UNITY was in evidence on the first day of the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Zambia on Friday.
Addressing the tables set out in the aisles of Lusaka’s Holy Cross Cathedral, each one a mix of clergy and laity, ethnicities and languages, the Archbishop of Canterbury described the Communion as a “Church of immense, global and beautiful diversity”. It was, he said, “the very work of God, inspired by the Spirit, full of very fallible human beings”.
In the end, just three Provinces of the Communion were unrepresented (Rwanda, Nigeria and Uganda) in a gathering of 80 members. Despite their Primate’s decision not to attend, representatives from Kenya were among them. All members were expected to attend, the chairman of the ACC, the Rt Revd James Tengatenga, said. They had a “duty to fulfil their obligations”.
All three members representing the Episcopal Church in the United States were present. The President of the US House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, said that the first day of the meeting had been “terrific” and that she had been welcomed by an “amazing, diverse table group”.
She went on: “Part of our vocation as the Anglican Communion is to model to the world that we live a common life, with our unity based in our . . . commitment to God’s mission in the world, not based on uniformity or uniform thinking”.
Discussion prior to the meeting had been dominated by speculation about the response of the ACC to the Primates' meeting in January, and in particular, the “consequences” meted out to the Episcopal Church. On Friday afternoon, Archbishop Welby delivered a presentation explaining the meeting.
The Archbishop reiterated in his presentation that the Primates' meeting had “no legal authority over Provinces. . . Neither can any one instrument legally bind another Instrument.”
He went on to expound upon the history of the Communion, explaining that it “finds its decisions through spiritual discernment in relationship, not through canons and procedures. Primates’ meetings, Lambeth Conferences and ACCs are not a question of winning and losing, but of discerning together in love.”
It had been expected historically, he said, that the Primates and the ACC “should work in the closest co-operation”. He also argued that the Primates, “because of their positions as senior Bishops in their Provinces, have an enhanced responsibility”.
Reflecting on the communiqué issued by the Primates in January, and the “consequences” thereof for the Episcopal Church, he stressed that it was “inaccurate, always, to speak of suspension and expulsion, or sanction”. He was critical, however, of any action that “promotes its own autonomy over that of the Catholic interdependence and mutual accountability”. Such actions “impair our Communion and create a deeper mistrust between us”.
He emphasised that the “consequences” – that he Episcopal Church should not take part in decisions on matters of doctrine or polity – were time-limited, and that the task group set up to rebuild relationships had a “very wide representation”. He also reiterated the Primates' condemnation of homophobia and opposition to criminal sanctions for LGBT people.
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”.
Speaking after the Archbishop’s presentation, the Vice Chair of the ACC, Canon Elizabeth Paver. referred to this comment as a “direct request from the Primates to us”.
She said that the leaders of the ACC were now asking members if they were “individually and collectively willing to work together for mutual flourishing relationships”. Votes were “divisive”, she said, but “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. Later comments by members suggested that it was unclear what applause would signify.
Asked during an evening conference to explain the “practical implications of the applause”, Canon Paver said: “We just wished to ask members to answer that question – was the Anglican Communion, through the ACC, willing to individually and collectively work for the flourishing of all parts of the Communion? . . . If the Primates are spiritual leaders, are they [members of the ACC] prepared to do that, through their differences?”
The members were being given an opportunity “to say they too will put their efforts and energies, prayers and hopes, into the fact that this Communion can stay together and flourish in all parts of the world”.
The only member who responded to the Archbishop’s presentation on the Primates Meeting was the Archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng, who said that the ACC “have to support the initiative already led by the Archbishop of Canterbury which managed to bring the Primates together and make one statement. Let this be adopted by ACC so that we keep the church of God together.”
Archbishop Welby’s presentation included reflections on the history and inheritance of the Communion, including “the curse of colonialism, which affects our Communion widely”. He went on to lament “the blindness of a view too centred on the Global North, the insensitivity to the power of dominant cultures, of wealth, the habits of imperial rule too seldom repented.”
Asked during the evening’s press conference to expand upon his comments about colonialism, he spoke of “a sense that certain countries exist, really, almost for the benefit of other countries, for example the exploitative use of economic and natural resources”. He spoke too of “artificial frontiers and boundaries . . . that paid no attention to natural movements of people and make it harder for very proper nation states to operate as well as they should. . . We did it from above, without the consent of the people, and I think that is something we have to look back on and sometimes question.” Also in his mind were “unfair trade practices”, he said. With regard to the Church, the “most difficult thing . . . is the inherited assumption that certain parts of the Church have the right to tell other parts of the Church what to do. It goes in all directions. . . It’s a habit we got into, and it’s done incuriously, often, rather that consultatively.” He concluded: “One of the great gifts of the Church, and when it operates well, is when we sit and listen to each other through our disagreements and love each other through our disagreements.”
Zambia gained independence from the UK in 1964. The legacy of its first post-independence President, Kenneth Kaunda, was among the topics discussed by Archbishop Welby and the current President, Edgar Lungu, at a meeting on Friday morning.
The Archbishop concluded his presentation by telling members that Anglicans were called to be “something special, a people of reconciliation, finding authority through relationships, transcending complexity and difference, relishing diversity, loving each other”. They were to be “a beacon to the hope of Christ”.
During the eucharist, the choir of St Stephen’s, Lusaka, sang. Many members stood behind to listen to them after the conclusion of the service, visibly moved. “That will do more for the Kingdom of God than any resolution”, one bishop was heard to remark.