What really happened at the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC 17)?

In a longer than usual post, Andrew Atherstone offers a fascinating account of the meeting in Hong Kong:

It has been a great privilege, and in many ways a joy, to attend the seventeenth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-17) in Hong Kong, as part of the Church of England’s delegation. We spent eight days enjoying the abundant hospitality of our hosts and discovering the impressive ministry of Hong Kong Anglicanism, especially its serious investment in programmes for social transformation like schools and hospitals. In our business sessions, we were introduced to many global Anglican initiatives such as the nurturing of Anglican women leaders, the promotion of intentional discipleship (and a new suite of resources called Jesus-Shaped Life), the vital work of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission, the relief coordinated by the Anglican Alliance in areas of catastrophe like cyclone-hit Mozambique, and the worldwide reach of Thy Kingdom Come in praying for Christian conversions. We nodded at ecumenical agreements, were briefed on the latest plans for Lambeth 2020, and engaged with multiple Anglican networks concerning ‘peace and justice’, health care, church planting, liturgy, and environmentalism. In line with the Five Marks of Mission, there was something for everyone, both gospel proclamation and social justice, with a weighting towards the latter. It was an excellent week for building better cohesion in the Anglican world, and forming new friendships.

But ACC-17 also raises a number of significant questions about the future of Anglicanism and the interrelationship of the four Anglican ‘instruments of communion’. This article offers some personal reflections and critique.

Facing our Disunity

One of the greatest joys of ACC is the opportunity to encounter Anglicans from so many different contexts and cultures across the globe. The number of provinces continues to rise: currently 40, with the recent addition of Sudan in July 2017 and Chile in November 2018; soon to be 42 with new provinces of Sri Lanka and North Africa. Every province may send two delegates to the ACC (one laity, one clergy), and larger provinces also send a bishop, so there are approximately 100 members, of every Anglican variety, speaking Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, English, French, Korean, Japanese, Maori, Portuguese, Samoan, Spanish, Swahili, Zulu, and other tongues. It was beautiful to hear the Scriptures being read in many different languages, and to hear the testimonies of Anglicans from the other side of the globe who share a common faith in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately our times of worship did not reflect that global diversity, and felt more like sitting in a monochrome middle-to-high English parish church. Four of the five midday Communion services were led by white Westerners – from Canada, Mexico (an American ex-pat), Scotland, and New Zealand – robed in Anglo-Catholic vestments. The fifth was led by a black bishop from Tanzania, in rochet and chimere, though in identical liturgical format. There was no sign of the vibrancy of worship that we might expect from an international gathering, especially one with such a large number of Africans present. No extempore prayer, no hand raised in praise, no dancing, no exposition of Scripture at any point in the week (apart from the opening and closing sermons in St John’s Cathedral). The daily small group Bible studies on the Walk to Emmaus (Luke 24) limped along mournfully. The joy of the gospel was to be found in personal encounters, but not often in plenary.

Overseeing the ACC’s work is the standing committee of 14 elected representatives: a chair and vice-chair, five primates elected by their fellow primates from five global regions, and seven others elected from the ACC membership. The current standing committee are spread across the five regions:

  • 4 from Africa – Kenya, Southern Africa (x 2), Tanzania
  • 3 from the Americas – Canada, Central America (x 2)
  • 3 from Asia – Hong Kong, Jerusalem and the Middle East (x 2)
  • 3 from Europe – England, Ireland, Scotland
  • 1 from Oceania – Australia

But of these 14, there are 10 men and 4 women; or 8 bishops, 1 clergy and 5 laity. So there are lots of purple shirts, and a male-dominated committee, even in what is intended as the most representative of the ‘instruments of communion’.

Amongst some wonderful moments of delight in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our deep doctrinal disagreements as Anglicans also rumbled along in the background, occasionally breaking cover. One unresolved question is the impact upon the ACC of the ‘consequences’ imposed upon provinces which have changed their doctrine of marriage. In June 2015, The Episcopal Church (TEC) formally changed its marriage canons, so the primates meeting in January 2016 announced that, for a period of three years, members of TEC would

no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity. (Primates Communique, 2016)

The Scottish Episcopal Church changed its marriage canons in June 2017, so the primates meeting in October 2017 applied identical restrictions to that province for three years (i.e. until October 2020), though with the added force that ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury will take steps within his authority to implement this agreement’ (Primates Communique, 2017). The Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil also changed its marriage canons in June 2018, but because the primates have not met since then, they remain unrestricted. Meanwhile the restrictions on TEC timed out in January 2019. So although TEC, Scotland, and Brazil have all changed their doctrine of marriage, only Scotland is restricted. Formal doctrinal change is also expected soon in Canada, New Zealand, and Wales. This situation is farcical. When the primates next meet in Amman, Jordan, in January 2020, they need to clarify whether these restrictions apply to any and every province which has, or might henceforth, change their canons, and what precisely it means to be excluded from standing committees and decisions on doctrine or polity, so far as the ACC and the Lambeth Conference are concerned. The ‘consequences’ need more substance. We are facing a situation in which a growing group of progressive provinces is increasingly marked out from the rest of the Anglican Communion, and some form of clearer differentiation between us is needed or the Communion will implode.

One visible form of differentiation is to decline eucharistic fellowship. This was my approach to ACC-17. Although I attended all eight communion services, to listen to the Word of God, and to engage in prayer and praise, I did not receive communion because it would be misleading to share the sacrament of unity when our unity is so badly broken. We are all part of the Anglican Communion, but we are not all ‘in communion’. If receiving communion together is a sine qua non of inter-provincial Anglican gatherings like the ACC and the Lambeth Conference, then the only option is to stay away. But by making our lack of communion explicit, space is opened up for us to come together in the same room for consultation and conference. A greater number of orthodox bishops will feel able to attend Lambeth 2020 if the organizers explicitly make provision for those who do not feel able, as a matter of theological conscience, to share communion in that setting.

