Laity, clergy and bishops representing Anglicans worldwide began arriving here May 1 for the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting, where discussions over a proposed covenant that is intended to help promote closer ties and heal divisions over difficult issues such as sexuality is a major piece of the agenda.
Sue Moxley, a Canadian member of the ACC and the bishop of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, has expressed confidence that this time around there will be a “different atmosphere” at the meeting.
“The best part is meeting people and saying who we are in Canada. I’m looking forward to seeing the people that I met at Lambeth,” Bishop Moxley told the Canadian house of bishops at its recent spring meeting. “It will be a different atmosphere altogether than in Nottingham, given what happened at Lambeth.”
Many Canadian bishops who attended last year’s Lambeth Conference, the decennial gathering of the world’s Anglican bishops, have talked about positive experiences from that meeting. In 2005, on the other hand, the Canadian and American delegations sat [on] the sidelines of the 13th ACC meeting in Nottingham, after their churches were censured for their more liberal stand on the contentious issue of homosexuality. At that meeting, the ACC decided to endorse a request from the primates’ meeting that the two churches withdraw from the council at least until the 2008 Lambeth Conference because of the debate triggered by the consecration of a gay bishop in The Episcopal Church and the blessing of same-sex unions in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster.
“The great hope is that we will find ways to help build community instead of destroying it, build communion instead of destroying communion,” said Suzanne Lawson, the lay member of the Canadian Anglican delegation to the ACC, when asked in an interview about what her hopes and expectations are from the meeting. “The hope is that when Anglicans get together we actually do good work. We have some history of coming up with answers, of trying things out on each other and hearing each other’s viewpoints. I would be disappointed, of course, if it doesn’t come through. But I think there will be lots of people there who will try to make it work.”
Ms. Lawson, who is from the diocese of Toronto, said she is both “really honoured” and “extremely burdened” to be representing the lay people of the Anglican Church of Canada. “This (the ACC) is one of the four instruments of Communion that has lay people, the only one. That means I am the one lay person from Canada involved in the instruments of Communion – that’s a big honour,” she said. “That’s a lot of trust people have put in me, and that means that I have to be very careful how I think through the issues, how I speak.”
About 75 to 80 delegates representing nearly all 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion are expected to attend the meeting. Four provinces – The Church of the Province of Melanesia, the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines and La Iglesia Americana de Mexico – were unable to send delegates. Representatives of the Church of North India are awaiting their visas.
“Nobody is boycotting the meeting. Some chose not to come either because of visa problems or other reasons,” said Archdeacon Paul Feheley, ACC meeting media co-ordinator. The representative from La Iglesia Americana de Mexico, Sarai Osnaya-Jimenez, decided that it was “in the best interest” not to come, fearing that the Mexican government might impose travel restrictions at any time because of the H1N1 or “swine flu” outbreak and she might find it difficult to go back to Mexico after the meeting, he said. According to the World Health Organization, at least nine Mexicans have died from the virus, identified as a new strain of the H1N1 subtype of type A influenza, believed to have originated in Mexico and has since appeared in Canada, the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.
Some provinces had boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference to symbolize the “brokenness” of the Anglican Communion over the issue of sexuality.
The meeting is also expected to discuss the report of the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), including the proposal for a new province made by conservative Anglicans who have left their churches in North America over the issue of sexuality.
The WCG was created by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2008 to find a way forward for the Communion, which has been deeply divided over the place of gays and lesbians in the Anglican church. In its report to the primates last February, the WCG, commenting on the proposal for a new province, had said there were “difficulties in recognizing the coalition among the provinces of the Communion” and “significant concerns were raised in the conversation about the possibility of parallel jurisdictions.” While it is not a legislative body, the ACC can determine whether a new province can be created. “There are clear guidelines set out in the Anglican Consultative Council reports, notably ACC 10 in 1996 (resolution 12), detailing the steps necessary for the amendments of existing provincial constitutions and the creation of new provinces,” a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Other issues expected to be on the agenda are proposals for an Anglican Covenant, as well as reports from various Anglican bodies and networks dealing with issues like peace and justice, mission, and theological education.
Considered one of the four instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion, the council was established in 1969 after the 1968 Lambeth Conference decided that the church needed “more frequent and more representative contact” among churches. (The other instruments of unity include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primates’ meeting and the Lambeth Conference.)