Last week’s Church Times had a fascinating though lengthy letter from a Canadian, Pamela Bird headed Canadian and US Churches and the Anglican Consultative Council.
The whole letter should be read, but after reciting the history of the ACC’s constitution, based on her personal involvement at every stage, she writes this:
…It cannot, any more than Lambeth Conferences or Meetings of Primates, legislate for the Anglican Communion, but, because it consists of bishops, clergy and laity, duly appointed by their national synods, it does represent the whole weight of the whole body of Anglicanism. It cannot impinge on the autonomy of individual provinces any more than can Lambeth Conferences or Primates’ Meetings, but can make strong recommendations for their consideration.
This preliminary history is necessary to make it clear that the Anglican Consultative Council is not a “club” from which members may be expelled. It is meant more as a forum in which just such issues as sex orientation may be discussed, and a way forward may be discovered and developed.
There have been issues before this latest where solutions have been sought in love and understanding. The ordination of women was one such at its very first meeting, as was also grave misgiving in South Africa over some World Council actions and Anglican participation. The Communion didn’t fall apart, nor suggest that some of its members should withdraw. I should like to stress the word “members”, not “delegates”.
It beggars belief that the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States — two of the three prime architects of gatherings and fellowship in the Communion —should be invited to depart or should themselves consider it; or that others of the original member provinces should concur.
The 1978 Lambeth Conference was more cautious than the 1968 one, and back-pedalled furiously. What had been spawned? Bishops seemingly were afraid for their “authority”, and were precipitate in suggesting that the Primates should meet as often, though not necessarily at the same time, as the ACC. This was an episcopal decision only: it did not come from the General Synods or national governing bodies of the provinces, though presumably they were expected to finance the meetings.
Some of the provinces whose archbishops are so vociferous on a certain issue were not in existence when the Anglican Consultative Council was proposed and constituted, largely at the instigation of Canadians in the Anglican Church; the Canadian Church has been foremost in its support of Communion affairs, of MRI, especially in Africa, and the dismantling of apartheid.
Lambeth Conferences of bishops are attended by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury; Primates call themselves together; but the Anglican Consultative Council has a constitution, and exists by the will of the whole of Anglicanism. It must not be conned into thinking that other gatherings can ask its members to withdraw.
Having been so deeply involved in the formation and early history of the Anglican Consultative Council, and being both English and Canadian, I have very serious concern for the continuance of the Anglican Communion. It is unique in its philosophy of unity in diversity, and, through this, it has been able to reconcile many thorny questions. But if the African Primates in question persist in their current paths of thinking, I greatly fear a break-up is probable. In any case, it should be a matter for the ACC — including the Canadian Church and ECUSA — to ponder, until reconciliation is reached.
Anglican Mainstream has published the reply they sent, which is also in today’s Church Times.