Council conversations, action focus on communion life

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Nov 6, 2012

The Anglican Consultative Council spends much of its time in Auckland gathering in small groups for conversation. Here Episcopal Church member Josephine Hicks, left, the Rev. Maria Christina Borges Alvarez of Cuba, Scottish Primus David Chillingworth and Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Peters (back to camera) listen as the Rev. Canon Dickson Chilongani, of the Anglican Church in Tanzania, far left, speaks. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

[Episcopal News Service — Auckland, New Zealand] The Anglican Consultative Council during its session here Nov. 6 (local time) continued to consider how the life of the communion might be enhanced and deepened.

Their discussions focused on the Anglican Covenant, the four instruments of communion (which include the ACC) and the Continuing Indaba project.

The council hit a minor bump on the way to approving a resolution on the Continuing Indaba project during which some members raised the issue of whether that process can be expected to be used to help the communion solve difficult issues. The resolution encourages further development of project, which has during the past three years helped to enable conversation across different contexts, break down barriers and build communion friendships.

The council is not anticipated to take any formal action on either the covenant or the future of any of the instruments of communion.

Not all of the provinces have been able to consider the covenant since it was sent to them in December 2009 because of their governance cycles, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Anglican Communion Secretary General, said during a press briefing.

The communion’s Standing Committee will meet after this ACC gathering to assess where the covenant reception process stands, according to Kearon. There will come a time, he said, after all the provinces have had their say on the covenant when the Standing Committee will no doubt say that the covenant is “operational” for those provinces that have adopted it.

Those provinces will have voluntarily agreed to an “intensification of relationships” that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has suggested the covenant would create, Kearon said.

“That’s where the difference will be seen for those who have actually adopted the covenant; not whether you are in or out communion because of what you’ve decided, which I think is sometimes the question,” Kearon said. “That’s not going to happen.”

During the hour council members spent hearing a summary of each other’s thoughts on the covenant and the instruments of communion, they learned that “in places where the covenant is contentious, people remain committed to the communion, to talk, to share, to relate to each other,” according to Helen Biggin, Church in Wales.

“Some groups feel we simply don’t need a covenant,” she said. “There was strong affirmation for sections 1 to 3, but considerable caution for section 4 [which outlines a process for resolving disputes]. Some of the reasons for that included a reluctance to give one group authority over another; a concern that it would make Anglicanism confessional in a way it wasn’t before [and] the thought it might be punitive.”

Biggin also noted that some provinces expressed “an anxiety about whether they would then become second-class members of the communion” if they did not adopt the covenant.

The Anglican Covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the communion and its provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues. The last ACC meeting, in Jamaica in May 2009, decided to delay release of the third and final draft of the covenant to the provinces for their consideration because the ACC members thought the covenant’s process for resolving disputes needed more work.

After a small working group solicited input from the provinces about that process, the final version of the covenant was released to the provinces for formal consideration in December 2009.

The Nov. 6 session also heard a summary of themes that emerged during the council’s small-group reflections on the past, present and possible futures of the instruments of communion. The Rev. Sarah Macneil, Anglican Church of Australia, reported that members are “overall very positive about the membership in the communion.”

However, “many ACC members feel that there is a need to clarify and refine the instruments and how they relate to each other,” she noted.

Joanildo Burity, Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, said the council members “strongly affirm the value of having lay and ordained meeting together” by way of the ACC, which is the only instrument that includes Anglicans who are not bishops or primates.

“We feel like the ACC is being true to its own calling” and is “rais[ing] issues for the communion in a more pro-active way,” he said.

The members would like to see more laity included in the ACC, he said. The membership includes from one to three persons from each of the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces, depending on the numerical size of each province. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a lay person. Where fewer members are appointed, preference is given to lay membership. However, Kearon said during the briefing that often clergy and bishops are chosen for those seats.

Council members suggested allotting at least two seats to each province and requiring that one of those seats be filled by a lay person, Burity said. He also added that members discussed encouraging ACC members to meet regionally between ACC meetings and promoting ongoing participation of ACC members in the life of the communion in between meetings, perhaps by formally linking them to the work of its networks.

Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Bishop Sue Moxley summarized comments on the Lambeth Conference. The members think that the admittedly expensive gathering of the communion’s bishops promotes “building collegial and trusting relationships between the bishops” but that its decennial cycle makes it hard to maintain those connections. She said the gathering also helps to quash “the rumors we have all heard about each other.”

ACC members suggested regional meetings of bishops between, and perhaps instead of the conference. They also wondered if bishops ought to meet with lay and clergy before the conference so their insights might increase the scope of the conference, she said.

The Very Rev. Herman Browne, Church of the Province of West Africa, said members saw the Primates Meeting as “as a gathering of mutual affirmation and for the benefit of primates themselves” in their work leading provinces. ACC members also suggested that primates communicate the work of their meetings to their provinces. The members also suggested more time needs to be spent on gaining shared understanding how individual provinces empower their primate.

The Rev. Canon Dickson Chilongani, Anglican Church of Tanzania, said the members see the archbishop of Canterbury as “a symbol of our unity” and the “spiritual and historical center of our communion.” However, he said, some wonder whether the archbishop must be English or whether the position could rotate throughout the communion.