Events like the ACC or the Lambeth Conference are too easily spun as a show of Anglican unity. We bury our heads in the sand, keep controversial topics off the table, and smile for the cameras, as if all is well in the Anglican world. But the best way to promote unity is to face our disunity full in the face. And when we do so, then it becomes possible to continue to meet together to discuss our differences and topics of common concern, without pretense. At the ACC, I happened to be placed on a table including delegations from Scotland and Brazil. Our spiritual unity is disrupted, and we were not able to share communion. But we were able to study the Bible together, to pray for one another, to listen and learn and laugh together. Indeed those interactions were, for me personally, one of the highlights of the ACC, as we sought to understand one another better. In preparation for attending ACC-17, I began a habit of praying the collect used by the St Anselm Community at Lambeth Palace:

Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one,
we pray to you for the unity of Christians,
according to your will, according to your means.
May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division,
to see our sin, and to hope beyond all hope.
Amen

In God’s grace, the suffering caused by division has begun to strike home to me in new ways, not least in the daily pain of separation at the Lord’s Table. But experiencing and acknowledging the pain of our disunity motivates us to renewed efforts towards unity, and is healthier than the popular proclamation of a false peace.

Silencing the ACC’s Voice

In some ways, the ACC is remarkably informal. There are very limited standing orders, with almost total discretion given to the chair. Members are encouraged to seek consensus in conversation, perhaps in the bar late at night, rather than to clash in public. And resolutions are normally put with a broad question, ‘Are you content to give your general assent to this resolution?’, to which the room simply replies, ‘Yes’. Votes are only taken in rare circumstances, and the proceedings are almost always good-natured. It is mercifully unlike any normal synodical process.

On the other hand, however, the ACC is very tightly controlled. It is designed to prevent the voices of ACC members being heard. Partly this is the result of a strong English-language institutional bias which disenfranchises Anglicans from other cultures. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address was printed in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, but almost every other presentation or contribution from the floor was entirely in English. Likewise every resolution – some of them complex or controversial – was only in English. But English is a first-language only for a minority of delegates, and although those who struggle in the medium were invited to bring a translator with them, very few did. Even when discussing trivial questions in the breaks, like the weather or the food, some found it impossible to understand each other. So the likelihood of being able to build a common cause, or to converse constructively on the finer points of Anglican polity, is minimal unless much more is done to facilitate cross-cultural communication. As a result, it is easy for the executive to control the agenda, while the delegates remain as confounded as the builders of Babel.

One strategy was to keep talking at us. Although delegates were arranged around circular tables, for most of the week we might as well have been in a lecture theatre. The agenda was filled by long presentations, all in themselves excellent but allowing only a few brief questions from the floor or snatched comments at tables which were then scribbled on scraps of paper as feedback. It would have been more economic simply to send us the presentations on a DVD in the post, rather than flying us all to Hong Kong for information download.

Another strategy was to quash any discussion of sensitive subjects, with the frequent protestation that at the ACC ‘we don’t do doctrine’ (reminiscent of New Labour’s ‘we don’t do God’). Repeated requests that ‘free time’ in the programme be devoted to facilitated small group discussion were met by the executive with a brick wall. They argued that according to the ACC’s constitution, its object is ‘to advance the Christian religion and in particular to promote the unity and purposes of the Churches of the Anglican Communion in mission, evangelism, ecumenical relations, communication, administration and finance’ (Constitution 4). This object does not mention doctrine, so it is outside our competence to discuss it. QED! For this reason, a presentation on the Church of England’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project on human identity, sexuality and marriage was put in a special category all of its own. It was on the ACC’s programme, but not technically part of the formal agenda, lest ACC members mistakenly assumed that such a subject might be their business.

This argument is irrational and felt to delegates like a dodge. It is clearly not the ACC’s role to define Anglican doctrine. But it is perfectly within its competence to discuss the relationship between provinces, the actions of the other ‘instruments of communion’, and reasons behind our strained relationships. Recent meetings of the ACC have passed resolutions on subjects such as the Anglican Communion Covenant, the Continuing Indaba Process, and the primates desire to ‘walk together’, not to mention numerous ecumenical agreements, all of which have doctrinal dimensions. Indeed ACC-17 has just assumed authority for the reception of ecumenical texts in the Anglican Communion, a deeply doctrinal undertaking.

If the ACC is to live up to its name as a consultative council, then delegates must be allowed to consult. The fact that the agenda is too full to allow much discussion is a poor excuse. ACC-17 was five days shorter than ACC-16, but if we have saved time by undermining our consultative function, then the meeting has been pruned too much. To fly 100 Anglicans around the world, at great expense, and not allow them to engage properly, for fear of what they might say, is a travesty and a missed opportunity.

Oklahoma and Oxford

The executive strategy of silencing sensitive topics backfired spectacularly on the final afternoon. Two resolutions which touched on Anglican polity were held back until the last session, squeezed for time and without any prior discussion. The Bishop of Oklahoma brought forward a resolution which was in many ways excellent. It rightly affirmed the ‘respect and dignity’ due to every human being, regardless of their sexuality, and called upon the ACC standing committee to collate the results of various ‘intentional listening processes’ which have taken place around the Communion. The difficulty was a phrase in the preamble: ‘and that they should be fully included in the life of the Anglican Communion’. The meaning of ‘full inclusion’ is ambiguous and hotly contested, and delegates were concerned that these words might be taken to imply the ACC’s support for a new doctrine of marriage, or new canons of ordination, and thus provide ammunition for those seeking to undermine the ACC among conservative provinces and further exacerbate our Anglican divisions. It would also be spun by the press as a veiled censure of the Archbishop of Canterbury for not inviting all episcopal spouses to the Lambeth Conference, and thus be used to drive a wedge between the ACC and its president.

