Anglican Communion members head to Hong Kong for consultative council meeting

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Apr 26, 2019

[Episcopal News Service – Hong Kong] The members of the Anglican Consultative Council are arriving here for the start of an eight-day meeting that will examine the communion’s mission and ministry, and during which some of its internal differences might surface.

The three Episcopal Church members of the ACC say they hope the April 28-May 5 meeting will bind the communion closer together in its mission across the world.

Rosalie Ballentine from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands told Episcopal News Service that she hopes the meeting will focus on the “continuing effort to build relationships, to build the communion, and to deal with those things that are important to the people of the world.”

Those issues include relief and development work, women, families, domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty and hunger, climate change, and indigenous people, according to the draft agenda. Members will also consider more church-related topics such as faith and order work, liturgical consultations, ecumenical and interreligious relationships, theological education and prayer initiatives.

Most of the Anglican Consultative Council’s sessions will take place at the Gold Coast Hotel, about 45 minutes from central Hong Kong. The venue is said to be more economical than a hotel in the main part of the city. Photo: Gold Coast Hotel

The council meets every three or four years, and the Hong Kong meeting is the council’s 17th session. The ACC last met in April 2016 in Lusaka, Zambia. It is returning to Hong Kong where it met in 2002 for its 12th meeting. The first meeting was held in Limuru, Kenya, in 1971.

The theme for ACC-17 is “Equipping God’s People: Going Deeper in Intentional Discipleship.” It follows a call from ACC-16 three years ago (via Resolution 16.01) for a focus on intentional discipleship throughout the Anglican Communion. “Intentional discipleship” is defined as the deliberate prioritizing of individual and organizational actions to live as Christ’s disciples and to bring others into that life.

The ACC’s objective, according to its constitution, is to “advance the Christian religion and in particular to promote the unity and purposes of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, in mission, evangelism, ecumenical relations, communication, administration and finance.” Among the ACC’s powers listed in the constitution is one that says it should “develop as far as possible agreed Anglican policies in the world mission of the church” and encourage the provinces to share their resources to work toward accomplishing those policies.

Spreading the Gospel and “continuing to further the mission of the church” needs to be at the heart of the meeting, said Ballentine, who will be attending her second ACC meeting.

Oklahoma Bishop Edward J. Konieczny said he hopes “to see us continue to create opportunities to be in dialogue throughout our communion and find ways for us to not so much focus on all of the tensions and disagreements, but to focus more on the mission which we’re called to do: the building up the body of Christ and responding to the real needs in the world around us.”

St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong is celebrating its 170th anniversary in 2019. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945, the cathedral was converted into a club for the Japanese and stripped of many of its original fittings. Photo: St. John’s Cathedral

The communion’s reach around the world means “we have an incredible opportunity to work together and to find ways to respond to those real, true life-and-death situations,” said Konieczny, who is heading to his first ACC meeting. He wants to explore how to “create more opportunities for those of us in places with some privilege and resources to be the conduit and partners for helping in other places where there’s a need.”

Konieczny added that he wants to understand what work is being done across the communion. “Are we just talking about it, or do we actually have feet on the ground and people actually engaging in doing the work together?”

The Rev. Michael Barlowe told ENS that he is looking forward to sharing with “my siblings in the Anglican Communion” what he said is “is a compelling story of a church doing ministry well and in new ways.”

For instance, Barlowe said he thinks the meeting’s theme “is consonant with what we’re doing with the Way of Love,” although what The Episcopal Church is doing is “more detailed and more geared towards something that both can be used by individuals and collectively as a community.”

Barlowe, who is the executive officer of General Convention, is serving as an alternate to House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who would have been attending the last of her three-meeting term. Rebecca Wilson, her spokesperson, said that in order to fulfill other commitments and use the church’s travel budget wisely, Jennings asked Executive Council to name Barlowe as the church’s alternate clergy member for this ACC meeting. Barlowe, who represents The Episcopal Church at gatherings of the communion’s provincial secretaries, was already scheduled to travel to Hong Kong for such a meeting May 6-9.

All three Episcopal Church members noted that because the ACC is made up of bishops, clergy and laypeople, it is the communion’s most representative body. That diversity, Ballentine said, creates opportunities to model reaching across the theological differences among the communion. ACC members “may come from provinces that have different views about many things, but that person gets to know Rosalie and Rosalie gets to know that person and know at the end the day, it’s all a matter of our common humanity, our common faith, that’s the important thing for us to deal with,” she said.

