By Mark Michael

LUSAKA, Zambia — The first day of the 16th Anglican Consultative Council focused on “establishing the ACC Community,” with discussion of the recent Primates’ Gathering, a dramatic reading of the Book of Ruth, and the joyful song of a local church choir.

“The cathedral and diocese have been praying for you; not just for this conference, but for unity in the church,” said the Very Rev. Charles Thomas, dean of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka. “The world is watching. The world is waiting.”

“Today’s been largely getting-to-know-each-other day,” said the Rt. Rev. Stephen Cottrell, a delegate from the Church of England. “Although, having said that, the discussions this afternoon have touched on some of the greatest challenges we face as an Anglican Communion, which are getting to know each other, and how we continue to get to know each other.”

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The council, the only Instrument of Unity of the Anglican Communion to include laity, deacons, and priests as well as bishops, has attracted 77 delegates. The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, chairman of the ACC, said the delegates to ACC-16 represents all of the Communion’s provinces, except Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda, which have chosen to boycott the meeting.

After opening prayers and a welcome from Zambian church leaders, the delegates gathered at round tables in the cathedral’s nave for the first of eight Bible studies on the Book of Ruth. Members of the ACC’s Standing Committee read parts in a dramatic presentation of the whole book, prepared by the Rev. Ellen F. Davis of Duke Divinity School.

The accompanying studies, which were written by a team of eight authors from across the Communion, are a model of the methods of scriptural interpretation outlined in the Communion’s Bible in the Life of the Church Initiative. Team member Femi Adelaya of World Vision Ghana, who addressed the delegates, said the studies’ open-ended approach is designed to solicit different perspectives, helping participants to “read across the Communion, with respectful awareness of diverse perspectives and the diverse contexts in which we are called to serve.”

The study was followed by a time for reflecting in small groups on progress in activities built on the resolutions of ACC-15, which met in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2013.

A Eucharist followed, celebrated by the Rt. Rev. David Njovu of the Diocese of Lusaka, and marked by the jubilant singing and dancing of the choir of St. Stephen’s Church, Lusaka. The resonant voices of the 12 choir members filled the lofty cathedral.

In his capacity as ACC president, Archbishop Justin Welby reported to the delegates about the Primates’ Meeting in January. The Anglican Communion’s witness to the unity of the church across great difference and complexity, he said, is like the pearl of great value described by Jesus in Matthew 13, and relates deeply to ACC-16’s theme of “Intentional Discipleship in a World of Difference.”

“In the midst of such difference we face a choice, of being distracted by difference or being intentionally united in discipleship to Jesus Christ. To be united by Christ, as intentional disciples, is the only way we show to the world that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Using a phrase from an article by Tim Jenkins, Welby said the primates were seeking “a necessary balance of freedom, flourishing and order” that would secure unity in the Communion. “As a Communion and as churches where authority emerges primarily out of loving one another more than through rules and regulations, or hierarchies, this trio of freedom, order, and human flourishing is of huge importance. It anchors us in the breaking down of barriers, in facing each other, in the beauty of human interaction in love.”

The Primates’ Meeting, he said, “does not have legal authority over the provinces. … Neither can any one instrument legally bind another instrument. The Anglican Communion only works when the relationships within it are good enough to permit a common discernment of the way in which we are being led by the Spirit. And historically this has been seen in what is often called reception.”

Welby defined reception as “the informal process of relationships, by which, over time, developments in the life of the Communion are accepted or rejected in a way that leads to consensus … not a legal process. It is a discernment of the Spirit based in relationship.”

Over time, he said, some issues that once threatened to divide the Communion — like the use of contraception and acceptance of divorce — have gradually been received. Others, like lay Eucharistic presidency, have been seriously considered but finally rejected.

All the instruments of Communion, he said, have an appropriate role in this process of reception, and the Primates’ Meeting and the ACC in particular should work “in the greatest possible cooperation.”

But the primates, he added, quoting Resolution 18 from Lambeth 1988, have “an enhanced responsibility for offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters.” In this capacity, at their January meeting, the primates “explored and sought to establish what the consequences are for any province which promotes its own autonomy over that of the Catholic interdependence and mutual accountability of others.”

Because of General Convention’s decision to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages, Welby said, “a time-limited restriction in governance and representative roles” was placed on the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians “can speak, but we suggested that they should not vote, nor should they represent the Communion on external bodies such as those dealing with interfaith or ecumenical matters.”

“As Archbishop of Canterbury (a separate instrument) I have acted on the Primates’ decisions in those areas for which I have responsibility. It is both my and the Primates’ desire, hope, and prayer that the ACC should also share in working through the consequences of our impaired relationships.”

In a time for questions, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul of Sudan and South Sudan spoke passionately about his experience of the Primates’ Meeting. “It was a tough meeting, but it was the first time when all 38 primates, almost all of them, were there,” he said. “Since this Communion went into crisis, the primates did not come together all the time as it was this year.

“We worked hard to keep the Communion at that time together,” he said, “so I would suggest that let it be adopted by ACC, so that we can keep the church of God together.”

Canon Elizabeth Paver, vice chairwoman, said Archbishop Welby had posed a direct request from the primates “that the ACC should also share in working through the consequences of our impaired relationship.”

“We put it to you: Are we individually and collectively willing to work together for mutual flourishing relationships?” She asked delegates who agreed with the request to applaud. Noting that a vote is “a divisive approach to any issue,” she asked the delegates, “Can we have our affirmation of our willingness as a body to walk together with the primates on these difficult issues?” Many delegates responded with applause and the session closed for tea.

The day’s final session began with remarks from two of the ACC’s ecumenical participants: Metropolitan Seraphim of Zambia, representative of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Rev. Chris Ferguson of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

Metropolitan Seraphim asked the prayers of the delegates for the Pan-Orthodox Synod (June 16-27), and presented the Archbishop of Canterbury with an icon of St. Cyprian, who led the Church at a time of great division. Cyprian is, the Metropolitan said, “an example of how to follow the example of the disciples of Christ to protect the unity of the Church.”

Ferguson, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, said that body’s decision to change its name from the “World Alliance” to the “World Communion” had been inspired by the Anglican Communion’s example of “deeply struggling to make known the koinonia of the Spirit.”

“I know I am on sacred ground,” Ferguson said, “as I watch you listen to each other.”

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, one of the Episcopal Church’s three delegates to the ACC, noted that the tone of conversations in her group was welcoming and respectful. “I was listened to with respect, and I listened to others with hopefully the same amount of respect, and I think we came to some deeper understandings of each other.”

“One of the reasons we are here are to strengthen the friendship … and we had a lot of conversation at our table about is it more important to be relational or juridical, and I came to the conclusion that one of the great things about Anglicanism is that we only do the juridical when we’ve done the relational, foundational work.”

Jennings said she was not concerned by the applause requested by Canon Paver about the Primates’ statements. “I was a little confused as were some of the members at my table,” she said, noting that she and others at her table did not applaud because they were not sure what was being asked. “I got a little lost in what was asked of us. There are always moments of confusion, so I expect that to happen in a meeting, and we’re still getting in the groove.”

Other delegates noted the warmth and respect across differences evident in table discussions.

“I think the image of walking together, which came out of the Primates’ Meeting, was certainly outlined today,” Bishop Cottrell said. “What I was hearing around my table was a great consensus not to in any way underestimate the challenges of doing that together, but to carry on doing it.”

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