The contrast between English and African styles of engagement became apparent. The English method was first to express concerns to the Bishop of Oklahoma in private, and when this did not resolve the dilemma, to use synodical procedure to propose a simple last-minute amendment from the floor (brokered in a lunch-time crisis meeting). My amendment asked that “all should be fully included in the life of the Anglican Communion” be changed to “all are fully welcomed in the life of the Anglican Communion”. The Bishop of Oklahoma graciously, if reluctantly, accepted the amendment, which passed by 38 votes to 20. This transatlantic entente was intended to clear the way for enthusiastic support of the Oklahoma resolution. But then, unexpectedly, the silent Africans found their voices, and stood one after another to denounce the resolution. Full-blown crisis ensued, tears flowed, delegates sat in bewilderment and shock, the meeting was suspended, bishops gathered in animated huddles, and a tense peace was only restored when the Archbishop of Canterbury focused the ACC’s angst upon himself. An entirely different resolution emerged, requesting the Archbishop to initiate a widespread listening process around the Communion, and expressing concern at his invitations to the Lambeth Conference. The real nature of that concern – whether at his inclusion of bishops in same-sex marriages, or his exclusion of their spouses – was not explained.

Delegates were therefore emotionally exhausted by the time we reached the next resolution concerning the unity of the Anglican Communion. The absence of three African provinces had been ignored for the entire week, apart from some rude comments in the General Secretary’s opening address, so I brought forward a resolution which struck a note of lament rather than of self-vindication. It gave the ACC an opportunity to acknowledge the pain of our broken Anglican family, and read as follows:

The Anglican Consultative Council, as one of the four Instruments of Communion:

  1. recognises our particular responsibility to promote the unity of the Anglican Communion
  2. laments the strained and broken relationships between us, as evidenced by the absence of representatives from Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda at ACC-17
  3. acknowledges that these broken relationships are often the result of serious theological disagreements
  4. requests the Archbishop of Canterbury to consider establishing a theological task group to clarify the core identity and boundaries of the Anglican Communion in the 21st century.

Just three minutes were given to explain the resolution, in which I emphasized the importance of articulating the grief we feel at the divisions between us, and that we still need further ecclesiological work to clarify the Anglican Communion’s polity in a fast-changing context, but that this was categorically not the ghost of the Anglican Covenant revived. The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the resolution; the Bishop of Oklahoma firmly resisted it, fearing that any exploration of Anglican boundaries might signify exclusion. After the intense stress of the previous debate, none had the heart to prolong the conversation, and the resolution fell by 35 votes to 43, with 8 abstentions. On another day we might have had opportunity to discuss the resolution carefully, but it was collateral damage of the earlier battle.

Both the Oklahoma and the Oxford resolutions were well-intentioned. The fact that both fell is a reminder of the deep sensitivities surrounding our Anglican identity, and that it is very difficult to draft simple resolutions which are not open to misinterpretation. But it is also evidence of the failure of the ACC process to foster an environment in which delegates can engage constructively together on these important questions. The ACC executive spent all week trying to keep such topics off the agenda, only for them to blow up on the last afternoon of business. The next day we dispersed to our different corners of the globe, not to meet again for another three years. There must be a better way.

ACNA and the Anglican Communion

One particularly urgent ecclesiological question is the relationship between the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Anglican Communion. The 2016 primates meeting observed that:

The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction. (Primates Communique, 2016)

In 2017 they added, more bluntly: ‘It was confirmed that the Anglican Church of North America is not a Province of the Anglican Communion. We recognised that those in ACNA should be treated with love as fellow Christians’ (Primates Communique, 2017). This is to consign ACNA to the category of ecumenical relations, firmly beyond the boundaries of the Anglican Communion. It is a bald assertion, with no explanation or defence. That narrative is repeated in the recent Anglican Communion Office press release about invitations to the Lambeth Conference, that ACNA is ‘formed by people who left the Anglican Communion’, to which Archbishop Foley Beach (primate of ACNA) responded robustly:

I have never left the Anglican Communion, and have no intention of doing so. I did transfer out of a revisionist body that had left the teaching of the Scriptures and the Anglican Communion and I became canonically resident in another province of the Anglican Communion. I have never left. For the Anglican Church in North America to be treated as mere ‘observers’ is an insult to both our bishops, many of whom have made costly stands for the Gospel, and the majority of Anglicans around the world who have long stood with us as a province of the Anglican Communion. (Press release, 27 April 2019)

So here’s the ecclesiological question: is ACNA part of the Anglican Communion or not? And if not, what steps do they need to take to join the Anglican Communion? Who is going to take up the challenge to answer the ‘significant questions of polity and jurisdiction’ to which the primates allude? It will not do simply to tell ACNA (or any other province created under similar circumstances) that they are free to apply for permission to enter the Anglican Communion, and that we will begin to consider the case when they do so. On the contrary, the Anglican Communion must first take responsibility for investigating these questions, in a serious and rigorous manner, before any progress can be made. That is why my defeated ACC resolution appealed for clarity on ‘the core identity and boundaries of the Anglican Communion in the 21st century’. Which side of the boundary do ACNA fall? If currently outside, then how do they transfer across the boundary? We need an answer!

The Anglican Communion, of course, has no constitution and no legal definition. There is, in that sense, no membership list. But the ACC does have a constitution, attached to which is a Schedule of member churches entitled to appointed members to the ACC. In common parlance the Schedule doubles as a membership list of the Anglican Communion, though technically it is only a list of ACC member churches. At the most prosaic level, this is probably the closest we have to a formal definition of the Anglican Communion. It is not a question about doctrine or liturgy or bishops, but simple whether or not a province is listed on the ACC Schedule. ACNA is not on the list. Provinces may be added to, or deleted from, the Schedule by the ACC standing committee, at the request of two-thirds of the primates (Constitution 7.2). No reply from the primates within four months is deemed as assent. So for ACNA to be added to the Schedule, reckoning at 42 existing provinces, 15 would need to register their opposition for this proposal to fail.

