[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has committed itself to “walk together” with the Primates of the Anglican Communion in response to Archbishop Justin Welby’s report on January’s Primates’ Gathering and Meeting in Canterbury, which called for “consequences” for the US-based Episcopal Church following its decision to change its regulations to allow same-sex marriage.
The Archbishop briefed members of the ACC last week about the Primates’ meeting; and this week they unanimously agreed a resolution backing the Primates’ decisions.
Speaking to ACNS last night, as he prepared to fly out of Lusaka at the end of the ACC-16 meeting, Archbishop Welby welcomed the resolution. “The actions of the ACC demonstrate that it is working in close collaboration with the Primates, as has been the aim since both started and is set out especially in Resolution 52 of the Lambeth Conference 1988,” Archbishop Welby said.
“Given that my report, referred to in the resolution, incorporated the Communiqué and was very explicit on consequences; the resolution clearly supports and accepts all the Primates’ Meeting conclusions.
“No member of the Episcopal Church stood for office in the ACC or Standing Committee. The consequences of the Primates meeting have been fully implemented.”
In his report to the ACC last week, during their meeting at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, Archbishop Welby said: “Like all the Instruments of Communion – whether the ACC, the [office of the] Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Lambeth Conference – the Primates' meeting has no legal authority over Provinces. Any kind of synodical control of that kind has been rejected since the first Lambeth Conference.
“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.
“Both before, but especially since Lambeth 1920, one of the great Lambeth conferences, reception has meant 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. Thus, issues in 1920 around contraception, in Lambeth 1930 and 1948 around divorce were at the time seen as threatening the unity of the Communion.
“We have been here before. And they were seen as as much of a serious difficulty as issues of sexuality today. Reception goes both ways. There has been a consensus against lay presidency, despite significant pressure in favour of it in the past, but the reception process ended up informally, relationally, not accepting it.
“Reception is not a legal process. It is a discernment of the Spirit based in relationship: relationship between dioceses, between people, between parishes and deaneries, between provinces, between Primates and between the Instruments of Communion and many others. It is a whole network of relationships that makes the Communion possible and in which we find authority.
“The importance of this is very great indeed. The Anglican Communion finds its decisions through spiritual discernment in relationship, not through canons and procedures. Primates’ Meetings, Lambeth Conferences and ACCs are not a question of winning and losing, but of discerning together in love.
“It is for that reason that historically it has been expected that the Primates and the ACC, which are very different bodies, should work in the closest co-operation . That was the phrase used in Lambeth 1978 and in Resolution 52 of 1988. The ACC is one of the ways in which the Communion is held together. It is made effective by the involvement of lay people, our main bulwark and defence against an unthinking clericalism.
“At the same time the long agreed understanding, since at least 1988 Lambeth, and re-emphasised in various reports, including the Eames report, is that the Primates, because of their positions as senior Bishops in their Provinces, have an enhanced responsibility”
He continued: “In January 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. This task was undertaken recognising that any process which would be agreed in these specific circumstances of January, will be developed so that it can also be applied to any province when any unilateral decisions on matters of doctrine and polity is taken that threatens our unity.
“There were critical points in the discussion when, if I am honest, it seemed that the decision would be made to walk apart. We were very close to that. However, after much discussion, if I quote the communiqué, we said: ‘The unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.’”
Despite agreeing to walk together, the Primates agreed that there should be “significant consequences”, Archbishop Welby said, because “we had recognised that we would walk together but necessarily at some time with a certain distance between us.”
Outlining the consequences for the Episcopal Church following their decision to change their church law to permit same-sex marriage, he said: “There is a time limited restriction in governance and representative roles; the Primates said that for a three-year period the Episcopal Church should not take part in decisions on matters of doctrine or polity. They 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.
“Moreover, because walking at a distance is not how it should be, a Task Group was appointed ‘to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.’ That Task Group has been set up. I was asked to create it. And it has been set up with a very wide representation on it of women and men, lay and ordained, from every part of the Communion.”
Responding to Archbishop Welby’s report, the Primate of South Sudan and Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak, proposed a resolution to ACC-16, affirming the commitment of the Primates to walk together.
The resolution also committed the ACC 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.”
The resolution was agreed unanimously by the ACC-16 on Monday. It was included in a batch of resolutions that the members agreed could be passed by assent without the need for debate and vote.
Later, in a press conference, Archbishop Welby was asked about whether the resolution included support for the consequences. He replied: “The consequences stand.”
Last week, the Bishop of Connecticut, in the Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd Ian Douglas, who had been widely expected to stand for election for the position of chair of the ACC, announced that he would not do so, saying: “While I pray that I can continue to be of service to the Anglican Communion in some new way in the future, I believe that my not pursuing election as chair of the ACC at this time will best facilitate our walking together in unity as the Anglican Communion, and that is my highest priority and my greatest hope and prayer.”
And on 11 April, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, issued a statement in which he said: “The terms of the Primates decision about The Episcopal Church have been followed through as far as is possible and legal. To say otherwise is misleading and wrong.
“The Archbishop of Canterbury has fulfilled his responsibilities and asked those members of interfaith or ecumenical bodies who are from TEC and whose appointment he controls, to stand down, and they have done so. In addition, as required, he has appointed a Task Group with representatives from across the communion.”
The resolution agreed by ACC-16 says:
The Anglican Consultative Council
- receives the formal report of the Archbishop of Canterbury to ACC-16 on the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting of January 2016; and
- affirms the commitment of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to walk together; and
- commits 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.