(L to R) ACC-14 delegates Bishop Sue Moxley and Suzanne Lawson pose with a traffic policeman who facilitated the ACC delegation’s travel from Kingston to Spanish Town. Behind them is historic St. Catherine’s Cathedral.
Spanish Town, Jamaica
In what was a fitting end to what has been summed up to be a “hopeful” meeting delegates to the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) worshipped at a closing eucharist at St. Catherine’s Cathedral, said to be the oldest Anglican cathedral outside of the British Isles.
Delegates traveled by bus to this historic city situated along the Rio Cobre, 16 km west of the nation’s capital, Kingston, and joined nearly 200 members of the St. Catherine’s Parish church for a service whose liturgy and music was a mellifluous blend of past and present. Not even the oppressive heat that was preceded by rain could dampen the enthusiasm of local Anglicans who dressed up for the eucharist, presided by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Although not as grand in scale as the opening service at Kingston’s National Arena, which drew an estimated crowd of 8,000, the Eucharist was no less festive, in the way that local Jamaicans sang and swayed to the rhythm of traditional Anglican and Jamaican-inspired hymns.
Located east of the town square on Red Church Street, the cathedral stands on the site of what used to be the Spanish Chapel of the Red Cross, which was one of many buildings destroyed by British soldiers under Oliver Cromwell who drove out the Spaniards and colonized Jamaica in 1655. Built in the second half of the 17th century, it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1712 but rebuilt in 1714. In 1843, it was named the cathedral of the diocese of Jamaica.
Bishop John Paterson, who chaired this meeting of the ACC for the last time and gave the homily, underscored the importance of the ACC in the life of the Communion, saying “the fact that the ACC is the only truly representative gathering under a constitution agreed by all the member churches, the only one of those four instruments where laity and clergy other than bishops can have a voice and a vote, is of lasting significance.”
He made a pointed reference to the role of primates, saying that, while “Anglican polity has always held that it is bishops in synod, or bishops in council, that are able to make decisions that guide the life of the church locally, for the Communion, the primates’ meetings cannot do that, although we should be able to look to our primates for wise guidance and theological insights, in my view, that is quite different from binding decisions from which the rest of the church is excluded.”
The Canadian church has been among the chief critics of the increasing role and influence of the primates’ meetings, which has issued several statements that have been interpreted by some as binding to member churches of the communion.
Bishop Paterson paid tribute to the diocese of Jamaica in his homily, saying that it had succeeded in restoring the so-called “bonds of affection” that hold Anglicans together, which had been “severely challenged” in recent ACC meetings, particularly the last one in Nottingham, England.
“…Thanks to the magnificent way in which you have made us feel good to be here, thanks to the outstanding manner in which you have made us feel proud once again to be Anglican in your midst, in your worship, in your hospitality, in the broad smile of a Caribbean welcome, those bonds of affection are back in place,” he said. At the Nottingham meeting, the Canadian and American delegates sat in the sidelines after their provinces were censured for what was seen as their more-liberal views on human sexuality.
Bishop Paterson said that, while this meeting “has been characterized by some rigorous debates,” they were nonetheless made “with respect and even affection across the floor of the house. He said, “As your outgoing chair, I have been deeply grateful for that. And that surely is one of the many gifts we can return home with, knowing that the ACC has met well, and the renewed confidence we have in the strength and the life of the Anglican Communion.”
On their last day of plenary, ACC delegates shared the results of their discernment group reflections on the key messages they would carry back to their provinces about the 10-day meeting.
“We go home with hope,” said Suzanne Lawson, lay delegate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who reported on behalf of her 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.” She added, “The ACC is not about resolutions, I will take you back individually, corporately.”
Another discernment group said delegates “felt a great deal of optimism and hope” not just for their relationships but the church’s mission and identity. Many appreciated the Bible study sessions every morning, saying they “provided the lens with which we could view ourselves as Anglicans,” said Josephine Hicks, The Episcopal Church’s lay representative to the ACC, who reported for her group.
Others felt that, by discussing the issue of human sexuality that has deeply divided the Anglican Communion, “we are contributing to tough discussions on what it means to be Christian in today’s world; we’re not allowing issues to tear us apart,” she said.
Many noted the “enormous difference between ACC-13 and 14,” she added. “One said, New Zealand can’t come fast enough for me.” The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is hosting the next ACC meeting in 2012.
Still, there were some challenges that were identified by ACC delegates, including frustrations around the fact that “there was no unanimity, no clear solutions to some of the most contentious issues,” and that “the voting procedures were not helpful in helping us find answers” to the problems besetting the Communion, said the Church of England’s Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who presented her group’s feedback. In the same breath, however, she said, some said “maybe we can’t always have answers; the Lord did say that wheat and grass can grow together, maybe we can grow together, it doesn’t always have to be neat and tidy.” Desires were also expressed for a church that is “Christ-centered and not politicized.” There were others who called for “greater transparency,” she said. “Generally people felt stimulated by being here. They’re returning in quite a positive mood but with a realization that there are some answers we’ve not had.”
Before the eucharist began, many local children who were coming out of their schools, welcomed the delegates to their historic town. Once called Village de la Vega (Town of the Plain) and Santiago de la Vega (St. James of the Plain), Spanish Town was Jamaica’s capital from 1692 until 1872.
“The church once contained the oldest baptismal and marriage records in the island,” according to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Web site, http://www.jnht.com/index.php
Shaped like a cross, the cathedral is “a mixture of many architectural styles combining round-headed and pointed arches, classical quoins, and medieval buttresses,” it adds. Its grand tower, added in 1817, “is crowned with one of the few steeples found in the Caribbean.” It also includes many monuments by the illustrious 18th century sculptor, John Bacon.
Before it became the seat of Spanish and later, British, colonial governments for more than 300 years, Spanish Town was a settlement of the Taino Indians, a sub-group of Arawakan Indians (American Indians in northeastern South America), which inhabited Jamaica, Cuba and what is know known as Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The Spaniards occupied the island in 1534, and the British in 1655. In 1670, after years of war with Spain, Jamaica was officially ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Madrid.
Other historical buildings in the former Spanish Town Square include the ruins of Old King`s House, originally the Spanish Governor`s residence, built in 1762 and destroyed by a fire in 1925.
“In 1838 the proclamation of the abolition of slavery was read from the steps of King`s House,” according to an article on Spanish Town published by the newspaper, Jamaica Gleaner. “Under the British, the square was rebuilt in the mid-1700s following a grid-like plan by John Pitcairne and was replete with Georgian architecture. It is now considered one of the world`s finest Georgian squares.”
In recognition of local history, the co-opted ACC member from the Episcopal Church of Cuba, Maria Christina Borges Alvarez, read the gospel in Spanish.