The ACC standing committee also has responsibility to scrutinize the viability of new provinces, as a matter of due diligence. According to the current guidelines, they must be satisfied that the new province is a coherent and sustainable entity, normally composed of at least four dioceses, with a provincial constitution, a strategy for theological education, and proof of financial competence (Guidelines for the Creation of New Provinces and Dioceses, 2012). The first ACC meeting in Limuru, Kenya, in 1971, adds a further stipulation: ‘There must be the good will of the existing province in order not to create difficulties of disunity after division’ (Resolution 21 on ‘Creating and Dividing Provinces’). All current provinces have been created by the division of provinces, by multiplication within the existing boundaries. There is no precedent for adding a church from outside the Anglican Communion, or a church like ACNA which has separated from an existing province on doctrinal grounds, and therefore the ACC guidelines are not fit for purpose for the current realities facing global Anglicanism. We need a leap in our thinking.

The ‘significant questions of polity and jurisdiction’ which demand urgent consideration, include the following: First, what does it mean to be ‘in communion with the see of Canterbury’? The 1930 Lambeth Conference famously described the Anglican Communion as ‘a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the see of Canterbury’ (Resolution 49 on ‘The Anglican Communion’). ACNA, we are told, is not part of the Anglican Communion, because they are not in communion with Canterbury. It sounds like a knock-down answer. But what does it actually mean? And how would ACNA enter communion with the see of Canterbury? What’s the mechanism? It can’t mean communion between ACNA and the Church of England, otherwise the Church of England would replace the Archbishop as an ‘instrument of communion’. It can’t mean communion between ACNA and the Anglican Communion, because that would be tautologous. Does it mean that ACNA and the Archbishop would sign an agreement of some sort? On what terms? We need an answer!

Second, can separate Anglican jurisdictions intermingle or overlap in the same geographical area? Some assert not, and therefore that it is impossible for ACNA to enter the Anglican Communion unless they supplant TEC or reintegrate with TEC. This is a zero sum game. For alternative possibilities we might look to the precedent set by continental Europe (where several separate Anglican jurisdictions intermingle) or to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia which since the 1990s has three culturaltikanga, each with their own ecclesial jurisdiction,overlapping in the same territory. It must be possible to draw up sensible, practical, negotiated guidelines for how two provinces occupy the same space. But what would this look like? We need an answer!

Third, can two separate provinces be part of the Anglican Communion, if they are not in communion with each other? ACNA and TEC are unlikely to be reconciled doctrinally any time soon. Their relationship would be anomalous, but the Anglican Communion already has a proven capacity for bearing with anomalies. Broken relationships between provinces are already,de facto, a reality of Anglican life. We don’t live in the idealistic world described by the standard textbooks on Anglican ecclesiology. In fact, that world has never existed. It is better to bring the fractured parts of global Anglicanism together as closely as possible within the ‘instruments of communion’, even if not in communion with each other, and live with that tension for the time being, rather than keep them at arm’s length until they are fully reconciled. Of course, there may be need for mediated reconciliation on temporal questions (such as property and money), and public repentance for previous bad behaviour on all sides, but full reconciliation between provinces need not be a prerequisite to Anglican Communion membership. The textbooks need to be re-written. What should be the new terms of our relationship in the 21st century? We need an answer!

We need some urgent ecclesiological thinking at this level of detail, focused on ACNA as a worked example. And rather than throwing around brickbats in rival press releases about who is, or who is not, a member of the Anglican Communion, a more nuanced approach is required. For example, one way through the impasse is to think of ACNA as a province within the Anglican Communion (because grown from an existing province, like Sudan, or Chile, or Sri Lanka, or North Africa), but because it has jumped the gun by forming a new province without the agreement of two-thirds of the primates or the ACC standing committee, it is in an anomalous position and its relationship with the ‘instruments of communion’ needs to be retrospectively regularized.

At the request of the 2016 primates meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a task group ‘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’ (Primates Communique, 2016). The task group is due to deliver its report to the next primates meeting in January 2020. Building on this work, what we need next is a task group with a more limited remit, commissioned specifically to hammer out the relationship between ACNA and the Anglican Communion, to face the ‘significant questions of polity and jurisdiction’ head-on, and to draw up a practical map for what integration might look like. The Archbishop of Canterbury could bring together a representative group of church historians, ecclesiologists, and canon lawyers, and lock them in a room until they come up with some much-needed answers to these pressing questions. For the sake of the unity of the Anglican Communion, this work is urgent, and we cannot afford to wait another three years until ACC-18 for it to be initiated.


Andrew Atherstone is Latimer research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, The Faith and Order Commission, and the Liturgical Commission.


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65 thoughts on “What really happened at the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC 17)?”

  1. Hi Andrew
    You raise the mystery of why ACNA would want to be in a body with such disunity and what kind of unity it would deepen if it joined/were welcomed into the Communion?

    This question is highlighted by your own unwillingness to take communion with your fellow Anglicans. ACNA could scarcely be welcomed in if it were not willing to break bread; if it were willing to participate in communion within the Communion then either it would be ignoring its own differences with a significant part of the Communion or it would be finding a way to be in a communion which transcends difference?

    I find it difficult to see a way forward which involves agreement and unity. I can see a way forward which involves “good disagreement” and unity (it is kind of the way we roll in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia). But if you yourself are not willing to take that road, why would ACNA do so?

    Any which way, and I may have not explained myself that well, it is fascinating that ACNA are seemingly keen to be in this Communion with all its difficulties (the narrative of which I enjoyed reading above).

    Reply
    • One cannot force others to identify people as ‘Anglican’ or as anything else if they consider that the definition has been corrupted.