Of the communion’s 40 autonomous churches, or provinces, and six other national or local churches known as “extra provincials,” only Nigeria and Uganda are not sending members to the Hong Kong meeting. The ACC17 roster is here.

“I think the ACC is the conscience of the Anglican Communion,” Barlowe said, in part because it does include all three orders. “As I’ve discovered, joyfully, in my life in The Episcopal Church, having all orders at the table always is a way of keeping the conscience of the church alive because it’s easy for many of us in a particular order not to see the full picture.”

St. John’s Cathedral in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district will host the opening and closing Eucharists for the 17th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. The church is the oldest surviving Western ecclesiastical building in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Raising the Lambeth question

Konieczny said the representative nature of the ACC makes it the “appropriate place” to raise the issue of the conflict that emerged after it was learned that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby decided to exclude the same-sex spouses of bishops invited to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Discussion of the Lambeth Conference is now scheduled for the late morning of May 4 as one of three items in the 19th of the meeting’s 21 business sessions. Also on that session’s agenda are a discussion of ACC finance and organizational matters (carried over from the previous session) and the first of two times when the members will consider resolutions. The session is scheduled to last 75 minutes. The last meeting of the ACC saw passage of 45 resolutions, all of them on one up-or-down consent calendar vote.

“I don’t expect that there’s going to be any resolutions at the ACC asking the archbishop to change his mind,” Konieczny said. “The agenda is pretty tight, and in my opinion, it’s being monitored” so that tensions are minimized and that effort “may negate the ability to have some conversations.”

“Personally, I don’t see how we can go to the ACC, at least given where we are in the church today and with the Lambeth Conference coming up next year, and not at least address, in my opinion, the repeated resolutions from Lambeth, from the ACC and from other parts of the communion that state that we are to listen to all the voices of diversity in our church, and then yet we do things that block those voices from coming to the table,” Konieczny said.

Ballentine agreed. “It all comes down to wanting to continue that relationship-building work, and you can’t do that if some people are not at the table.”

Barlowe said that, as a someone who “has been through the debates about full inclusion and has felt the consequences” of those debates, it saddens him that people and individual provinces are “still objectified” because of their discernment about inclusion.

“The story that I know all of us are eager to share with our friends from around the Anglican Communion,” he said, is the story of how The Episcopal Church’s discernment about inclusion has been done “for the mission and ministry of the church.” The result of that discernment is the experience of “how God frees us to be who we need to be to minister in our time and in our place,” he said.

Anglican Consultative Council members who attended the council’s 16th meeting April 8-19, 2016, pose on the steps of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

What is the Anglican Consultative Council?

The Anglican Consultative Council is one of three Instruments of Communion, the others being the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops and the Primates Meeting. The archbishop of Canterbury (who is president of the ACC) is seen as the “Focus for Unity” for the three instruments.

The ACC is responsible for charting the work of the communion’s committees and networks, as well as that of the Anglican Communion staff and the communion’s Standing Committee. There are currently 10 thematic networks that address and profile various issues and areas of interest in the Anglican Communion.

Formed in 1969, the ACC includes clergy and laypeople, as well as bishops, among its delegates. The membership includes from one to three members from each of the provinces or extra-provincial churches. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a layperson. In province with fewer members, preference is given to lay membership.

Representatives from the communion’s ecumenical partners also attend, and for the first time, ACC-17 will include two youth delegates from each of five geographic regions.

The location of this meeting has changed since April 2016 when ACC officials and the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil announced that Sao Paulo, Brazil, would host the 2019 conference. In September 2017, the Anglican Communion Standing Committee said that the meeting would move to Hong Kong because, according to the Anglican Communion News Service, it had been scheduled at what “would be a challenging time for [Brazil] and for the Anglican Church there.”

Concerns were raised about the country’s political and economic instability along with the province’s “discussions on human sexuality and marriage,” which were due to take place at its 2018 provincial synod. Brazil’s Anglicans voted in June 2018 to change their canons to permit same-sex marriage.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story included a photo caption that incorrectly described St. John’s Anglican Cathedral, completed in 1849,  as the oldest Anglican church in the Far East. St. George the Martyr Church in Penang, Malaysia, completed in 1818, is the oldest.