THE Anglican Communion is close to breaking up if it cannot state simply and clearly what holds it together, the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, warned delegates at the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting in Jamaica this week.
The ACC, which meets every three years, is made up of bishops, clergy, and lay representatives from every province. As the Communion’s decision-making body, it will be voting today whether to accept the Anglican Covenant and send it out to the provinces for consideration and adoption. After due constitutional process, they would have to respond by December 2014 to what is regarded as the final version, the Ridley draft (News, 26 April).
Archbishop Gomez, who chairs the Cove-nant Design Group (CDG), emphasised the gravity of the situation. “Either we are a family, which means that each member of the family has to care for and have respect for the other members of the family, or we will have to learn to go our separate ways,” he said. “What is decided here is likely to make or break the Communion.”
The Covenant defines Anglicanism’s common ground, what holds its Churches together, and how they relate to each other across the Communion. Churches wished to know where they stood and how disputes could be settled, Archbishop Gomez said.
The “broad diversity” of the CDG had been able to find agreement on the document, but, he conceded, “There is not unanimity across the Communion, and I don’t pretend there is. But there is a real opportunity. . . I ask that ACC won’t let this opportunity pass.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, President of the ACC, has expressed the hope that once the Covenant is out of the way, and also the report of the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), the ACC will be able to concentrate on mission. The WCG has been addressing the call for moratoriums on same-sex blessings, cross-border interventions, and the ordination of gay and lesbian people as bishops. It is dealing with the development of a Pastoral Council, and supports Dr Williams’s appointment of Pastoral Visitors to help healing and reconciliation.
The spectacular opening ceremony on Sunday was attended by the Governor General of the island, political leaders, interfaith representatives, and ecumenical guests.
In his sermon, Dr Williams urged reconciliation between Christians. In countries such as Palestine, Israel, and Sri Lanka, the need was not just for “bread or healthcare”, he said, but there was “a hunger for the word of hope and forgiveness” .
Dr Williams was commended as the strongest advocate of the environment by the convener of the environmental network, the retired Bishop of Canberra & Goulburn, the Rt Revd George Browning. “His voice is essential, and he uses it very well,” he said.
Problems occurred before the conference, when the Church of the Province of Uganda informed the ACC’s general secretary, Canon Kenneth Kearon, that its clergy delegate was to be the Revd Philip Ashey, in lieu of the Bishop of Mukono in Uganda, the Rt Revd Paul Luzinda, who was unable to attend.
Mr Ashey lives in the United States, and, although he was already accredited as a press representative of the American Anglican Council (AAC), Canon Kearon expressed his concern to the Ugandan Primate, Archbishop Henry Orombi, that someone who did not live in Uganda should be representing it.
Archbishop Orombi, who is a member of the AAC Joint Standing Committee (JSC), but has never attended its meetings, said he had asked Mr Ashey to withdraw his press credentials and be a delegate instead.
Mr Ashey joined the Church of the Province of Uganda in 2005, a cross-boundary intervention that, Canon Kearon said, was contrary to the Windsor report and to reports accepted at Primates’ Meetings that Archbishop Orombi had attended. He said that the JSC was willing to resume Mr Ashey’s press accreditation if he so wished.
This prompted a letter to Dr Williams from Archbishop Orombi, who has ascribed his absence from the meeting to “unavoidable conflict” with speaking at the New Wine Leadership conference in Harrogate on 5-7 May. His alternate, the Archbishop of West Africa, Dr Justice Ofei Akrofi, is not present either, while the absent Bishop Luzinda is also on a “scheduled visit to the UK”.
Archbishop Orombi wrote to Dr Williams on Monday: “Our reasons for appointing one of our American priests to represent us as our clergy delegate are our reasons, and not for the Joint Standing Committee to question.”
Mr Ashey would be “a voice for the almost 100,000 orthodox Anglicans in North America who have been persecuted by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, who will not be represented by their delegations to ACC-14, and who will otherwise not have voice or seat at the table”, he wrote.
He complained of a “double standard” that favoured the West “and marginalizes Africa and others in the Global South”. He then wrote that “If the Church of Uganda’s appointment of the Revd Philip Ashey is considered by you to be unacceptable, then we will be forced to take the steps necessary to bring this unbiblical, unjust and unconstitutional precedent to the attention of the rest of the Communion.”
Mr Ashey is chaplain and chief operating officer for the AAC, and part of the panel that has drafted canons for the proposed Anglican Church in North America.