      Also, self-identification as the main criterion (trumping dictionary definition) is a recent development, so what are the reasons for adopting it?

      Reply
      • Could you clarify what you are saying please Christopher?
        I am not sure anyone is forcing anyone else to identify as Anglican are they?
        The issue is that ACNA want to self identify as Anglican. And they are not being acknowledged as Anglican because they don’t qualify for that definition.

        So could you make your point a bit clearer please?

        Reply
        • And they are not being acknowledged as Anglican because they don’t qualify for that definition.

          Are the qualifications for that definition written down anywhere?

          Reply
          • Determined by the instruments of communion S.
            Am interested in what point Christopher was trying to make.

          • Determined by the instruments of communion

            Are these instruments written down anywhere? I assume instruments of communion are like instruments of incorporation.

          • Easily found written down

            Okay so the instruments are bodies then? Odd.

            Are the criteria they use to decide what qualifies as ‘Anglican’ written down anywhere? Presumably they are so it is obvious which criteria ACNA doesn’t meet. Where are the criteria?

          • Well, a key criteria is that you are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and so take part in the other instruments. ACNA don’t wish to be in communion with Canterbury or take part in the other instruments because they don’t think some of the other members are quite….how shall we say….proper?

          • So I dod some digging and I presume the ‘instruments of communion’ referred to are those in Principle 11 of https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/124862/AC-Principles-of-Canon-Law.pdf yes?

            Could you point out what in that disqualifies ACNA? Is it section 1, ‘Each church acknowledges its adherence to Holy Scripture as containing all things necessary to salvation, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, the historic episcopate, the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and common patterns of worship.’?

            Or is it one of the other four sections?

          • ACNA don’t wish to be in communion with Canterbury

            Do they not? Have they stated that? Where?

            (I understand they don’t wish to be in communion with everyone whom Canterbury is in communion with, but is communion transitive like that?)

          • No I don’t think they have stated it, and it’s clearly complicated as the article by Andrew Atherstone makes clear.

          • No I don’t think they have stated it, and it’s clearly complicated as the article by Andrew Atherstone makes clear

            Okay but you were clear that ‘they are not being acknowledged as Anglican because they don’t qualify for that definition’.

            So what are the clear criteria for being Anglican and why do they clearly not qualify?

          • No I don’t think they have stated it, and it’s clearly complicated as the article by Andrew Atherstone makes clear.

            Okay but you were clear that ‘they are not being acknowledged as Anglican because they don’t qualify for that definition’. No hint if complication; they simply don’t qualify.

            So what are the clear criteria for being Anglican and why do they clearly not qualify?

          • You will need to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury that question S as it is he, not me, who has made it clear.

          • You will need to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury that question S as it is he, not me, who has made it clear

            Okay so when you wrote ‘they are not being acknowledged as Anglican because they don’t qualify for that definition’ you didn’t actually know what you were saying? That’s your story and you’re sticking to it?

            Do you just take everything every Archbishop of Canterbury says on trust?

            I thought it was the Pope who was meant to be infallible, but do Anglicans think the Archbishop of Canterbury is infallible too?

          • Yes, S, I do know what I’m saying. The Archbishop of Canterbury is One of the four instruments of communion. ACNA are not currently in communion with the archbishop. To be an Anglican you need to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Said Archbishop has made it clear that ACNA are not currently Anglicans.
            But do read Andrew Atherstones article and Peter Carrells reply. Both will help you, I suggest.

          • But do read Andrew Atherstones article and Peter Carrells reply. Both will help you, I suggest

            I’ve read them but I am still not sure what criteria the Archbishop uses to determine who qualifies as Anglicans. Surely it cannot simply be decided by his personal whim? It must be an open and above-board procedure, right?

            So, what criteria does the Archbishop use to determine who qualifies and which of those criteria does ACNA not meet?

          • S: are Methodists Anglicans? No. I don’t think they are. Why? Because they chose to break away from the Church of England and start a new church. ACNA are in a similar position. They gaff broken away from recognised Anglican provinces and started a new church. They might call it Anglican but they aren’t in communion with Canterbury. And to be Anglican you have to be.

          • S: are Methodists Anglicans? No. I don’t think they are. Why? Because they chose to break away from the Church of England and start a new church. ACNA are in a similar position.

            But the Methodists don’t want to be Anglicans. The others do. So the analogy does not work.

            They gaff broken away from recognised Anglican provinces and started a new church. They might call it Anglican but they aren’t in communion with Canterbury.

            So you are saying Canterbury has refused to be in communion with them? On what grounds?

          • The analogy works perfectly. Lots of early Methodists wanted to be members of the CofE as well. I think John Wesley was among them…..

            We even have a Covenant with the Methodist church nowadays but that doesn’t make them Anglicans. ACNA is being treated in an analogous way.

          • We even have a Covenant with the Methodist church nowadays but that doesn’t make them Anglicans. ACNA is being treated in an analogous way.

            The Methodists don’t want to be in communion with Canterbury (because then they would have to accept bishops, which they oppose).

            The ACNA do want to be in communion with Canterbury, right? And they have no problem with bishops. So in order for them not to be in communion, Canterbury must have refused to be in communion with them, right?

            So: on what grounds does Canterbury refuse communion with ACNA?

          • S I think lots of members of ACNA don’t want to be in communion with Canterbury because the Anglican communion has within it bishops in homosexual relationships which ACNA doesn’t approve of.

            I think you will need to ask the archbishop about his decision but I recall when this was discussed at General Synod a number of issues were mentioned. These included the fact that if ACNA WERE included then what would happen about the other so called ‘anglican’ bodies who had split away in North America. ACNA are not the only one. And what about the Free Church of England. And ACNA seem to want to join the communion on their own terms. And they still have various legal battles with TEC unresolved. So it is not straightforward.

