SEX, which dominated the Primates’ Meeting in January, is being played down at the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-16) in Zambia. Members have cited evangelism, ecology, refugees, wealth distribution, and violence as the most pressing matters confronting their Churches.
Yet division over the issue was described by one delegate as the “elephant in the room”. It was, after all, the reason for the absence of four Primates, whose Churches number millions of Anglicans.
The Primates’ Meeting, and the “consequences” for the Episcopal Church in the United States set out in the January communiqué, were addressed on the first day by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He reiterated that the Primates had “no legal authority over Provinces”, but argued that, “because of their positions as senior bishops in their Provinces, [they] have an enhanced responsibility”.
Precisely how the ACC was to respond to the “consequences” was discussed in opaque terms. The vice-chair of the standing committee, Elizabeth Paver, told members that votes were “divisive”. She, and other members of the committee, instead referred to Archbishop Welby’s call for co-operation without outlining explicitly what they hoped members would or would not do.
It had been expected historically, Archbishop Welby said in his presentation, that the Primates and the ACC “should work in the closest co-operation”. It was “both my and the Primates’ desire, hope, and prayer that the ACC should also share in working through the consequences of our impaired relationships”.
Mrs Paver described this as a “direct request from the Primates to us”. Speaking after the Archbishop, she told members: “We would like, in Christian love and friendship, in our Anglican way, to be able to say to our Archbishop — to affirm our beliefs as a body to work together with our Primates on these difficult issues. If that be your will, would you just affirm it in an applause. If it is not, don’t.”
There was some applause, but it was not unanimous. Members later suggested that they had been unclear what the applause was supposed to signify.
The Secretary General, the Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said in a statement that, while no delegates could be prevented from being nominated to the standing committee, Archbishop Welby had “requested the ACC to work with the Primates for the welfare of the whole Communion”.
It had been widely expected that the Bishop of Connecticut, Dr Ian T. Douglas, one of the Episcopal Church’s three ACC members, would seek election to the chair of the standing committee. He is ending his term on both the ACC and standing committee at the close of the meeting in Lusaka.
In a letter to the standing committee, however, he wrote: “While I pray that I can continue to be of service to the Anglican Communion in some new way in the future, I believe that my not pursuing election as chair of the ACC at this time will best facilitate our walking together in unity as the Anglican Communion, and that is my highest priority and my greatest hope and prayer.”
Individual relationships between members of the ACC appeared to in good health. Seated at tables, clergy and laity from different Provinces were asked to talk about the most pressing issues in their Churches. A summary was later presented by Canon Phil Groves, Director for Continuing Indaba.
Virtually every table had talked about the “mass movement of people”, he said. Other much issues much referred to had been violence, particularly towards women, climate-change (“we are talking about Anglicans resettling people because their islands are already under water”), evangelism, and secularisation.
Relationships with governments had also been discussed. One member from South Africa stated: “When things are bad in our nation, people look to the Anglican Church for leadership.” Another said: “Our political leaders are corrupt, but 60 per cent of them are Anglicans.” Issue of human sexuality had been raised half as many times as most of the other issues, Canon Groves said.
On Monday, Rosalie Ballentine, a lay representative of the US Episcopal Church, described the “overwhelming” experience of hearing from other members. “I am really sorry about the people who chose not to come because . . . these are wonderful opportunities for us to get to really get to know each other and understand each other in spite of some of the things that we may think differently about. . .
“The things that we get so wrapped up about that we feel we can’t even talk to each other, while they are important, they are not the major part of what God is calling us to do in his world.”
Dr Idowu-Fearon appealed in his address to members to “take seriously” the Anglican Covenant, which he was involved in drafting. “The disagreements of today will eventually give way to others,” he said. “These could be even more intractable.”