“LET us be honest with one another,” the Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, invited his hearers in his sermon during the closing service for the Anglican Consultative Council’s meeting, ACC-17.
“We have had our arguments, our disagreements, our disappointments, just as much as we have had our achievements.” All, though, he said, had taken place within the body of Christ.
“However passionately we feel about the rightness of our cause and our beliefs, we return to listen to the Word, to break bread, to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and to be sent out into the world to do his will. If we did not do these things, we would be only politicians or human-rights activists.”
There might have been less mention of disagreement had ACC-17 finished its business at lunchtime the previous day rather than carried on into the afternoon. It was then that the final resolutions were tabled, including a request for the collation of “the outcomes of the listening processes that have happened in various member Churches in order to learn from the shared experiences of persons who have been marginalised due to their human sexuality”.
The resultant exchanges included a contribution from the Rt Revd Eraste Bigirimana (Burundi): “In the Bible, human sexuality was very clear: fornication is a sin. Adultery is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin — for the Christians.” On the other side, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander (Canada) said: “If we cannot reaffirm the dignity and respect of people as children of God, then my heart is broken.”
Proceedings came to a halt while the Archbishop of Canterbury brokered a deal, which included a new resolution asking him to look into all issues of discrimination in the Communion. After it was announced and carried by the ACC members, three of the protagonists hugged, and members expressed their relief at avoiding a row: they stood and applauded the Archbishop. All in all, though, it was from the delegation from the United States that the most forbearance was demanded.
Neil Vigers/Anglican ArchivesParticipants at ACC-17
The Bishop of Oklahoma, the Rt Revd Ed Konieczny, told the Episcopal News Service after the debate: “In the end, the love of Christ showed through. . . We showed that we’re able to have conversation, and we’re able to understand one another, and that we’re able to compromise. . .
“Maybe a little bit of what we did here can be an example for the larger Communion, and, for those who chose to stay away, that maybe in some way this will help them at least think about coming back.”
More generally, however, ACC-17 was quietly businesslike. Members listened to presentations, supported earnest resolutions, and watched short video clips about intentional discipleship. There was little debate overall, and less voting. But a good deal of work was done, and the Anglican Communion Office staff have gone away with fuller diaries than previously.
The ACC flexed its new muscles as the formal receiver of ecumenical texts; paid almost enough attention to climate disaster; approved a pioneering document about safeguarding worldwide (“The underlying principle”, Archbishop Welby said, “is don’t make the mistakes we made”); backed another that promotes equality between men and women; prayed for troubled areas in the world; and strongly promoted discipleship to the Provinces.
The ACC’s delight at the successful introduction of eight youth members (under the age of 30) as full, voting members was crowned on Saturday when one of them, Basetsana Makena, from South Africa, was elected on to the standing committee.
And the worship was appreciated. There were no noticeable absences from the chapel when women presided; the morning Bible studies were brisk but prayerful; and ACC members enjoyed worshipping with Hong Kong congregations when they managed to escape from the hotel where all the meetings took place. Archbishop Welby escaped a little more frequently, visiting the chaplaincy that covers the huge dock area in the city, and meeting the veteran evangelist Jackie Pullinger, who has been caring for gang members and drug addicts for the past 50 years.
It was an aspect of Hong Kong life that Dr Kwong touched on in his closing sermon. ACC members had enjoyed lavish hospitality, supported by the wealthier members of the Province. But, the Archbishop said, “There is tremendous ordinariness here, too: not the wealthy, not the tycoons, not the bankers, but the many thousands who live hard lives — sometimes desperate lives — but who always remember to love and care for one another.”