ACC Elects Primate as Chair

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Lusaka, April 15–Today in Lusaka, the Anglican Consultative Council moved another step away from its original role as a voice of lay and clergy leadership in the Anglican Communion.

The Most Rev. Paul Kwong, primate of Hong Kong, was elected as ACC chair, receiving 40 votes. Kwong was first elected to the ACC Standing Committee in 2012. Professor Joanildo Burity, a political science professor from Brazil who has served on the standing committee since 2009, received 25 votes.

If Kwong remains head of the Hong Kong church until the next ACC meeting, expected in 2019, he will be the first sitting primate to lead an ACC meeting. The ACC is the only one of the four governing entities of the Anglican Communion—called the Instruments of Communion—that includes lay people, priests and deacons, and bishops. The other instruments are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of bishops in the Anglican Communion, and the Primates Meeting. The primates most recently met in January, when they issued a communiqué that placed consequences on the Episcopal Church for allowing marriage equality in the church.

The Rt. Rev. John Paterson, who was primate of New Zealand, was elected as ACC chair at the end of the 2002 meeting, but retired as primate before he led the 2005 and 2009 meetings.

The first ACC, which was borne out of the 1963 Anglican Congress in Toronto, met for the first time in 1971. Until 1984 it was led by laypeople, including Dr. Marion M. Kelleran of the Episcopal Church who was chair from 1973-1979. She is the only woman to have chaired the group. Clergy served as ACC chairs from 1984-1996 and since then, the ACC has been chaired by a bishop.

“I think that we need to respect the need for a balance of power and checks and balances,” said Rosalie Ballentine, an attorney and deputy from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands. “The ACC is the one instrument with laypeople on it. Lay people need to have a voice in the leadership of the communion and not be subject to the four-part governance of primates. Shared decision-making is part of our identity as Anglicans.”

The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, the Episcopal Church’s bishop representative to the ACC who announced earlier this week that he would not stand for chair, wonders if a primate serving as ACC chair will compromise the group’s independent voice.

“Two Instruments of Communion—the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC—were developed out of a desire to expand the mission of God in new contexts and new cultures,” said Douglas. “The other two—the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting—have their historical origins in debates about the limits of diversity and the reception of new cultures, ideas, and practices.”

The first Lambeth Conference, in 1867, happened as a result of Bishop John Colenso of Natal, whose tolerance of polygamy caused wide concern among his fellow bishops. The first primates meeting was held in 1979 following the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, and at the 1988 Lambeth Conference, which included 518 bishops of the Anglican Communion, the primates were decreed to have “enhanced responsibility for offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters.”

After his election, Kwong said that although he understands concerns about a primate serving as ACC chair, he thinks some may see it as an advantage. “Being a chair of ACC is not simply to chair meetings. The chair of ACC, as I understand it, his real responsibility is to connect people with the Communion. So being the primate, I can get access to the Primates Meeting, I can get access to the Lambeth Conference, I can get access to the Archbishop of Canterbury … The reason for doing that is to help these four instruments of unity work together. They are not independent from each other.”

In his address on April 8, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reminded the members of that Lambeth Conference resolution, emphasizing that it called the primates’ increased role “a key to growth of interdependence” in the Communion.

For Douglas, election of a primate as ACC chair threatens that interdependence. “It’s concerning to see the ACC become more closely identified with primates, who have a different history and authority in the Communion,” Douglas said. “The Instruments of Communion provide balance and mutual accountability to one another, and when one instrument is at risk of becoming subservient to another, our ability to express God’s mission in diverse contexts may also be at risk.”

The Rev. Gay Jennings, the Episcopal Church’s ACC clergy member, who also serves as president of the House of Deputies, said that her concern over the election has nothing to do with Archbishop Kwong’s qualifications for leadership.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with Paul in a table group all week, and he is a skilled and wise leader,” Jennings said. “But the balance of bishop, clergy and lay authority is a hallmark of the Episcopal Church’s identity and a key way we discern our role in God’s mission, and so I am particularly attuned to a loss of that balance in the structures of the Anglican Communion.”

Jennings also expressed concern over gender imbalance at this ACC meeting, which includes 50 men and 20 women as members. Eighteen bishops, only two of whom are women, are members representing their provinces. Three of those bishops, including Kwong, are primates representing their provinces, despite the ACC constitution’s stated preference that provinces that have only one ACC member, like Hong Kong, appoint a lay person. This ACC meeting also includes three additional primates who serve on the primates standing committee. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa serves both on the primates standing committee and as the bishop representative from his province.

“Especially because women cannot serve as clergy or bishops in so much of the Anglican Communion, it’s critical to ensuring that lay voices are heard at ACC,” said Jennings. Both ACC13 and ACC14 called for equal representation of women on all inter Anglican standing commissions and other bodies.

In Welby’s address, he said, “The ACC is one of the ways in which the Communion is held together. It is made effective by the involvement of lay people, our main bulwark and defence against an unthinking clericalism.”

“I agree wholeheartedly with Archbishop Justin,” Jennings said. “But I’m afraid this meeting has weakened that defense, and we have work to do to rebuild it.”