Provinces prepare to send representatives to Ghana for Anglican Consultative Council meeting

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 1, 2023

Anglican Consultative Council members meeting in Hong Kong in April 2019. Photo: Neil Vigers

[Episcopal News Service] Representatives from Anglican provinces around the world, including The Episcopal Church, are preparing to travel to Accra, Ghana, for prayer, worship and discussions on the future of the Anglican Communion at the 18th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, or ACC-18.

“ACC not only brings the 42 member churches together as a family but also encourages and enables them to grow in mission in their own contexts,” Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong, the outgoing chair of ACC, said Feb. 1 in a news conference on Zoom.

The Anglican Communion is made up of autonomous, interdependent churches that have historic roots in the Church of England and remain in communion with the office of the archbishop of Canterbury. Each province may appoint and send up to three members to ACC, typically a bishop, another clergy member and a lay person. The Episcopal Church’s current members on ACC are Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton, the Rev. Ranjit Mathews, a priest in the Diocese of Connecticut, and lay member Annette Buchanan former Union of Black Episcopalians president from the Diocese of New Jersey, who also serves on Executive Council.

Not all of the 42 provinces of the Anglican Communion, however, are participating in the Feb. 12-18 meeting. The Anglican provinces in Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda have declined to send representatives. Those provinces’ conservative bishops, objecting to other provinces’ more progressive stances on issues such as same-sex marriage, have long disengaged from what are known as the four Anglican Instruments of Communion. The other three are the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, the Primates’ Meeting and the archbishop of Canterbury, whose role is known as the “focus of unity.”

Bishops from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda also were absent last summer from the Lambeth Conference.

“We miss that presence,” ACC Vice Chair Margaret Swinson of England said in the news conference, responding to an Episcopal News Service question about the three provinces’ absence. “We would very much welcome their members to be appointed and to attend.”

Bishop Anthony Poggo, the Anglican Communion’s secretary general, acknowledged the persistence of theological disagreements between some of the provinces, but he underscored that one of the purposes of ACC is to establish “good differentiation” while members “discern what God is saying to the Anglican Communion.”

ACC is not a synod or parliamentary body, Poggo said. It cannot make binding decisions, but as with a synod, members have a sense of “journeying together” in their shared belief in Christ. He also highlighted the theme of ACC-18, “The Five Marks of Mission: Today and Tomorrow,” which refers to a longstanding framework for Anglican engagement with the world.

The idea of “good differentiation” between provinces was posed to ACC-18 in a paper produced by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order, which noted that “impairment” in Anglican relations dates to the expansion of women’s ordination, starting in the 1970s.

“The Anglican Communion has faced several structural challenges in the last few decades, which we have yet to address consistently and coherently,” the commission says in its paper. “In a few cases, provincial churches have sought to accommodate varying views by developing structures of differentiation, which have been understood as ecclesiological experiments. Disagreements about same-sex relationships and their place in the church have proven to be more protracted, and they remain unresolved.”

ACC typically meets about every three years. In 2019, at ACC-17 in Hong Kong, differences on human sexuality sparked contentious debate, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby apologizing for how he handled the decision not to invite the spouses of gay and lesbian bishops to the subsequent Lambeth Conference. Members of that ACC ultimately agreed to a resolution that affirmed LGBTQ+ people “are fully welcomed in the life of the Anglican Communion.”

ACC-18 also will follow shortly after the Church of England’s General Synod, which meets Feb. 6-9 in London. The General Synod will consider a proposal to offer blessings for same-sex couples while stopping short of condoning same-sex marriage in the province’s churches. Same-sex marriage has been legal in England since 2014.

It remains to be seen how such issues will be addressed by current ACC members when they convene in Ghana. Poggo said ACC tends to avoid reacting to the actions of individual provinces, though he expected Welby to respond to questions that ACC members have about changes in the Church of England.

Kwong, the ACC chair, portrayed the provinces’ differences in a positive light. The Anglican Communion, he said, is brought together by “a fundamental unity” in the belief in Jesus’ good news while also “shaped by great diversity of places, times and cultures.”

The ACC established the Marks of Mission in 1984 to “express the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic and integral mission.” ACC members at this meeting, while framing their discussions around the Marks of Mission, will be asked to hold up the “unsung heroes of faith in our communities who engage in mission and evangelism in their contexts of ongoing suffering and pain,” Kwong said.

The Anglican Communion’s 42 provinces have a presence in more than 165 countries. About 110 ACC members from 39 provinces will travel to Accra for this meeting, hosted by the Province of West Africa. Welby is scheduled to deliver his opening address on Feb. 12.

On Feb. 15, members will visit Cape Coast Castle, a former staging post where enslaved Africans were prepared for transport across the Atlantic to the Americas starting in the 1650s. ACC members are planning to participate in an unspecified “act of reconciliation” there, followed by a worship service in the nearby Christ Church Cathedral.

ACC will elect a new chair, a new vice chair and five members of the Standing Committee on Feb. 16. The weeklong meeting will conclude on Feb. 18 with visits to Anglican parishes in Accra and a closing service at St. George’s Garrison Anglican Church.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at