THE flare-up at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting last week over sexuality was presented as a healthy disagreement within the Anglican family. But the existence of another Anglican group, no longer under the same roof but still living in the same street, continues to make such disagreements risky. Given the proximity of the GAFCON cousins, the only tactic available to the leadership is to smooth things over, and this is what we saw in Hong Kong. Faced with an imminent car crash, Archbishop Welby halted the traffic, ran around with cones, and created a successful diversion.
The family metaphor is probably the most accurate for describing relationships within the Communion. It is certainly the one favoured by the Church’s leadership. But Saturday showed another aspect of the metaphor: families tend to have parents, and when things threatened to fall apart, Archbishop Welby seemed very parental, or, to drop the metaphor, Primatial. The parallel will not have been lost on the ecumenical representative from the Vatican, who earlier in the week had heard his Church used as an example of autocratic, top-down management.
Polity aside, the one encouraging thing about the episode was that, quite clearly, no one present wanted the row. ACC members perhaps reflect more accurately than their Primates the desire in their Provinces not to let disagreements over sexuality overshadow the call to unity. It was significant that the flare-up came at the end of a week spent listening to each other’s stories, including many examples of poverty, insecurity, and conflict. This was not enough to prevent the row, but it contributed greatly to the willingness to be reconciled, and the relief when that happened.
AT ONE point at ACC-17, members were invited to stop thinking like representatives, and simply turn to their neighbour and explain in one minute what Christianity meant to them. It is a useful exercise for everyone. So here is an example. It is May 2019, and the Champions League semi-final. You’ve had a great season, but you’re up against Barcelona, and in the first leg, they walk all over you. The second leg is coming up, and two of your key strikers are on the injury list. Yet amazingly, extraordinarily, you win that second leg. Christianity is the promise of that second leg, often in this life but if not, then in the next. The victory will happen anyway, and can be enjoyed by anyone (even, perhaps, by Everton supporters); but think how tremendous Tuesday night felt to the people who have followed Liverpool all of their lives, through every trial. And why the semi-final? Because there’s always an element of uncertainty, something ahead that we cannot know. The invitation is to be believers, not know-alls.