          • I think lots of members of ACNA don’t want to be in communion with Canterbury because the Anglican communion has within it bishops in homosexual relationships which ACNA doesn’t approve of.

            You think? Have they actually stated this anywhere? I thoguht the very point that they wanted to call themselves Anglican showed they wanted to be in communion with Canterbury (albeit not necessarily with other parts of the Anglican Communion, but (a) is it the official position of Canterbury that communion must be transitive? and (b) when A and B refuse communion with each other but both want to be in communion with Canterbury, what criteria are used to decide which one ‘wins’?

            I think you will need to ask the archbishop about his decision

            He’s probably a bit busy, but presumably he set out his reasoning somewhere (specifically so that eh didn’t have to keep responding to such questions), and if you are so sure that they do’t auify then you presumably know where to find that reasoning and agree with it?

          • S: I don’t think he specifically needs to set anything down does he? ACNA is made up of churches that have deliberately chosen to break away from Provinces that ARE in communion with Canterbury. That was their choice. As I suggest above, coming back will involve some work at reconciliation.

          • S: I don’t think he specifically needs to set anything down does he?

            I don’t know, doesn’t he? I didn’t think the point of the reformation was just to set up a Pope in Canterbury but maybe I was wrong.

            ACNA is made up of churches that have deliberately chosen to break away from Provinces that ARE in communion with Canterbury. That was their choice. As I suggest above, coming back will involve some work at reconciliation.

            ‘Reconciliation’ implies they have done something wrong. Is it the official position of the Church of England that ACNA is in the wrong, then?

          • It’s the official position of the C of E that we’ve all done something wrong S. And it’s the official position of the Archbishop of Canterbury that ACNA aren’t members of the Anglican Communion. I don’t think the C of E needs any official position about ACNA. It just needs to know whether or not it’s a member of the Anglican Communion. And it isn’t.

          • And it’s the official position of the Archbishop of Canterbury that ACNA aren’t members of the Anglican Communion.

            Okay, and where has he set out his rationale for that ruling?

            I mean, presumably he doesn’t just get to make up policy on things like this on a whim. He has to apply proper procedure, right?

          • S: you could also write to the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion Office. But the rationale is obvious isn’t it: there already are Anglican Communion provinces in North America. So it would be pretty odd to authorise another.

          • you could also write to the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion Office.

            I’m sure they are very busy too.

            But the rationale is obvious isn’t it: there already are Anglican Communion provinces in North America. So it would be pretty odd to authorise another

            If the rationale was really obvious you wouldn’t have given half a dozen different ones in just this thread!

            It begins to look like these are not so much rationales as rationalisations to justify a prejudiced decision. And any rationalisation will do.

          • I’m certain they are busy, but have staff and if you really wish to have a definitive answer then that is the way to get one. I only know what I have read and heard, and which I have relayed to you. And as you note, there are several likely reasons.

          • I only know what I have read and heard, and which I have relayed to you

            And yet up above you seemed so certain that ACNA absolutely didn’t qualify as Anglican! But now it turns out you don’t actually know the reason they don’t qualify — or even if they do actually qualify — you’re just going on stuff you’re read and heard second-hand from others who may or may not have been properly applying processes and criteria that may or may not be properly documented or may or may not even exist!

            I mean hey it’s certainly one way to run an organisation.

          • S: I do know. I’m very clear they are not part of the Anglican Communion because they are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. He and the Anglican Communion office have made this clear. Why not write to them to ask for their reasoning?

          • I do know. I’m very clear they are not part of the Anglican Communion because they are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

            That’s just tautologous though. You wrote that they don’t qualify as Anglican, so, why do they not qualify to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury?

            He and the Anglican Communion office have made this clear. Why not write to them to ask for their reasoning?

            Because I’m sure they are very busy, and more to the point surely they should have made their reasoning public, so that everyone can see they acted in god faith, in accordance with set, clear criteria and proper process and aren’t just making it up as they go along?

          • S: why does the situation regarding a small offshoot from a denomination of which you aren’t even a member concern you so much? What’s at the bottom of your persistent enquiry? And why not make the enquiry to the primary sources if your concern is so great?

          • why does the situation regarding a small offshoot from a denomination of which you aren’t even a member concern you so much?

            Because you made such a definitive statement — ‘they are not being acknowledged as Anglican because they don’t qualify for that definition’ — and I thought I’d check whether you had any basis for sounding so sure.

            Good thing I did, because you obviously don’t have any such basis.

            What’s at the bottom of your persistent enquiry?

            Curiosity as to whether the Anglican communion is run in an open and honest manner, or whether decisions are being taken behind closed doors for obscure reasons based on desired outcome rather than good, consistently-applied processes and principles.

            And why not make the enquiry to the primary sources if your concern is so great?

            I’m sure they are very busy, and besides if you have to explicitly ask for such information then that kind of proves that the organisation is not being run openly and honestly, doesn’t it?

            If it were being run openly and honestly it would pre-emptively publish the reasoning behind such decisions (just as judges publish their judgements so that people can see they are properly applying the law — you don’t have to write to judges asking, ‘by the way how did you reach your decision?’ for each individual case).

            So if it doesn’t, it must have something to hide (even if that something is only that it doesn’t have proper proceses for these situations and is just making everything up as it goes along in a blind panic).

          • “I thought I’d check whether you had any basis for sounding so sure.
            Good thing I did, because you obviously don’t have any such basis.”

            I have every basis. As I have explained, it was discussed at General Synod. I was a member and present during the discussion. It has been reported from Primates meetings. It has been reported from the ACC meeting commented on above. It has been reported on concerning the invites to the Lambeth conference. None of these are gossip or inaccurate. Please do not represent me.

          • I have every basis. As I have explained, it was discussed at General Synod. I was a member and present during the discussion.

            Oh, okay. So then what are the criteria for being in communion with Canterbury and how did the Synod decide they weren’t met?

