OCTOBER 11, 1996 - PANAMA CITY, PANAMA - Anglicans from around the world began a 10-day meeting here to help develop a vision for the church in the third Christian millennium.
The more than 80 members of the Anglican Consultative Council represent bishops, priests and deacons and lay people from the 36 major branches of the Anglican Church. It has met every three years since 1971.
"What kind of church is God calling us to be for the third millennium?" is the question the council must wrestle with, said Archbishop Brian Davis, primate of Aoteroa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Members represent all the inhabited continents and come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
"We have come here to share our stories, painful and joyful," said council vice-chairman Bishop Simon Chiwanga of Mpwapwa in Tanzania, encouraging members to listen carefully to each other. "We are committed to the mission of the church in a holistic manner," he said. At least on member was prevented from attending the council by a government.
Nigeria's military rulers seized the passport of Chief Ajayi, a lay delegate from Lagos. The country has been blacklisted by the Commonwealth for failing to accept the results of democratic elections and for executing some of its critics. Council chairman Canon Colin Craston said the church "has to react to the changing context of the times," keeping in mind the "good of the past to build for the future."
In his opening address to members, Canon Craston said the strength of the council is that it represents both major forms of authority in the church: the "dispersed authority" which Jesus gave to the whole church and more focused authority of the bishops, seen as successors to the apostles.
He encouraged "creative collaboration" between bishops and laity and clergy at the meeting but said the council needs more even representation from its three major groups. Bishops still dominate the council.
Bishop Chiwanga also hinted at one of the biggest issues facing the council, grappling with reduced funding. He said Canadian primate Archbishop Michael Peers would help the council decide what it can afford to do in the next few years. Although the council has no governing authority, it is regarded by Anglicans as one of the three main focuses of authority and unity in the worldwide Anglican Church.
The others are the Lambeth Conference, which meets every 10 years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the annual meeting of the primates - the chief bishops - of the provinces of the communion.
At the opening, the council welcomed two new provinces, Mexico and South East Asia. Provinces are geographic regions in the church, headed by a chief bishop called a primate, and usually comprised of several dioceses. The council maintains offices and staff in London and assists Anglican churches throughout the world in a variety of ways, including patterns of worship, ecumenical talks with other churches and faiths and helping Anglicans around the world understand each other better through various kinds of communication.