The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order is monitoring the reception of the covenant and conducted an initial study of the instruments of communion at the request of ACC-14. The group meets again in November 2013. The Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of unity, faith and order at the Anglican Communion Office, encouraged ACC members to continue the conversation in their provinces and send her their feedback.

The conversation about the communion’s common life continued with the council considering the first three years of the Continuing Indaba project authorized by ACC-14, and its future.

A process of indaba, a Zulu word meaning purposeful discussion, formed the basis for groups of around 40 bishops that met each day during the Lambeth Conference in 2008. The program, which is partly a continuation of the Anglican Communion Listening Process, has enabled Anglicans to discuss and learn about experiences from contexts far removed from their own and to wrestle with differences concerning issues such as human sexuality and theological interpretation.

The hope is that it will produce a body of resources to enable deeper relationships for the sake of mission around the Anglican Communion. During the first phase there were four pilot conversations between three dioceses, each from different provinces.

There is more information about those conversations here.

Southern Africa Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, a member of the Lambeth Design Group that introduced the wider communion to indaba, said the process is not “about transplanting elements from one culture into a completely foreign and inappropriate context.”

“It is essential to focus on the Scriptures and gain insights from the diverse cultures of the communion,” he said.

Suzanne Lawson, Anglican Church of Canada, participated in one of the pilot conversations and told the council that she learned “it takes time and honest effort, and much planning in advance to develop … relationships.”

“We couldn’t talk about them, we had to talk about us,” she said. “I also learned to pull myself back from stereotypes.”

Lawson said the council has been engaging in the same sort of process. “I have felt indaba-ish in the last few days and those are the riches I take home,” she said.

Indaba can be used, Hong Kong Archbishop Paul Kwong said, “to meet an urgent need to hold our communion together in a time of tension and real or potential division” and seeks to energize global mission.

It “encourages genuine conversation across the differences; it seeks to build trust and models a way of decision-making that is not confrontation or parliamentary” but instead calls for “mutual and intense listening to deeply held opinions” and a willingness to delve deeply into Anglicans’ shared faith.

Scottish Episcopal Church Primus David Chillingworth said indaba could be used to strengthen unity.

“You cannot be a family just by saying you are one, or that you want to be one,” he said. “You have to place yourself in situations in which the spirit can move you, be challenged and changed.”

Indaba is not a program, he said, “it is a movement, it is a way of being the church.”

However, some ACC members asked that the enabling resolution they were considering include language that would direct the process toward resolving the communion’s contentious issues.

Archbishop Ikechi Nwachukwu Nwosu of the Province of Aba, Church in Nigeria, was among them. He later told Episcopal News Service that he agrees with everything about the indaba project, especially because indaba is used extensively in his country. However, he said, it is indeed usually used “in conflict moments.”

“Everybody’s opinion is taken on board and everybody helps to make sure that the crisis or whatever the problem is, is solved,” he said, noting that the process can take a short time or years.

Nwosu said the important thing is that if there is a crisis, the community does not want it to continue so they decide, “let’s all put our heads together and see how we can solve it.”

“I just wanted a little bit of that direction to be added,” he said.

The council debated adding language to the resolution supporting the future of the project saying that the process ought to be used “with a view to encouraging resolution of disputed issues.” Nwosu supported that addition.

ACC Chair James Tengatenga, Diocese of Malawi bishop, told the meeting that Continuing Indaba is “not a panacea” and that the members are also confronting issues of
“how do we as a communion solve our problems.”

Endorsing the project will not mean that the ACC thinks indaba is a “magical solution to our problems,” he said.

He then asked the council to vote on whether it wanted to vote on the version of the resolution with the added language, which would have also commended further exploration of the approach to the next Lambeth Conference. When the majority of the members voted against considering the amended resolution, Tengatenga put the original resolution to them. It passed with 45 yes votes, 12 no votes and nine abstentions.

Church of England Bishop Stephen Cottrell (Diocese of Chelmsford) pointed out the irony that “we’re voting on a motion on indaba and we failed to use the indaba process.”

Resolution 15.21 receives the report of the Continuing Indaba project, encourages provinces to “engage with the theological underpinnings” of the project and hear the stories of the pilot conversations and requests further development of Continuing Indaba including effective communication of the project, a widening of the theological base, developing models of facilitation and facilitator training, and a commitment for ongoing evaluation.

ACC background
The ACC is one of the four instruments of communion, the others being the archbishop of Canterbury (who serves as president of the ACC), the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, and the Primates Meeting.

Formed in 1969, the ACC includes clergy and lay people, as well as bishops, among its delegates. The membership includes from one to three persons from each of the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces, depending on the numerical size of each province. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a lay person. Where fewer members are appointed, preference is given to lay membership. The ACC’s constitution is here.

The council meets every three years or four years and the Auckland meeting is the council’s 15th since it was created.

The Episcopal Church is represented by Josephine Hicks of North Carolina; the Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio; and Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is attending the meeting in her role as a member of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee, which met here prior to the start of the ACC meeting. Douglas is also a member of the Standing Committee.

A complete list of the ACC15 participants is here.

All ENS coverage of ACC15 is here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.