Journeys in Anglicanism
Hong Kong Sheung Kung Hui hosts The Anglican Consultative Council 17
My first encounter or understanding of the Anglican Communion came when I was five years old. I was a child of the rectory, and my father was hosting the Archbishop of Canterbury and other important bishops at the 400th anniversary of the first known celebration of Holy Eucharist in North America (1578), in Iqaluit, N.W.T. (then Frobisher Bay). With awe and wonder, I saw Archbishop Coggan, Archbishop Scott, and a number of other dignitaries. They represented the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Communion. It was all very official, and yet it was also so personal. I have memories to this day of sharing a meal with these people, learning how to eat peas on a fork, and sharing a wonderful dessert.
Over the years in life and ministry, I have been keenly aware of the work of the church worldwide. In the Canadian context, the work of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund has been essential in opening faith communities, individuals, and one’s prayer life to the challenges and hopes of the body of Christ around the globe. Using the Anglican Cycle of Prayer has also helped shape my reality that I am a child of God, a partner in the ministry of Christ Jesus, and one who joins daily with others around the globe in the prayer and mission of God.
Through these forty odd years since that commemoration, I have been immersed in many levels of the Anglican Church and journeying with others in various ways. Parish, diocesan, and national ministry have led to international ministry opportunities. Each of these opportunities has revealed to me a deepening understanding of the nature of the Anglican Communion, and the blessing that God works in and through (and sometimes despite) structures of prayer and ministry, mission and outreach, governance and administration.
Less than a month ago I was asked to fill the role of Alternate Clergy Delegate to the Anglican Consultative Council, held in Hong Kong. Amid all the busyness and challenge of adjusting schedules and commitments, I traveled with some anticipation and anxiety to meet Anglicans from all over the world as together we were set to listen, learn, and make decisions about the directions of the wider church.
The Anglican Consultative Council is one of the four instruments of Communion of the Anglican Church. The other three are The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primate’s Meeting. These are seen as instruments of unity that bind Anglicans together in purpose worldwide. The Anglican Consultative Council is the only instrument of communion that includes voices of the laity and the clergy in deliberations.
This 17th Council (ACC17), which concluded Sunday, May 5, had various topics of interest and challenge for the entire church. For a complete day to day reflection, I encourage you to look to my Facebook page. In the coming weeks, the specific notes, resolutions, and impacts of this council meeting will be available through the Anglican Communion website.
In the meantime, I wish to highlight three key experiences of my time in Hong Kong at the Council.
A Church of Hospitality and Grace
Throughout our time at ACC17 we were given royal treatment. I felt so blessed as members of the Hong Kong church showed such hospitality. As guests, we—the 170 or so members and staff—were never without. Every need seemed to be addressed, from food and lodging to entertainment, culture, and information. All was anticipated for a meaningful and transformative experience.
There was no doubt that so many of us from differing cultures and societal expressions, were being exposed to parts of the world, society, and living that were so foreign to us. We were experiencing life and the Christian church in a place where skyscrapers dominated a tropical jungle landscape, and the population density was far greater than most of us had ever encountered.
An openness of community through inclusion in the liturgy, offering the best and finest in all things was apparent. I am sure that this was a challenge for the Hong Kong church, yet this was met with energy and love, grace and precision. The hospitality of the Hong Kong church rivals any hospitality I have ever received. We were so welcomed here!
A Church of Learning and Action
Within the work and tasks of the Anglican Consultative Council, it was apparent to me that this council takes seriously the responsibility of education, and service, in its work. Over the course of the time in council, we received presentations and developed resolutions around three key areas of the communion: The Marks of Mission; Unity, Faith and Order; and Governance. From the point of view of a parish priest, these items are foundational to life and ministry, yet there is little time to always reflect on their place in the wider response of how we function in faith communities, and how we continue to offer sacrament, proclaim Gospel, and serve the world through pastoral means. This exposure for me highlighted how in parishes we as leaders are called to interpret and share the work of the church at all levels. The Marks of Mission are as important on a global stage, as they are in one’s personal circumstance. So often in parish life, there seems to be a preoccupation with the local, the immediate, as if life is completely disconnected with adjacent parishes, a community, a diocese, the country, and indeed the world. Some key conversations this week around the global climate emergency, as well as impacts of colonialism and the role and value of the indigenous networks worldwide. These themes have to be present in the international, national, and local levels. Christ is present in this struggle, and so we should be as well.
A Church of Listening, Struggle and Discernment
Considering how we at the Anglican Consultative Council listened, struggled, and discerned, I feel it best to quote one of my posts on Facebook because it deals directly with the major challenge that came before us on the final days of the council.
Day seven and eight for me revealed the deeper nature of who we are as the community of faith and how we hold each other in grace.
The day’s beginning brought with it the last of the Bible studies. Our table group, number eight, has come together so deeply. Though from differing places, contexts, and cultures, we have met each other with dignity and grace, love and listening. We decided to keep in contact, so after sharing contact information, there was a glorious sharing of photos and stories of each other’s own context.
