To Bishop Ian Douglas, the final business day of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia, was a pivotal moment in the history of the Anglican Communion.
“We’ll look back on today and see that the door could have closed or opened,” he said. “It opened.”
The turning point came when Resolution C35, which would have “welcomed” a communiqué of the Anglican Communion’s primates that sought to impose consequences on the Episcopal Church for approving marriage equality, was withdrawn just before debate on it was scheduled to begin. Earlier in the day, the meeting had approved another resolution, C34, that “received” the report on the primates meeting that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had given to the ACC on April 8.
Welby addressed the plenary session just after Resolution C35 was withdrawn, saying that he hoped ACC members would remember that his report on the primates meeting included discussion of “a number of other issues that I would consider of absolute supreme importance,” and that he could say that the ACC is deeply committed to evangelism, opposing religiously motivated violence, care for refugees, and climate change.
He also informed the ACC that he had met with Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, the previous day, and that Mugabe had raised the issue of same-sex marriage. Welby said he told Mugabe that, “He would be aware that within the Anglican Communion there are widely differing views on this subject. The majority opinion is that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman, and the unanimous opinion of the primates meeting was that the criminalization of LGBTIQ people is entirely wrong.”
“That’s what I said specifically to President Mugabe yesterday,” Welby said. “I don’t think it would be fair to say that he entirely agreed with me.”
Withdrawing a resolution that would have reopened the subject of the primates’ communiqué and its call for consequences against the Episcopal Church kept the meeting on track, according to Douglas.
“Rather than focus on the primates’ communiqué narrowly, we focused instead on what the primates’ commitment to walking together meant for our life together as the ACC here in Lusaka. We listened to the [Archbishop of Canterbury’s] report on the primates gathering, considered its impact on our lives, and then decided accordingly as to our work as the ACC,” Douglas said.
The design of the twelve-day ACC meeting, which drew criticism from members from across the Communion, dictated that both elections for ACC standing committee members and debate on all resolutions would take place on the final business day. The ACC16 resolutions committee, on which Douglas served, was up late the night before the day designated for voting and was still revising resolutions over breakfast the next morning.
For Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, the Episcopal Church’s lay member who is a deputy from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands, the delay was frustrating.
“Type A personality that I am, I thought, ‘When are we going to do some substantive work?’” said Ballentine. “I’m used to General Convention, and there’s nothing here similar to General Convention.”
But by day’s end, the ACC had elected five new members to its standing committee, passed 44 resolutions, and averted a divisive debate over same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, clergy member from the Episcopal Church, believes that the standing committee election and the resolutions passed should reassure Episcopalians about their membership in the Anglican Communion.
The five people elected to serve on the ACC standing committee—Bishop Jane Alexander of the Anglican Church of Canada, Alastair Dinnie of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Jeroham Melendez, of the Anglican Church of the Region of Central America, the Rev. Nigel Pope of The Church of North India, and Bishop Joel Waweru of the Anglican Church of Kenya— “are very good choices who represent the broad diversity of the Anglican Communion,” she said.
The five join two continuing standing committee members—Bishop Eraste Bigirimana of the Anglican Church of Burundi and Louisa Lette-Mojela of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and Canon Margaret Swinson of the Church of England, who ran unopposed for ACC vice-chair. On April 15, Archbishop Paul Kwong was elected ACC chair.
Jennings is particularly heartened that the ACC approved resolutions that would expand its youth membership and explore holding an Anglican Congress “emphasizing the participation of laity, young people and women” by 2025.
“There were an amazing number of resolutions about issues that are of common concern, and frankly are desperate situations in many places,” she said. “I was really struck by the fact that gender justice and gender-based violence cuts across every province, and bringing more young people and women into those conversations is essential.”
Ballentine said that the Episcopal Church has a particular role in carrying out the ACC resolutions on safe church practices (C24, C25 and C26). “It is one of the reasons that we really need to stay engaged, because we’ve done a lot in that area in our church, and I think we have a lot to offer the Communion.”