Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has expressed the hope that the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting will move through “some of the difficult business” involving the Anglican Communion’s structures and issues “towards a proper focus on theology and on mission.”
Speaking at the opening plenary session late Saturday afternoon, May 2, Archbishop Williams said that “a proper focus on mission is one of the elements that most securely and profoundly binds us together as a Communion.” The Anglican Communion, composed of 80 million Anglicans in 44 regional and national churches in more than 160 countries, has been deeply divided in recent years over the issue of sexuality.
A major part of what Archbishop Williams described as “quite a full agenda” is the proposed Anglican Covenant. The ACC has to decide at this meeting whether the third and final draft of the proposed common covenant should be sent to member churches of the Anglican Communion for consideration.
Archbishop Williams, who is also president of the ACC, said that organizers of the ACC meeting have tried to apply some of the lessons learned from the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of Anglican bishops worldwide in Canterbury, England. “Among those lessons, one of the most important I think was this: In large groups, people will, for most part, only speak if they can trust those around them, and they will trust those around them to hear what they say if they have some experience, at depth, talking, praying, relating together,” he said. “During the course of the Lambeth Conference, many precious relationships were created that way…”
At this ACC meeting, delegates will be divided into “discernment groups,” a variation of the indaba, an African concept adopted at Lambeth, where bishops were divided into small groups and each participant was encouraged and given a chance to speak. Like Lambeth, each day at the ACC meeting, groups will have Bible Study sessions.
Both the discernment groups and Bible study sessions will serve as the “backdrop for decision-making,” said Archbishop Williams.
“Unlike the Lambeth Conference, we do have a constitution and the constitution requires us to make certain decisions with clarity,” he said. “We hope that out of this council will come some clear direction about the future of the covenant and also some clear direction about what the instruments of communion might be doing to respond to the challenges of the Windsor Report and to move forward with new, more responsive, flexible…ways to respond to the crisis that the Communion continues to face.”
Archbishop Williams urged the delegates and members of the local host diocese – Jamaica and the Cayman Islands – for prayers so that “our discernment may be faithful, careful and clear.”
In the last few days of the meeting, he said that delegates would be introduced to the Bible in the Life of the Church project, which he described as “part of our attempt as a Communion to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries of God’s word and find out what’s being said to the church today.” He said it would be “an opportunity for reflection” and sharing on the ways the Bible is interpreted across the Communion and on the mission of the church.
During a lecture in Toronto in 2007, Archbishop Williams had lamented what he called the lack of “rootedness” in the Anglican approach to Scripture and said “we’ve lost quite a bit of what was once a rather good Anglican practice of reading the Bible in the tradition of interpretation.”
Archbishop Williams also explained the importance of the ACC’s involvement in the life of local churches worldwide. “How do we explain to parishes why we’re here, what we’re doing and why we matter? The answer to that – part of it is that when we do meet we attempt to listen to the immediate reality of the local church,” he said. “I know that we will be deeply enriched by the experience of the church on this island.” He said that while there will be occasion when delegates will be “treated to parties and the delights of Jamaican social life,” they will also “be able to see other aspects of the kingdom of God in this diocese.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Errol Brooks, who is in charge of the Church of the Province of the West Indies pending the election of a new primate, said the hosting of the ACC meeting in Jamaica is a sign that his church’s commitment to the Anglican Communion is “unwavering.” He also said it was an indication of his church’s desire “to strengthen the bonds that hold us together.”
The Anglican Province of the West Indies is composed of two mainland dioceses and six island dioceses, including Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Nassau and the Bahamas, Tobago, Trinidad and the Windward Islands.