-pedalled furiously. What had been spawned? Bishops seemingly were afraid for their “authority”, and were precipitate in suggesting that the Primates should meet as often, though not necessarily at the same time, as the ACC. This was an episcopal decision only: it did not come from the General Synods or national governing bodies of the provinces, though presumably they were expected to finance the meetings.

Some of the provinces whose archbishops are so vociferous on a certain issue were not in existence when the Anglican Consultative Council was proposed and constituted, largely at the instigation of Canadians in the Anglican Church; the Canadian Church has been foremost in its support of Communion affairs, of MRI, especially in Africa, and the dismantling of apartheid.

Lambeth Conferences of bishops are attended by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury; Primates call themselves together; but the Anglican Consultative Council has a constitution, and exists by the will of the whole of Anglicanism. It must not be conned into thinking that other gatherings can ask its members to withdraw.

Having been so deeply involved in the formation and early history of the Anglican Consultative Council, and being both English and Canadian, I have very serious concern for the continuance of the Anglican Communion. It is unique in its philosophy of unity in diversity, and, through this, it has been able to reconcile many thorny questions. But if the African Primates in question persist in their current paths of thinking, I greatly fear a break-up is probable. In any case, it should be a matter for the ACC — including the Canadian Church and ECUSA — to ponder, until reconciliation is reached.
PAMELA BIRD
Apartment 1405
1360 York Mills Road, Don Mills
Ontario M3A 2A3, Canada

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