          • Thanks; I don’t know why you didn’t just point those out in the first place.

            They aren’t quite consistent; I note that one claims ‘ACNA […] and has not sought membership of the Instruments’ while the other says ‘[the ACNA constitution] also states “We seek to be and remain in full communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”‘ which at least indicates they intend to apply for such membership; did they forget to post the forms?

            The truly gobsmacking bit though is: ‘In practice the final decision about whether or not a church is in communion with the Church of
            England belongs to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York […] Neither of these provisions includes any stipulation about the
            basis on which the Archbishops should make their decision.’

            So you did just set up a Pope in Canterbury! What then was the point of the Reformation at all?

          • S: you seem to be holding me personally responsible!

            Firstly, it is quite possible to search online for these things. They are all in the public domain.
            Secondly, inconsistencies might be there but you will want to take those up with the Secretary General, and not me!
            Thirdly, I am not responsible for things that were decided around the Reformation!

          • Firstly, it is quite possible to search online for these things. They are all in the public domain.

            Though if you don’t know the processes it can be hard to know what’s authoritative versus what’s just reportage (and that’s even if you know the right words to give Mr Google’s marvellous knowledge engine in order to cause it to spit out the right results).

            Secondly, inconsistencies might be there but you will want to take those up with the Secretary General, and not me!

            I merely observe the inconsistencies.

            Thirdly, I am not responsible for things that were decided around the Reformation!

            Well no, but presumably you’re not happy with the situation where one individual has such basically unlimited discretionary power, with no oversight whatsoever — what Protestant could be? — so you should be agitating to change it, especially as you say you attend the bodies where such matters could be raised.

            After all it’s not like these mistakes were set in immutable stone four hundred years ago and can never be fixed. Semper reformanda and all that.

        • The point is that Peter C’s words ‘fellow Anglicans’ force people (a) to agree who counts as an Anglican and also (b) to say that self-definition is what determines the way things are. (b), which is of course in vogue, is certainly wrong. Otherwise if I say ‘I am a frog’ that makes me one. Moreover, that is obvious.

          Reply
          • But it’s ACNA who are self defining as Anglicans isn’t it? The clue is in their title. And the Archbishop of Canterbury is saying exactly what you say – calling yourself Anglican doesn’t actually make you one.

          • And the Archbishop of Canterbury is saying exactly what you say – calling yourself Anglican doesn’t actually make you one.

            What does make you one? Surely it’s not just ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury says you can be one so you are’?

          • What makes you Anglican is having a realationship with the four instruments of communion. ACNA don’t. See above.

          • What makes you Anglican is having a realationship with the four instruments of communion. ACNA don’t.

            On what grounds then have the four instruments of communion (which I keep having to remind myself are apparently bodies, not really instruments, very odd) decided to refuse to have a relationship with ACNA?

  2. “On the contrary, the Anglican Communion must first take responsibility for investigating these questions, in a serious and rigorous manner, before any progress can be made. That is why my defeated ACC resolution appealed for clarity on ‘the core identity and boundaries of the Anglican Communion in the 21st century’. Which side of the boundary do ACNA fall? If currently outside, then how do they transfer across the boundary? We need an answer!”

    But didn’t the Anglican Communion investigate these question in the Windsor report? And propose a Covenant? And hasn’t that Covenant effectively been long defeated across the Provinces? The Oxford resolution sounds suspiciously like a way of getting the Covenant in by another door.

    In terms of ACNA: what would be wrong with the ACC asking ACC to re-engage with TEC and solve their differences BEFORE ACNA seek to be members of the Anglican Communion?

    Reply
    • what would be wrong with the ACC asking ACC to re-engage with TEC and solve their differences BEFORE ACNA seek to be members of the Anglican Communion?

      Given it takes two to resolve differences, would that not give TEC an effective veto over whether ACNA could ever be members of the Anglican communion?

      Is it at all reasonable to give one group such a veto over the membership of another?

      Reply
  3. I wonder what the historical parallels or learning points might be when considering the divisions we face at the moment within the Anglican Communion and in other churches.
    Should we consider the debates, discussions, hostilities etc before and during the Councils which agreed the “catholic creeds”? In many ways what went on there was much much worse.
    What about the Calvinist / Arminian controversies (17th century and onwards), or the evangelical / Tractarian disputes of the 19th century?
    The “Anglican” disputes of the 1860s led to the call for the first Lambeth Conference – Bishop Colenso declared a heretic, and Archbishop Gray usurping his authority and appointing an alternative bishop and then appeals to the Privy Council etc.
    Anglicanism – as opposed to the Church of England – if it wasn’t born in conflict, was very quickly shaped by conflicts across the globe and with England.

    I wonder what Paul or the apostles would make of the current context, and how they might navigate through the issues? Is our global context now so different from their’s?

    One “new” issue is multi-lingualism, given that Greek or / and Latin were common to most in the earliest periods. Linguistic imperialism, where English dominates is something most of us don’t really get, as we are part of the in-group, and there is a pragmatism to using English. Does an “Anglican” Communion almost presuppose English as a common language?

    Churches separated or distinct because of language are of a different kind from those separated by different understandings of belief, but language and cultural particularity do lead to different constructions of belief and patterns of worship and have done for centuries.

    Deciding who referees when there are teams in dispute about the rules is not straightforward – or is it that teams reserve the right to disagree with the referee, but still stay in the competition? Who runs the competition then?

    Do we look to Gamaliel and his willingness to wait to see if “it” is of God, or do we look to a Council of Jerusalem to instruct – the difficulty with the latter is that it is not clear who should make up such a Council, even if there are various groups who are sure they should! So maybe we wouldn’t agree on which historical or even Biblical context to reflect on!

    Reply
  4. This is a reply to Peter Carrell on ‘Good Disagreement’.

    ‘I can see a way forward which involves “good disagreement” and unity (it is kind of the way we roll in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia).’