I am so thankful! For me, the ability to pray with and for someone is deepened as I get to know them better. Strangers now are friends, as the line in the hymn reveals.
This led to the explorations of resolutions once again. I feel at times that I loathe the words debate, for/against, and amendments. I much prefer dialogue and conversation, sharing and listening. Perhaps though, this preference is a compromise that doesn’t require decision nor change, as one delegate pointed out to me. We have to struggle in order to grow.
The resolution offered by my friend Bishop Ed Konieczny of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma (with roots of The Breen family of St. Mary’s Bay, NL, on his mother’s side) invited encouragement to the Anglican Communion to look again at documents that had been provided, and continue to report back concerning ongoing listening processes with regard to human sexuality in light of the Baptismal Covenant and the affirmation of the respect and dignity of every human being.
The conversation was raw. Many persons shared their concerns. Some were concerned that opposing views would encourage other churches to join GAFCON, a group of Anglican Christians that used to be a part of conversations but no longer come to the table, and reject Canterbury and the current composition of the Anglican Communion.
Others felt that the influence and power of the global north were trying to set direction and agenda without listening to dissenting cultural expressions of the global south. There seemed to me to be so much unsaid. The influence and legacy of colonialism, of differing Scriptural interpretation, of systemic power struggles, and of deep pain stemming from exclusion, revulsion, and condemnation based on sexual expression, and cultural stereotype were heavy in the air.
A couple of amendments were offered, one that even split the original intent of the resolution, and left out some of the direction and intent of the wording. This was deemed unfriendly and defeated. At this point, the chair wisely directed us to prayer, time to converse at our table groups, and then an extended break.
The time at table proved hard. We were finding it difficult to listen and speak with conviction and emotion concerning things we deeply felt and believed. It was hard because there was disagreement at the table. There was difference in practice, in belief, in acceptance within our circle. Yet still, within this, we did not abandon each other. We stayed at the table, in communion with each other. This was no different I believe, at other tables I observed.
So we had a further break. In some ways, time stood still. We had only had lunch a mere hour previous. We had only spent one hour in engaging debate and conversation, and for me, and for many it seemed as if there would be no way forward. Some were suggesting for provinces to break and step away from all of this.
So in the midst of this time, I felt that there was a need for careful listening, for repentance, for a holding of the community when all were feeling emotion, and some were feeling exclusion, pain, and loss.
Looking around during the break I was reminded of the challenges that the Canadian church faced at General Synod 2016 (GS2016). There were groups of delegates gathered in circles, speaking intently, all trying to express their thoughts, and hopefully also trying to hear the voices of others and the presence of the Spirit.
GS2016 was hard and made harder by the voting irregularities. Nevertheless, this process here in Hong Kong was a little different. I saw groups of male bishops speaking intently. I saw the youth in dialogue. I saw laity and clergy in various states of dialogue. I met the gaze of those who I saw in pain; I offered a hug to one whom I thought felt quite alone.
We gathered back once again. There was a further amendment offered through the male bishops. This was most probably the only way forward. Yes, it addressed the chaos where we found ourselves. But no, it didn’t speak to the challenge that this process had revealed.
For me, this process was pushed at us on the last day, with little full preparation as the entire body of ACC. How can a body make decisions involving such emotion and such high stakes after only spending seven days together, and not really deciding nor acting as a council throughout that time? We did not trust each other enough. We didn’t fully understand our role, our process, nor did we see ourselves as one council. We were delegates from various parts of the world. We were a group of Anglican churches. We were holding on to our individuality, not our common bonds in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps these are hard words to read. Nevertheless, the amendment (in my estimation) seemed a complete change from the original intent of the resolution. This new wording now offered the Archbishop of Canterbury to take action and responsibility. It required nothing of the Anglican Consultative Council except our assent, and effectively let us abdicate our responsibility and authority. It put all the struggle and lament, all the hope and possibility as a council of the church out of our hands, so to be held by one instrument of the communion. I was reminded that this is the only instrument of communion that includes youth, laity, and clergy. Now decisions can be fully in the hands and directions of the other three instruments of communion.
As we all know, this amendment passed. This may have been the way forward for this moment, yet I fear it will have further effects on the flexibility of the communion, on the voice of the communion, and the direction of the Spirit within our midst.
Still, the Church will Move and Grow
It has been a blessing to meet as a member of ACC17. I am privileged to represent the Anglican Church of Canada, listening to the wider dialogue about how it is for human beings to follow the way of Jesus in this entity called the Anglican Church. I see more clearly the riches, the challenges, and the hopes of faith communities in this context. I recognize there is much work yet to be done, by me, and by so many others, as together we meet the world and meet Christ Jesus in our daily lives. I am a long way from Iqaluit; I am a long way from 1978. Still, through this time, the presence of the Spirit has continued and upholds me in this journey.