THERE was a presentation about the Anglican Consultative Council Meeting in Lusaka in April.
Margaret Swinson (Liverpool) said that the meeting had been a significant occasion for both the Province of Central Africa (which includes Zambia), and the nation itself, which had been evident from the attention to detail and hospitality offered throughout. The President and Vice-President of Zambia had both attended parts of the meeting, and, although the Province did not ordain women, special dispensation was given for women to preside at the daily lunchtime eucharist.
Canon Swinson was on a table with bishops from Australia, Sudan, the Old Catholic Church in The Netherlands, and Japan, as well as priests from South Korea and Liberia, and a youth member from South Africa. Every experience of being together with Christians from around the world had “increased my commitment to and enthusiasm for our Communion . . .a worldwide family of about 85 million Christians in 165 countries under Christ, yes, with different views on some things, but also with the opportunity to make a difference through our common work, witness, and mutual support”.
Another Church of England delegate to the ACC meeting, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, explained that the theme of the meeting had been “intentional discipleship in a world of difference”. There had been plenty of other topics to discuss, although commentators who suggested the agenda had been full of “sex and Americans” were mistaken.
“The big news was actually rather dull,” Bishop Cottrell said. “Virtually everybody came, and we spent ten days discussing issues of mission and discipleship and enjoying what unites us: our worship of God and our following of Jesus Christ.
“Yes, there are differences of opinion, but also an astonishingly deep foundation of unity which is all about God and his call to us in Christ and not really about us at all.” Like any family, the Communion quarrels, but then makes up; but in this family “water is thicker than blood,” and baptism bound its members together.
The report on discipleship which had been prepared by the Anglican Communion in advance was commended to the Synod by Bishop Cottrell. He was particularly moved by a quotation from the 1998 Lambeth Conference about discipleship as “going to school with Christ”. “The Church is a school in which the gift of teaching is acknowledged, but in which all the teachers are themselves learners.”
Bishop Cottrell also praised the exuberant hospitality of the Zambian Church, and its “infectious and heady brew of Catholic Anglicanism, Charismatic renewal, and African song and dance”. Studying the scriptures in small groups had helped him to see how the Bible spoke to every culture, even as the members brought their own cultural perspectives to it. “I am more convinced than ever that discipleship is not an exam to be passed, but better understood as a tree to be planted,” he said.
The Lusaka meeting had also been a helpful reminder that there was no linear progress from so-called less developed cultures to so-called advanced ones. “We are genuinely in different places, and from these different perspectives see things differently, even the Bible.”
That the meeting had achieved this was a “triumph of the gospel”, and showed that the Communion was alive and well, even as it refused to paper over the cracks, exclude those who disagreed, and hung out its dirty washing in public.
Ms Swinson then answered a question from Synod members about the presence of delegates from the Episcopal Church in the United States at the ACC. She explained that, while the Primates’ Meeting had prohibited the US Episcopal Church from being appointed to standing committees or decision-making on doctrine or polity, no such decisions had been made at the ACC; so the presence of the Americans was consistent with the Primates’ communiqué.