Churches unlikely to pass motion adding primates to ACC, says chair

Published November 22, 2005

Mississauga, Ont. Member provinces and churches of the Anglican Communion are not likely to approve a motion that would allow 38 primates around the world to become members of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), according to Bishop John Paterson, ACC chair and bishop of Auckland.

Speaking to members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) at their meeting here on Nov. 19, Bishop Paterson said there was “a great deal of unease” expressed by ACC members at the possibility of the body being dominated by primates.

“What happened in Nottingham was that there was deep-seated anger from some members of the ACC of primates acting on their own towards ACC,” said Bishop Paterson. “The primates decided on an action against two churches who are members of a body (ACC) mandated by the constitution to be consultative. How can it be consultative if two important churches are not able to take part?” He added that among ACC members “there’s a feeling that perhaps we shouldn’t allow the primates to meet alone ever again.” His remark drew laughter from CoGS members.

The primates, during their meeting in February 2005, had requested that the Canadian and American churches “voluntarily withdraw” from the ACC meeting in Nottingham, England, last June as a step towards restoring unity within the Anglican Communion fractured by the issue of same-sex blessings in New Westminster and the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.

“There was a measure of resentment that the primates had acted precipitately and punitively to the ACC by saying that Canada and ECUSA (Episcopal Church in the United States of America) could not be members of the ACC,” said Bishop Paterson in an interview with the Anglican Journal.

Bishop Paterson, who is a former primate of New Zealand, said that it would take about two to three years to complete the ratification process regarding the inclusion of primates to the ACC. The motion, passed during the ACC meeting in Nottingham, requires a two-thirds majority vote from member churches of the Anglican Communion.

“I don’t think it will fly. I don’t think it will be approved,” he said in the interview, noting he was basing his assumption on “a great deal of unease” that he has picked up from a number of churches. “It will take a full two-to-three-year period for all the member churches to meet and engage in a process to find the answer. In that space of time the word will move around as to why people don’t agree with it. I think that will gain momentum.”

He said there are two views regarding the inclusion of primates. “The feeling was that if we brought them into the body where there is … the only option for lay voice to be heard, that that would be better than allowing them to continue to act independently meeting on their own,” he said. “The other view, which is gaining ascendancy, is the fear that clergy and lay people in the ACC would look to the primate to given them a lead as to how to decide to vote on any particular issue and that that would therefore destroy the importance of the ACC as a really consultative body, where the voices of those other than bishops are valued, followed and listened to.”

Asked whether there would be a common mechanism for ensuring a consultative process regarding action on the motion, he said, “I’m assuming that it goes before the highest legislative body in each province because that’s the way most of us work.” He added that “the ACC requires that any changes to its constitution — and this is one — does have to be referred in due process to the General Synod or its equivalent in each member church.”

In his speech, Bishop Paterson underscored that “the Anglican Church of Canada remains an important part of the Anglican Communion; the Communion needs Canada and I think Canada needs the Communion.” Bishop Paterson was invited to attend the CoGS meeting, held Nov. 17-20, by Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

He said that both the Canadian and American churches have been “exemplary” in adhering to the recommendations of the Windsor Report, which had recommended, among others, moratoria on same-sex blessings and the ordination of gay bishops.

He also apologized for the way Canadians were treated at the ACC. Both Canadian and American churches had sent their ACC members to “attend but not participate” in the June 18-29 meeting. While there, the Canadian and American delegation said they had felt “exclusion” and “alienation.”

“I deeply apologize,” he said. “I’ve been to six ACC meetings for a period of 15 years and I really enjoyed and appreciated the chance to meet wonderful people around the Communion. But this last year, I cannot say all of those things. I did not enjoy this recent meeting … The level of rhetoric, unpleasant language from some parts of our leadership in the Communion was distressing to me and I know as distressing to many Anglicans around the world.”

In his speech, Bishop Paterson also said that:

  • The idea of having a common covenant among members of the Anglican Communion, as proposed by the Lambeth Commission on Communion, “may be the last hope of finding something that helps us stay together;”
  • The divisions within the Communion are now so “serious and it may be that unity, as opposed to communion, is now something that’s in our past;”
  • “I’m not a conspiracy theorist but some very good minds in the American church suggest that this (the trouble within the Communion) is indeed what it is (a conspiracy) and that really worries me.”


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