By Zachary Guiliano

The 17th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council began April 28 in Hong Kong, with 99 members gathering from 37 of the Anglican Communion’s 40 provinces. The Anglican churches in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda did not send delegates.

From the first press conference onward, Abp. Justin Welby and the Anglican Communion’s Secretary General, Abp. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, repeatedly downplayed the ACC’s ability to address internal divisions in the Communion, even though they are not far from the surface, being raised by reporters and delegates.

They appealed to the ACC’s constitution and the nature of other Instruments of Communion, along with broader evocations of the Anglican way. Welby has also suggested that Communion divisions on issues such as same-sex marriage are simply intractable “because we will not agree on that point.”

In response to a question by Mary Frances Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service, Welby said the ACC will not formally address his decision not to invite the same-sex partners of three North American bishops to the Lambeth Conference. The agenda has not made provision for discussing the matter, though it will discuss the Conference more generally.

Welby said the power of invitation has rested with the Archbishop of Canterbury since the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, but he also appealed to the constitution of the ACC, which is subject to British law. “Doctrine is not one of the issues that it does,” he said.

As part of this meeting, however, the ACC will hear several reports from the Inter Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith, and Order that touch on items of doctrine that have formerly proved divisive, including the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, originally produced by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation as a way to heal Reformation divisions.

The consideration of such reports is in line with actions committed by previous meetings, such as ACC-16’s reception of an agreed statement on Christology from the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Commission, meant to undo divisions that began after the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

At an opening press conference and in later speeches, Welby and Idowu-Fearon evoked the character of Anglicanism as a reason that the ACC, as well as other Instruments of Communion like the Lambeth Conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury, could not make decisions binding on the rest of the Communion, although Idowu-Fearon urged provinces to own the decisions of ACC through their provincial synods, after discussion and debate.

A “global synodical system,” on the other hand, “has always been entirely contrary to the Anglican way of doing things,” Welby said. “Provinces are autonomous but interdependent,” and a decision made at the ACC instead “percolates through” the Communion informally.

ACNS

During the first three days of the meeting, Welby and Idowu-Fearon repeatedly contrasted Anglican decision-making with the polity of the Roman Catholic Church, noting that the Archbishop of Canterbury is “not a pope” and the Anglican Communion is not a “top-down, hierarchical” body.

Idowu-Fearon made those comments particularly in remarks [YouTube] that expanded on his written report.

Decrying ignorance of the character of Anglicanism in many provinces, he said Anglican polity involves consultation among bishops, clergy, and laity. He singled out GAFCON and Global South provinces in particular.

“But I’m sharing with you that, in a good number of our provinces and dioceses, particularly in the Global South, there are no debates,” he said. “When you get to some of them you think — and pardon me if some people are offended by this — you would think we are a Roman Church, where decisions are taken and passed down.

“There are no debates, and, where you have debates, they are not well-informed. This is a major problem.”

Idowu-Fearon later clarified that he had not intended to denigrate the Roman Catholic Church or claim that Anglican polity was better than Catholic polity. He apologized to the Rev. Anthony Currer of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who is present at ACC-17 as an ecumenical observer.

Unity for Mission

In his presidential address, Welby returned to the theme of unity, emphasizing the need for Anglicans to work together to proclaim the gospel and address the problems of the world.

“God invites us not only to unburden ourselves of our own sin and suffering, but in his grace constrains us to extend the experience of his love to others,” he said. “That is not even the end of it — we do not have to do it alone. Jesus is with us always, as he promises, even ‘to the very end of the age.’ We, as individuals, as parishes, as dioceses, as the Church, are offered the chance to be so suffused with the grace of God and love of Christ that it spills into every corner of the earth, a light in the darkness of a hurting world and a promise of eternal hope.”

He highlighted the recent work of the South Sudanese Council of Churches, addressing a lengthy and costly civil war. It was given a boost by Anglican and Roman Catholics working together, culminating in part with an astonishing gesture at a recent spiritual retreat for South Sudanese political leaders, led by Welby, Pope Francis, and a former moderator of the Church of Scotland.

At one point in the meeting, the pope kissed the shoes of the Sudanese leaders and begged them to work together.

“For the first time since the Reformation, Reformed, Anglican, and Catholic Church leaders came together,” Welby said. “The day, the Thursday before Palm Sunday, ended powerfully with a commitment to implementing the 2018 peace agreement negotiated by political leaders the previous year. … I have no doubt that many will seek to destroy the peace agreement. But this work is led locally by the [South Sudanese Council of Churches] with the extraordinary example of our own Archbishop Justin Badi, with courage, decision, and inspiration, and the bishops of the Anglican Church in the South Sudan. It was led locally but supported globally by the Communion. And that is what our unity brings. Without our unity that could not happen.

“We cannot condemn whole nations to absence of help, neglect of support, solitary suffering through indulging in the luxury of disunity. We cannot abandon the victims of such wars, neglect the persecuted, forget the poor, ignore climate change, fail to preach the gospel with the intention of making disciples, because we think our issues more important.”

With reporting by Paul Handley of Church Times and Mary Frances Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service

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