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ACC: Archbishop makes case for messy Church

23 February 2023

Pat Ashworth sees the conclusion of the meeting in Ghana

Neil Turner

Archbishop Welby installed as a chief in Oguaa, Cape Coast, in Ghana, on Wednesday of last week. He was given the stole name “Nana Kofi Canterbury I” by Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II, Omanhen of Oguaa

Archbishop Welby installed as a chief in Oguaa, Cape Coast, in Ghana, on Wednesday of last week. He was given the stole name “Nana Kofi Canterbury I” ...

THE only place to find a “tidy Church with no disruption and difficulty” was in the graveyard, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested at the close of the 18th Anglican Consultative Council in Accra last week.

“It’s always messy. We are always less than we ought to be, and it’s true in some ways that we make new mistakes,” he said. But he urged the Church to look back to John Newton, a former slave trader converted to an opponent of it. “Someone said to him, ‘Mr Newton, you are not what you ought to be.’ His reply was, ‘You are right. I am not what I ought to be. But I am not what I was.’

“There are occasions when we think, How did we do so wrong? But we can thank God we’re not as we were. It is the gift of grace. There are things going on in the Church that give me hope.”

There has been emphasis throughout the week on the consultative character of the ACC. The Communion’s secretary-general, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, reflected: “We are scattered throughout the world; we respect our autonomous Provinces, but we are also interdependent.

“We have heard and expressed concerns. It’s important that we listen to each other but also act — walking together as a family, walking together even if it is sometimes at a distance. We work in different contexts from one place to another.” He reiterated that “on the special subject of marriage, the majority [of Provinces] still hold to the traditional teaching.”

This was the first ACC meeting with translation provided: something, the newly elected chair, Maggie Swinson, said, that had enabled many more members to “participate in a language in which they think”. She was, she said, “ready and up to the challenge of the opportunities we have as a Communion to work together to further the gospel”.

There was a clear emphasis throughout the meeting on the down-to-earth, frequently expressed in the reiterated need for “feet and hands on the ground” and a feature of many of the resolutions carried. All the Communion’s networks were open to everyone in the Communion, Mrs Swinson said: “We want deputations from across the Communion to work towards a common cause, identify the questions that need to be asked. We have many routes — including the UN — to make heard the voice of people who are not heard. We are able to punch above our weight.”

Neil TurnerDelegates place sticky notes on a giant inflatable globe at the end of session on the environment

She praised, in particular, the Anglican Alliance, working on the ground and “addressing things specifically at local level where they can make a difference”.

The ACC’s new vice-chair is the Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum. He likened worshipping together as one family to the journey of all pilgrims to the Mount: “A tough journey, but we’re up to it.” He was pleased to have noticed more female and younger representatives, and the vast majority of new members, all of which lent added value to the conversations, and “an awareness of more levels of justice”.

At the final plenary, several statements of solidarity were presented as a form of prayer. Members stood in silent support at the end of each. These were closely aligned to the resolutions, all of which had been debated in the context of the Five Marks of Mission and embraced pressing worldwide concerns.

They include a plea for aid to be allowed to flow freely into Turkey and Syria after the devastating earthquakes.

A statement on migration condemns the demonising of internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum-seekers, victims of trafficking, and economic migrants, who are “all made in the image and likeness of God”. It calls on the Churches of the Communion to “co-operate inter-regionally, inter-provincially, and ecumenically to support safe migration, through education and welcome.”

Concerns about rising threats to the Christian presence in the Holy Land has led to a statement that “conveys to the churches in Jerusalem both its members’ sorrow and outrage over fringe Jewish extremist attacks against Christian sacred places, institutions, and members of the faithful themselves since the start of 2023”.

The statement “professes its lament that Christian youth are increasingly leaving the Holy Land for more hospitable countries that offer greater opportunities”, and “calls upon the Churches of the Communion to advocate before the relevant governing authorities for the protection of the Christian presence in the Holy Land . . . encouraging them to promote an environment of safety, mutual respect, and religious tolerance between the three Abrahamic faiths that each hold Jerusalem and its associated lands sacred.”

Neil TurnerRepresentatives, staff, and guests dance with an entertainer during a gala dinner night at Bishopscourt, Accra, on Day 7 of the ACC in the Accra Marriott Hotel  

Another statement, drawing attention to the state of the peace process between Israel and Palestine, decries an increasing cycle of violence that has erupted because of “a serious lack of diplomatic engagement”.

Human rights in Nicaragua; the effect of colonisation on the rights of indigenous people; the impact of the current droughts in the eastern Horn of Africa; starvation and disease among the indigenous communities in Brazil; and the consequences of water pollution, mining, and logging are all raised here, along with other statements ranging from the progress of the International Commission for Anglican Orthodox Theological Dialogue to women’s global voice for unity and justice, sustainable development goals, disaster resilience and response, and safeguarding youth livelihoods.

ACC-19 (2026) will be hosted by the Church of Ireland, its Provincial Secretary, David Ritchie, announced. He reminded the meeting, in the context of the injustice and cruelty of slavery, that the Church in Ireland had been founded by a Welsh slave, St Patrick.

The announcement featured an upbeat rendering of “Be thou my vision” by a diverse range of individuals and communities, before the concluding Irish blessing.

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