Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in an exchange of peace with a young Jamaican Anglican during the opening eucharist of the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting.
The 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has not “given evidence of any belief” that Anglicans worldwide “have no future together,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, even as he warned that it would be “inevitable” that the Anglican Communion could turn into a “much more dispersed association” or federation if not all member churches sign on to the proposed covenant.
While it “hasn’t necessarily dealt with the problems of the Anglican Communion once and for all,” the meeting, held May 1 to 12, enabled delegates to “build solid relationships with the local church and with one another,” the archbishop said. A majority of delegates echoed this assessment, saying they emerged “more hopeful” about prospects for the Anglican Communion, which has been deeply divided over the issue of human sexuality.
The ACC decided not to send the Ridley-Cambridge draft of the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant to member churches for consideration, pending consultation and possible revision of a controversial section dealing with dispute resolution and the definition of which entities can sign on to the covenant. (See related story on this page).
The ACC, however, affirmed the recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), asking provinces to maintain the moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions and cross-provincial interventions, but also “relational consequences” for those who breach them. (See related story, page 10)
Archbishop Williams said that, in explaining the decisions reached by the ACC on issues, particularly on the covenant, the following can be said in defence: “We did it because we heard that, through all these procedures, Christian people will be able to recognize each other a bit more fully, a bit more generously and a bit more hopefully.”
He urged Anglicans to “begin the discernment, begin that intelligent engagement as soon as you can,” of the covenant.
Apart from the thorny issue of human sexuality, the ACC spent considerable time discussing matters like mission, evangelism and theological education. It passed a total of 40 resolutions on topics ranging from the environment to peace-making. They engaged in “mission encounters” with local parishes and saw the “joys and challenges” in their ministries.
“We go home with hope,” said Suzanne Lawson, lay delegate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who reported on behalf of her discernment group. “Almost all of us came worried, burdened, afraid, and were told to come back with an answer about sex. Today, we’re going home with a sense that this is what the communion is about. Relationships built here will last, they are of value, they are great pearls that we have in our hands and hearts and take back.”
In his address, Archbishop Williams said, “We have not given evidence of any belief that we have no future together. The question is, of course, what that future will look like.”
Anglicans are “a bit reluctant” to engage the proposed covenant in depth, because it “does underline for us that the possibility of division is there; the possibility at least of certain kinds of division,” he noted. People have spoken of the future of the communion as a federation, “an association within which some groups are more strongly bound to one another and some groups less strongly bound,” he added. “That will be more inevitable if not all provinces sign on to the covenant. And I hasten to add that’s not what I hope. It is what I think we have to reflect on as a real possibility.”
The archbishop issued a plea that, no matter what happens, “Anglicans must think about how the Instruments of Communion – the ACC, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of bishops, and the primates’ meeting – “can continue as organs of life-giving exchange,” even if other alliances emerge, he said.
But even as he put forward the possibility of a federation, the archbishop said the meeting proved that the bleak prognosis about the communion could be wrong. “If someone diagnosed as terminally ill has prayed and planned and given new evidence of energy and life from their deathbed to begin new things, we might just possibly question the diagnosis of a terminal outlook,” he said.
On what the meeting achieved, he said,”Our willingness in certain areas to act as one and to discover more deeply how we pray as one is, by God’s grace and gift, for no other reason, an achievement.” The Bible “has a great deal to say about the day of small things and the work of God in small things, and in apparently routine things,” he said.
Apart from the decisions on the covenant, he cited the progress around forming an Anglican alliance for relief and development, and plans for evangelism and church growth.
But he acknowledged that “there remains in a few areas an intensely felt standoff between groups in our communion” who continue to be deeply divided over human sexuality.
On what could account for the change in the mood of this meeting and the recent primates’ meeting, the archbishop said, “Some of it is probably the healing effect of time. The issues are not quite as raw as they were.” He said that after the “very stressful experience” of the primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam, the primates themselves realized “that they did have to work and pray a bit more constructively together and approach each more gently.”
The structure of this ACC meeting, where delegates were divided into “discernment groups,” reflecting the African concept of indaba (Zulu word for “purposeful listening”) used in the 2008 Lambeth Conference, was helpful, he said. “It underlines that we are not simply processing people into plenary or leaving the relationship building entirely to Bible study groups.” It was where “tough issues can be confronted without having to take votes,” he added.
For the first time in the ACC’s history, Anglican networks were given more time and space.
The ACC is composed of lay, clergy and bishop delegates from 44 regional and national churches in over 160 countries.