By Mark Michael
LUSAKA, Zambia — Though the Anglican Communion continues to face deep divisions, the Anglican Consultative Council closed its meeting today with a deep resolve to walk together.
“Our conversations were enriching, not embattling,” said the Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander, an ACC delegate from Canada.
“I genuinely felt there was an outstanding graciousness and generosity shown on all sides,” said the Most Rev. Richard Clarke, Archbishop of the Church of Ireland. “It was a real victory for the spirit of Anglicanism.”
The conference, meeting under the theme “Intentional Discipleship in a World of Difference,” drew together nearly 80 delegates from 34 of the Communion’s 37 provinces for 12 days at the historic Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Delegates approved a series of resolutions setting new priorities for the Anglican Communion in discipleship training, deepening youth participation, and working to combat climate change.
The meeting in Lusaka convened under the cloud of disagreement about the Primates’ Meeting in January. The primates outlined consequences for the Episcopal Church’s decision to allow marital blessings for same-sex couples.
Some predicted that delegates from more liberal provinces would openly challenge this recommendation, especially by electing Episcopalians as members of the ACC’s standing committee, in defiance of the primates’ urging that Episcopalians “not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee.”
On April 8, the opening day of the conference, Archbishop Justin Welby reported to ACC delegates on the Primates’ Meeting, urging them to work cooperatively with them in the interests of church unity. After Archbishop Welby’s report, the most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul of South Sudan spoke at length, urging delegates to indicate their support for the primates’ decision “to keep the church together.”
After further discussion in small groups, Canon Elizabeth Paver, the ACC’s vice chairwoman, asked delegates to indicate their “affirmation of our willingness as a body to walk together with the primates on these difficult issues” by applauding. Many delegates professed themselves confused about whether this gesture was a direct affirmation of the primates’ decision or a general consent to the notion of cooperation.
A few days later, though, the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, who was attending his fourth ACC meeting as a representative of the Episcopal Church, said he would not stand for election as ACC chairman.
In an open letter to ACC delegates, Douglas said his decision was based on a desire to “best facilitate our walking together in unity as the Anglican Communion.” The two other Episcopal Church delegates, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and Canon Rosalie Ballentine, also decided not to stand for election as members of the ACC’s standing committee.
The primates’ decision did not return again to the ACC’s attention until the penultimate day of the meeting, when delegates considered a motion proposed by Archbishop Deng Bul that asked them to “receive the report” of the Primates’ Meeting, while also “affirm[ing] the commitment of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to walk together; and commit[ing] to continue to seek appropriate ways for the provinces of the Anglican Communion to walk together with each other and with the Primates and other Instruments of Communion.”
Delegates approved the motion without protest or amendment as part of the consent agenda. In a subsequent press conference, Archbishop Welby directly said the ACC’s decision to receive the report included an affirmation of the consequences for the Episcopal Church outlined by the primates. “The ACC received my report, which included those consequences,” the archbishop said. “The consequences stand.”
The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Communion’s secretary general, said he was pleased and surprised by how easy it had been to secure approval from the ACC for this decision.
“The surprising thing for me is the continuity between what the primates came up with and ACC,” he said. “I know there were people expecting the ACC to lock horns, and it didn’t happen. … It means I can with boldness go, and wherever I go in the Communion, I can say, yes, we are together.”
Intentional discipleship, following Christ together in the midst of a challenging world was the broader focus on the gathering. The tone of the meeting shifted dramatically on the second day, as delegates gathered in intentionally mixed small groups and discussed the challenges faced by Anglicans in their respective regions. Strikingly similar challenges in dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons, gun violence, climate change, persecution, gender equality, and helping youth grow in faith in increasingly secular societies came from many different parts of the Anglican world.
After this discussion, the conference’s focus shifted toward several of these pressing issues, especially youth engagement, climate change, and religiously based violence. Archbishop Welby highlighted the latter two issues as major “global and generational challenges” in both his address to a Young Green Anglicans gathering before the conference began and in his presidential address on April 15.
Facing these two challenges, Welby said, will be an integral part of intentional discipleship in the coming era, because both “can only be confronted with a theological and ideological approach and with a story, with a narrative, that is sufficiently powerful to overcome the natural selfishness of one generation, or the selfishness of countries which are more secure.”
Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making: An Anglican Guide for Christian Life and Formation, a theological resource prepared by the Communion’s Mission Office, was cited repeatedly by presenters throughout the conference, and discussed at length by ACC delegates. Delegates commended the document and committed the Communion to beginning a season of focus on intentional discipleship. They urged parishes, dioceses, and provinces to make the issue a priority in their life and work, and to develop locally appropriate resources to encourage that work.
Action on climate change was the focus of a plenary session presented by members of the Young Green Anglicans Movement in Central and Southern Africa, as well as several senior church leaders who have been working in this field. Speakers called for urgent action in the face of the climate crisis, and offered concrete suggestions about projects that were working well in their local contexts.
In response, ACC delegates adopted a resolution about climate change proposed by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, which Archbishop Welby agreed to serve as chairman and patron. The resolution, the most complex and detailed one approved by the body, outlined a series of recommended initiatives, including developing eco-friendly investment policies, stressing energy efficiency in church operations, and advocating on behalf of those affected by natural disasters related to climate change. Delegates also adopted resolutions allowing for electronic Communion-wide meetings to reduce the church’s carbon footprint.
Delegates learned a great deal about church life in the Province of Central Africa, especially through a day conference presented by parish ministries from the Diocese of Lusaka. The key focus of the day conference was a call to the wider church to engage creatively with emerging culture. Youth panelists called on Communion members to try new strategies in worship and communication to connect with the spiritual longings of young people, and to take their voices seriously in determining priorities. In response, delegates voted to revive the Anglican Communion Youth Network, and to substantially increase youth representation at future ACC meetings.
Many delegates said their most profound experiences of the ACC gathering came in times of shared Bible study and worship. For Archbishop Welby, the Festival Eucharist held on the Cathedral grounds, which formally opened the proceedings and gathered 5,000 Anglicans from across the Province of Central Africa, was the high note: “We had the Word, the Sacrament, and this hugely joyful celebration that summed up what the church is about.”
In a session for feedback, many delegates praised on the beauty and power of the choral singing they had experienced. Wilfrid Baker of the Church of Ireland said, “It showed me that there is an enthusiasm and a joyfulness about the worship that we have, to a large extent, lost in the North.”
Canon Paver said she was considering whether “our own services need to be longer” to match the celebrations of two to three hours common in Zambian Anglicanism.
Many delegates said the experience had reaffirmed their trust in Archbishop Welby’s leadership, especially his ability to calm tensions, help delegates look outward, and find creative ways of working together to face common challenges.
“The unifying factor centers on our Archbishop Welby,” delegate Charles Leong of South East Asia said. “I think he is a man to bring this Communion together as a big family. The main thing was that we should look beyond our differences and focus on the love of Christ and the common good of our Communion.”
Several delegates said their experience had deepened their hope for the future of the Communion, and changed their opinions about the role the ACC can play in the life of the wider church.
“I said before I came here that I was a skeptic about large international church conferences, which I saw as a massive waste of time and money,” Baker said. “However, this one has changed my thinking. I have come to realize that I am not just a member of the Church of Ireland, not just a member of my parish community, but I am part of this Communion with so many interesting people, and I have learned about all their challenges, and what we can learn from them.”
Delegates responded with sustained applause.