MEMBERS of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) who are travelling to Hong Kong for its 17th meeting, which begins on Sunday, believe that they should have more say in the running of the Anglican Communion.
A Church Times questionnaire to a selection of ACC members elicited a mixed response. For example, on the question how well known the ACC was in their province, answers ranged from “Not very well known” (the majority) to “Well known”.
There was greatest agreement in answer to the question: “Should the ACC have more say in the running of the Communion?” Almost all those who responded agreed. Two respondents, Dr Heather Payne (Church in Wales) and the Very Revd Hosam Naoum (Jerusalem and the Middle East), spoke of achieving a good balance with the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Two dissenting voices came from Africa. Canon Anthony Eiwuley (Kenya) said: “I believe that most of the decisions taken at its meeting are enough. The policies are made for the ACC to administer.” And Peter Gachuhi (Kenya) said that the ACC’s “visibility and mandate needs to be understood first before one can cede any rights or powers to it”.
Deeper questions about Anglican structures might emerge in conversation in Hong Kong, but have no place on the agenda, which is busy and, on the face of it, upbeat. None the less, questions persist about the place of the ACC as one of the four “instruments” of the Communion. (The others are the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.)
For a period in its history (which began in 1971), the ACC functioned as a quasi-executive committee, meeting every three years in the decade-long gaps between Lambeth Conferences. More recently, however, the Primates’ Meeting has assumed this executive position (it now has a standing committee), leading to concern about the “primatisation” of the Communion (Comment, 15 March, Letters, 22 and 29 March).
The ACC is the only instrument of governance that includes ordinary clergy and laity, and it is thus potentially more gender-representative than the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting, since women are still rare in the global Anglican episcopate.
None the less, the predominance of senior clergy on the ACC — of the 83 members on the latest list, 21 are bishops or archbishops — means that male members outnumber female by more than two to one. Just over one third of members are lay.
One significant piece of work being launched in Hong Kong is a study of just relationships between the genders — though in the Church and society at large rather than just the instruments.
The ACC will be invited to endorse the study, which looks closely at gender violence, and the behaviour patterns and forces that disadvantage women around the globe.
There was agreement among members about whether the voice of the laity and ordinary clergy was being lost. Mary Stallard (Church in Wales) wrote: “Some of our Primates appear to worry that they have to solve the problems and be the answers. I think it is really important that the most local voices are heard.”
An opposing view came from the Rt Revd Nick Drayson (South America): “I believe the Primates need to be allowed a clearer role in the moral guidance of the Communion, as lobbying groups tend to cause further division.”
The Most Revd Suheil Dawani (representing the Middle East and Asia on the Primates’ Standing Committee), attempted a balance: “The Primates have the depth of theological knowledge and a better understanding of the bigger picture. But they should also be advised to have discussions with their people when seeking to determine God’s will for the Anglican Communion.”
A key focus at ACC-17 is the “Season of Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making”: an attempt to encourage churchgoers to allow their faith to transform their lives, which was instigated at ACC-16 (News, 8 April 2016). A 2016 paper quotes a former Primate of Melanesia: “We have no problem filling our churches with people, but they need to know what it means to be Christians (followers of Jesus): that is where we need help.” In the C of E, the Renewal and Reform movement is supposed to promote spiritual as well as numerical growth, but the vast bulk of the funding has so far gone into the latter.
Sessions at ACC-17 are called “Going deeper in intentional discipleship”, although it is unclear what depth has been achieved so far. As well as two short debates, ACC members will attend show-and-tell sessions mounted by the Church in Hong Kong.
The launch of this year’s Thy Kingdom Come will take place on Monday afternoon: a further sign of the global reach that this Pentecost prayer initiative has gained.
Other sessions include an informal briefing on progress in the project Living in Love and Faith, safeguarding, ecumenism, and theology.
Asked what most concerned ordinary people in their provinces, members most frequently brought up poverty, peace, and justice issues.
In answer to a question about their chief hope for ACC-17, responses ranged from: “Listening and giving voices to those who feel at the margins”; “Developing spiritual activities which will let the gospel of Jesus go deeper to the whole world”; “Unity in diversity”; “To be able to resolve the sex issue once and for all, to adhere to the biblical principles and not to human thinking and feelings”; “The gospel truth”; and “Unity in the Body of Christ”.
The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, on Thursday described next week’s meeting as “an opportunity for Anglican Communion members from around the world — clergy and laity — to hear about and build upon the range of important work that is being done across our extraordinary global family”.
Lambeth sign-up. The organisers of next year’s Lambeth Conference reported on Wednesday that 502 bishops had already signed up to attend, from 39 of the Communion’s 45 member Provinces and extra-provincial Churches. In addition, 382 spouses have said that they will attend.
Regular reports from ACC-17 will be published on our website.
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