The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, waits for the press conference to begin.
While it “hasn’t necessarily dealt with the problems of the Anglican Communion once and for all,” the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting has enabled members to “build solid relationships with the local church and with one another,” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said on May 12, the final day of the 12-day council meeting.
“It has deepened our sense of obligation to, and involvement with, each other,” he said. His assessment of a meeting where delegates emerged “more hopeful” about prospects for the Anglican Communion was echoed by ACC delegates in a plenary, where they discussed key messages that they would bring back to their churches.
In a press conference on the last day of the ACC meeting, Archbishop Williams cautioned The Episcopal Church (TEC), whose General Convention is scheduled to be held this summer, against possible action ignoring the call for “gracious restraint” on the ordination of persons living in same-gender unions to the episcopate and on same-sex blessings. Those moratoria, including cross-provincial interventions, were recommended by the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) and endorsed by this ACC meeting.
“I think actions on that resolution would instantly suggest to many people that The Episcopal Church would prefer not to go down the route of closer (relationships). That’s how it will be perceived,” he said in response to a question as to whether such action could push what he had warned as a possibility of the Anglican Communion splitting into a federation.
In his presidential address May 11, Archbishop Williams talked about the “inevitability” of the communion converting into a federation if not all member provinces sign on to the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.
Asked how the process of converting the communion into a federation might evolve, Archbishop Williams said, “I have no idea how we may recast ourselves.” But he said that the ACC would have a “considerable” role to play if the creation of a federation ever happens, a notion which he reiterated was not one that he favoured.
Asked whether the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation might be a useful model to look at, he said, “It’s an interesting analogy.” He said that within the LWF there are churches which have a closer relationship with each other like the Scandinavian and Baltic churches and those “which are part of the same federation that don’t have that common ministry and mutual agreements which links those churches with Scandinavia and Baltic…”
He also reiterated his earlier statement that he believes “you could imagine a federation structure in which the current Instruments of Communion still have a role in it.”
Asked whether all discussions about a possible reshaping of the Communion affects the church’s mission, he said, “I suspect that for 90 per cent of Anglicans across the world, it doesn’t. People will do the work of God as they see fit, in prayer and dedication in their local settings. I believe very strongly that it is better to have a closer communion relationship.” But he added that “a lot will still go on…God finds ingenious ways to get around our ecclesiastical dead ends.”
On what could account for the change in the mood of this meeting and the recent primates’ meeting, the archbishop said, “Some of it is probably the healing effect of time. The issues are not quite as raw as they were.” He said that after the “very stressful experience” of the primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam, the primates themselves realized “that they did have to work and pray a bit more constructively together and approach each more gently.”
The structure of this ACC meeting, where delegates were divided into “discernment groups” to reflect the African concept of indaba (Zulu word for “purposeful listening”) used in the 2008 Lambeth Conference, was helpful, he said. “It underlines that we are not simply processing people into plenary or leaving the relationship building entirely to Bible study groups.” It was where, he said, “tough issues can be confronted without having to take votes.”
For the first time in the ACC’s history, Anglican networks were also given more time and space. He noted that, in the past, networks would simply present a report to the ACC. This time, delegates were given a chance to connect with network representatives who talked about their group’s work. “It gave the sense that the networks are really doing what the communion wants them to do,” he said.
Archbishop Williams said that while he, like other delegates, noted the “procedural tangle” that took place during the voting for various resolutions – most notably that which dealt with the Ridley-Cambridge draft of the Covenant – “nothing irregular happened” at that vote.