    Unfortunately, this is not the way things roll in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The goodness of the disagreement is expected to go only one way. Those of us whose faith remains traditionally Anglican, in the sense of in accordance with the 1662 Catechism and the 39 Articles, are expected to goodly disagree with those who have a more ‘evolved’ theology, but the goodness of the disagreement is not mutual.

    I left the ACANZP over the issue of the use of the semi-Arian ‘Liturgical Affirmation of Faith’. I took my concern over it to my parish priest and his response was this: “The Nicene Creed was just something made up by a bunch of men a long time ago.” I disagreed with him and we parted ways. I don’t know how it’s possible to ‘goodly disagree’ with someone who does not acknowledge the validity of the Nicene Creed.

    I am in a difficult position: the ACANZP is no longer a body I can be ‘in communion’ with, although I can still be ‘in communion’ with orthodox provinces such as S E Asia and ACNA.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for an honest and thoughtful post, Andrew. It does sound is if there was a lot wrong with ACC17 in Hong Kong. I can’t pretend to speak with any authority here beyond that at least I’ve read right through the post! However, two things stand out for me.

    Firstly it sounds as if the Holy Spirit had not been invited to this meeting. How does that work? I’m going to be a bit controversial and suggest that, while He would have been there in individuals present, there was enough disunity and (possibly consequential) intention for tight control from those leading the gathering, to quench the power and the peace, the energy and the joy which He would have longed to set free. What a missed opportunity right at the heart of the Anglican Communion.

    Secondly, and it’s a theme governing almost everything about the Anglican Communion and our own Church of England in particular, there’s this whole business of poor process. Ensuring good process may sometimes be thought of in church circles as a dry concern of administration, finance and hammering out abstruse nuances of theological understanding – something that appeals to those who don’t have much to offer in the real spiritual battle or those whose faith has dried up but have nowhere else to go. But I’d suggest good process is the nuts and bolts of imagination, an essential part of vision, growth, sustainability and energetic focus. And (in this ACC meeting context) good process is vital for a unified, coherent team; and, however dispersed and diverse the Anglican Communion may be, it is one of the great Christian teams playing on God’s side across the world at this present time.

    It would be easy to bang on about process for any number of paragraphs, but I’d suggest there are three principles which a church should bring to bear on it. First, just get on with it; time and energy saved by not sorting it out now will be paid for in spades further down the line. Second, keep it as simple and transparent as possible. This is the hard bit because simple but great processes take a far clearer head and a much greater quality of leadership to achieve than do those which are long-winded, confusing and ambiguous. Thirdly, once processes have been put in place, they must be followed; documents which say what has been agreed must happen should not be bypassed or ignored at the whim of whoever is in charge – such laxity or even dissent is a prime cause for disunity and loss of morale. It’s widely known that this last aspect has been / is a central cause of the fragmentation we are currently experiencing in the Communion; it’s not good enough.

    So it’s really good to see Andrew thinking through how things can / should / must be improved in the Anglican Communion. I’d simply observe that this will depend in large part on the quality of leadership right at the top of the Communion.

    I didn’t see the word ‘Gafcon’ anywhere in this post. Was it allowed to be spoken in Hong Kong?

    Reply
  6. In New Testament times, there was a disciplinary measure designed to awaken a holy fear of God in cases of flaunted sexual immorality and blasphemy. Individuals were solemnly handed over to Satan. It was extreme, exceptional and a last resort, but the two references we have of this in Paul’s letters show it was no idle threat.

    A good case could be made that TEC, among other revisionists, has at times been guilty of both offences listed above on its sometimes sordid journey into apostasy. It is easy to see why those who take Scripture seriously think that “good disagreement” is little more than meekly putting up with anything in order to prevent an otherwise inevitable organisational collapse, and it simply won’t do.

    Reading John’s letters recently I was struck again at how binary things ultimately are. Stark contrasts of truth and lies, light and darkness, love and hate, God or the devil as father, Christ of antichrist, and life and death before a simple plea to end; “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

    Reading the report above made me wonder if we have turned the visible unity of the Anglican Communion from an ideal into an idol.

    Reply
    • Yes! Let us Christians disabuse ourselves of the notion that ‘binary’ is a dirty word. In fact it’s the very first principle of creation, and it plays no less a part in the spiritual battle between good and evil. To deny it as a central element of Christian understanding is perhaps the first step you take on the road to heresy.

      Reply
    • Thank you, John, for expressing what, in my opinion too, the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the Father and the Son (e.g. Rom 8:9) – would have brought to mind, had he been present.

      Reply
  7. Dear Rob
    I am sorry to learn of your experience of a parish priest saying that about the Nicene Creed – that response does happen in our church but it is not consistent with holding to the Doctrine of Christ as this church has received it.

    I am aware of criticism of the Litrugical Affirmation of Faith. To be frank, I am prepared to say it, but only within the context of a church which continues to also have the Nicene and Apostles Creeds firmly embedded in its liturgies.

    In saying that ACANZP “rolls” with good disagreement in unity, I acknowledge that it is not so for all (e.g. disaffiliations in the past 12 months, as well as your experience). Nevertheless I think we have shown a remarkable degree of ability to work together with our differences.

    Reply
  8. Andrew G…

    “What makes you Anglican is having a realationship with the four instruments of communion. ACNA don’t. See above.”

    Like Archbishop Cranmer then…

    Reply
      • Andrew… That’s my point… mostly.

        Can the Four Instruments of Communion really be a touchstone for testing whether something is Anglican? They are not the foundation surely?

        Reply
        • Ian: the Wikipedia entry about Anglicanism is not too awful. The Chicago-Lambeth quadrilateral is a good guide about what is foundational isn’t it?
          So I agree with you. Anglican is a pretty loose federation so one wonders quite what ACNA are about.

          Reply

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