[Episcopal News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby opened this week’s 18th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council with an address Feb. 12 that warned against “neo-colonial abuse” as he called for greater egalitarianism in how the Anglican Communion’s 42 provinces relate to each other.
“No one group should order the life and culture of another,” Welby said in his remarks to about 110 representatives from 39 of those 42 provinces, who are gathered in Accra, Ghana, for the Feb. 12-18 meeting. “Money, power, access to resources should never call the tune, yet such is the lust for power in all human beings – and I include myself, for I sin like everyone else – that one group always seeks to tell another what to do.”
The Anglican Consultative Council, or ACC, typically meets every three years for prayer, worship and discussions on the future of the Anglican Communion, which has a presence in 165 countries around the world. Each Anglican province may appoint and send up to three members to ACC, typically a bishop, another clergy member and a lay person. Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton, the Rev. Ranjit Mathews, a priest in the Diocese of Connecticut, and lay member Annette Buchanan, a former Union of Black Episcopalians president from the Diocese of New Jersey are representing The Episcopal Church in Ghana.
This meeting, hosted by the Province of West Africa, follows shortly after the Church of England’s General Synod met Feb. 6-9 in London and endorsed a plan to offer blessings for same-sex unions while stopping short of condoning same-sex marriage in the province’s churches. Same-sex marriage has been legal by civil law in England since 2014.
The conservative leaders of some Anglican provinces, particularly in Africa and Asia, have suggested that the Church of England’s actions call into question Welby’s ability to uphold the archbishop of Canterbury’s role as a “focus of unity” and one of four Anglican Instruments of Communion. The other three Instruments of Communion are the ACC, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops and the Primates’ Meeting.
Welby, in his half-hour opening address at ACC-18, addressed the role of the Instruments of Communion directly, saying it has evolved over the years but remains a key mechanism for bringing the Anglican provinces together.
The Instruments of Communion “have responded to changes caused by wars, colonialism, decolonizing, corruption and failure, heresies and schisms, technological and scientific advance. They have never had either doctrinal or ethical authority, but they have moral force,” Welby said. He asserted that they continue to offer “the way forward in mutual help where country comes after obedience to God.”
“My desire is to see Christ glorified in truth, and in my heart of hearts I can say with truth that is what I aim for,” Welby said. “I may well get things wrong but let me be clear – before other people outside this room gather to tell me what I must do – I will not cling to place or position as an Instrument of Communion provided the other instruments choose a new way. The instruments are just what their name suggests, they exist to serve the call of Christ.”
The Anglican Communion is made up of autonomous, interdependent churches that have historic roots in the Church of England. There is no central decision-making body in the Anglican Communion. Provinces have the authority only to make decisions for themselves.
The Anglican provinces of Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda have declined to send representatives to recent meetings of ACC, and they again are absent at this meeting. Those provinces’ conservative bishops have objected strongly to other provinces’ more progressive stances on issues such as same-sex marriage, including in The Episcopal Church.
Bishops from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda also were absent last summer from the Lambeth Conference.
In 2019, at ACC-17 in Hong Kong, differences on human sexuality sparked contentious debate, with Welby apologizing for how he handled the decision not to invite the spouses of gay and lesbian bishops to the subsequent Lambeth Conference. Members of that ACC ultimately agreed to a resolution that affirmed LGBTQ+ people “are fully welcomed in the life of the Anglican Communion.”
ACC-18’s main business gets underway Feb. 13, with reports on evangelism, theological education and “safe church” guidelines, as well as a report from the Anglican Communion’s secretary general, Bishop Anthony Poggo.
ACC members are expected to pay close attention to a presentation Feb. 14 by the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, which has studied the impact of impaired relations between some provinces over issues of human sexuality.
On Feb. 15, members will visit Cape Coast Castle, a former staging post where enslaved Africans were prepared for transport across the Atlantic to the Americas starting in the 1650s. ACC members are planning to participate in an unspecified “act of reconciliation” there, followed by a worship service in the nearby Christ Church Cathedral.
ACC also will elect a new chair, a new vice chair and five members of the Standing Committee on Feb. 16. The weeklong meeting will conclude on Feb. 18 with visits to Anglican parishes in Accra and a closing service at St. George’s Garrison Anglican Church.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.