Some of the frustrations from the 1998 Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops spilled over to a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Scotland, as it spent a dozen days in mid September sorting through issues of unity, sexuality, international debt and globalization. The theme itself, The Communion We Share, gave a clue to such continuing concerns.
Formed in 1968 to provide a forum to deal with pressing concerns of Anglicans worldwide, the ACC has no authority over the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion.
In an unusually blunt presidential address, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said that Anglicans do not live by the principle of “anything goes,” that “the constant interplay of Scripture, tradition and reason provide limits to diversity.”
As Christians struggle to share their faith with the world around them, “vigorous debate and healthy intellectual engagement” are inevitable, he said. But he repudiated unilateral action by dioceses and provinces within the Anglican Communion.
“No one has the right to take decisions that affect the whole,” he said, warning that “unilateral action which affects and impairs the whole communion to engage in division is itself to undermine the truth.”
Efforts to increase the size of the ACC and make it more representative were rebuffed. The call to take a closer look at the composition of the ACC, regarded as one of the “instruments of unity” for the Anglican Communion, came from the last meeting of the ACC, in Panama in 1996, and from the Lambeth Conference, which asked that the primate, a presbyter and person from each province be sent to ACC.
On the other hand, the council endorsed the idea of an Anglican Congress to be held in association with the next Lambeth Conference. It urged the archbishop of Canterbury to invite the diocesan bishop and four other people, three of them laity, at least one a woman and one under the age of 28.
The Virginia Report, a theological exploration of the basis of unity in the Anglican Communion prepared for the Lambeth Conference, provoked some spirited debate at the ACC.
The host bishop, Scottish primus Richard Holloway, said ACC was one of the few structured vehicles in Anglicanism that might resist the tendency in the report to increase the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury, the primates and the episcopate in general.
The discussion also provoked impatience among some delegates who resented the navel-gazing when there were more pressing issues in the world. Archbishop Glauco Soares de Lima, primate of the Episcopal Church in Brazil, expressed his concern about the ongoing colonialism between countries and churches in the North and the South. He said that the report “is a sign of a still-colonial mind, even in the structures described.”
Michael Hare Duke, former bishop of St. Andrews, later called for Archbishop Carey’s resignation, charging that “he just did not have the steel to lead the church into the 21st century while things remained in such disarray.”
He said most of the meeting “centred on the issue of authority, who calls the shots in the Communion, but this should not be the priority for a church when society is concerned about the survival of the planet and the genocide in Kosovo and East Timor.”
In a meeting chaired by Archbishop Holloway, delegates listened, in closed session, “respectfully and attentively” to gays and lesbians.
The session was in response to a Lambeth resolution “to listen to the stories of gay and lesbian people, and we are trying hard not to make it a divisive issue,” said Archbishop John Paterson of Aotearoa/New Zealand, ACC vice-president and chair of the planning committee. While some complained the five presentations all advocated acceptance of homosexuality and were therefore not representative, Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford called it “a very positive step forward in the church’s dialogue on this issue.
“The only way forward is by genuine listening to people of all points of view.”
Debate over sexuality erupted in response to the report of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network and a resolution that called for support of gay rights, introduced by the Rev. Sam Koshiishi of Japan. It was withdrawn.
Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster protested the failure of the ACC to address this issue and called its hesitance a “shameful failure of nerve.” He expressed dismay that Mr. Koshiishi was pressured to withdraw the motion. The network will “consider the justice dimensions of the debate over homosexuality, in the hope of contributing to the dialogue called for in the Lambeth resolution.”
On the last day of the meeting Archbishop Carey returned to the issue of Anglican unity and authority. “Whether we like it or not, political leaders and other church leaders look to the archbishop of Canterbury. Unless we speak together as primates and submit to one another in communion, we will lose the respect of other churches,” he said.
In other action, the council seconded Rev. Eric Beresford to work part time on ethics issues at the Anglican Communion Secretariat. Canon Beresford, consultant for ethics and interfaith relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, presented a paper on ethics and technology at the council meeting.