ACO Calls for Staff Reductions and Streamlined Work

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, outside the Anglican Communion Office

By Mark Michael

A smaller staff and a move away from centralized programs should be the way forward for the Anglican Communion Office, says a review made public on January 19. A Case for Organizational Change was presented to the staff of the London-based secretariat led by Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Communion’s Secretary General, last week. A significant number of its staff, some of whom have been furloughed since the beginning of the pandemic, will likely become redundant if the plans are fully enacted.

While the need for streamlining was partly driven by COVID-19 shortfalls in donations from Anglican provinces, “The first and primary driver was changes within the Anglican Communion which support a re-focusing of work undertaken by staff of the ACC towards support for the Instruments of Communion and those areas of work which cannot be undertaken more effectively through provinces, regions or other agencies”, the Case for Organizational Change said. The four Instruments of Communion include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council

The independent review was commissioned by the Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee in May and chaired by the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The review team included members from across the Communion, and their initial recommendations were developed into proposals by a subgroup of the Communion’s Standing Committee led by the body’s Vice Chair, Margaret Swinson.

Most of the secretariat staff, who currently lead programs focused on ecumenism, education, discipleship, the needs of women and indigenous people, and mission, are employed by the Anglican Consultative Council. Staff responsible for the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Alliance, which coordinates relief, development, and advocacy work, are separately employed, and were not fully included in the review.

Both the secretariat and the Anglican Consultative Council grew out of a push for deeper cooperation between provinces that began in 1959 with the appointment of the Rt. Rev. Stephen Bayne, then Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, as the Anglican Communion’s first executive officer. Bayne’s vision reached a high point at the 1963 Anglican Congress in Toronto, where delegates approved a document he had largely drafted titled “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ” (MRI). The statement sought to move beyond Anglicanism’s colonialist and hierarchical roots, declaring that “our unity in Christ… is the most profound bond among us, in all our political and racial and cultural diversity.”

The Anglican Consultative Council, the only Instrument of Communion that includes lay and non-episcopal representation, was founded six years later, largely to further the MRI goals of advancing cooperative work between provinces. Meeting more regularly than the other Instruments of Communion, the ACC has largely overseen the Anglican Communion Office staff since, financing its operations through requested, but voluntary, donations from the Communion’s provinces. The Compass Rose Society, a largely US-led charity, provides additional support for operations and special projects.

Securing sufficient funding has been difficult in recent years. In a report presented at the 2019 ACC Meeting, the Secretary General wrote, “The current budget position is unsustainable.… [W]e are seeking to address this through a budget proposal for the six-year period 2020-25 and a new formula for provincial contributions which ties contributions to the size and financial well-being of each province. There are also proposals for what happens when provinces do not contribute.”

He added, “Income to the Inter-Anglican Budget is dominated by provincial contributions. However, there is a heavy reliance on a small number of provinces to provide most of the income: 67% comes from two provinces, 94% comes from 10 provinces.”

Those two provinces are the Church of England, which contributed 41.4% that year, and the Episcopal Church, which contributed 21.9%. While the press release acknowledges that the pandemic has affected the Anglican Communion Office’s finances, details about contributions from the provinces since the pandemic have not been made public. The Episcopal Church reported relative financial stability several months into the pandemic, expecting to need only minor budget cuts in 2020. But the impact on the Church of England may be severe, with some estimating overall financial losses as high as £150 million, or about $200 million.

The Case for Organizational Change, however, suggested that finances were not the primary driver for slimming down the secretariat’s work. Instead, expecting provinces to rise to the challenge of designing and implementing their own programs takes fuller account of the growing capacity of once-dependent provinces. “The resource gaps between provinces in terms of education and technology have reduced significantly and the resource available to the Communion has increased as a result,” it concluded.

“The more centralized approach which currently dominates project / program work, has a negative impact on diversity and inclusion and does not reflect the breadth of culture and diversity represented in the Communion, in particular those parts of the Communion who do not have English as their first language or as an official language of their country or province.” the report continued.

Idowu-Fearon agreed, suggesting that the new collaborative focus allows a greater recovery of the secretariat’s founding vision. He said, “This review takes us back to the original rationale behind the setting up of the ACO. The new structure will enable the ACO to assist the 41 provinces to act out our Five Marks of Mission in a united collaborative manner, as well as enable them to become the family of churches that God wants us to be in order to advance God’s mission.”

The Anglican Alliance, the Communion’s newest major initiative — launched in 2010 — could provide a helpful blueprint for this future collaborative work. The Alliance is a networking and communications-focused organization. It provides no direct funding for local projects, focusing instead on coordinating partnerships between provincial relief, development, and advocacy groups.

The transition is timely, as several large Communion-wide programs managed by secretariat staff have wound down in recent years. Continuing Indaba and The Bible in the Life of Church both sought to establish common ground in the midst of Anglicans’ widening divisions over human sexuality and related issues. Their effective impact is difficult to measure, but the primates and the ACC have shown little interest in launching similar large projects in recent years.

The development of a parallel GAFCON secretariat (with its own set of programmatic initiatives) may also be a factor in the shifting focus, as some Global South provinces have repeatedly taken umbrage at the notion of a “Canterbury-defined” Anglican Communion. They have focused their growing capacity on projects and programs that share a more consistent and thorough conservative ethos.


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