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Anglicans Online last updated 19 November 2017

The American Adventure, Nottingham, June 2005
by Simon Sarmiento
Anglicans Online Europe correspondent
3
July 2005

Simon Sarmiento reports further on the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham. Here is his first report.

The surrealism started on the motorway. Approaching exit 26 of the M1 on the first Monday, big brown signs invited me to leave the motorway there for The American Adventure. When I arrived mid-morning in the lobby of the business school building at the University of Nottingham, where ACC-13 was meeting, was full of people milling about including a good many who could only be described as, well, American lobbyists.  As Stephen Bates wrote in the Tablet:

Hovering outside the Nottingham meeting this week – and sitting at the back during sessions – has been the growing repertory company of British and American conservatives from pressure groups such as Anglican Mainstream from the Church of England and the American Anglican Council (AAC), which now turns up at every gathering, to keep the delegates up to the mark.

They were milling because the council had gone into an executive session (i.e. with only ACC members and Council staff present) to discuss a resolution, concerning The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, put forward by the Global South before the start of the meeting. This proposal sought not only to endorse what the Primates had previously said at Dromantine, but also to apply even greater sanctions on the Canadian and USA churches than either Windsor or the Primates had requested. However, the wording of that motion was not made public until Wednesday morning.

And people are still confused about the outcome. Even Andrew Brown, writing in the Press column of the Church Times the following week, asked:

If a schism takes place in Nottingham, and nobody hears it, what happens? I ask, only because a scrupulous reading of the papers last week leaves me mystified about whether, or to what extent, the Anglican Communion still exists.

I know that the Americans and Canadians have been expelled for three years, on a vote that was much narrower than seemed logical. I can assume that they will have a hard time coming back. But whether this means anything at all is impossible to work out….

… I don't think this is a reflection on the journalists who were there. It's possible that even the delegates didn't know what was happening.

Nobody I talked to at Nottingham was the least bit surprised that such a motion was brought forward. But what did surprise me, and a great many other people, was what happened to it on Wednesday afternoon, when another executive session was called, that continued way past its allotted time. The intense heat only added to the feeling of deja-vu that this was very much like the 1998 Lambeth Conference, albeit on a smaller scale. As Stephen Bates noted in his Tablet article:

Hand-held fans, supplied by Anglican Mainstream and bearing the motto “God’s Love Changed Me”, flapped lazily in the muggy atmosphere of a Nottingham summer afternoon.

But he failed to mention that the fans were coffin-shaped.

So what did happen? First, in the course of Wednesday afternoon, the key paragraph, seeking to extend sanctions way beyond participation in ACC itself, was emasculated to refer only to the two internal ACC management committees. As the debate was closed to the press, we don’t know exactly why this was done. Had the original draft wording

withdraw their members from all other official entities of the Communion

been retained, it is hard to believe that  the resolution would have received enough support to pass. So although Jill Lawless of Associated Press was castigated by conservatives for her report of this event, she was quite right to spot that this was a point of defeat for conservatives.

Second, and significantly only after a secret ballot had been requested, the revised resolution passed by a narrow margin of 2 votes. (An earlier request from the Dean of St Paul’s to require a two-thirds majority for approval had been rejected.)

The key surprise to me was not the narrow margin, but that the total number of votes cast in favour of this much weakened motion was a mere 30 out of a possible total exceeding 70. Using the definition of Global South provided by Anglican Mainstream, those 17 provinces alone had a total of 33 delegates present. So either virtually nobody outside the Global South (except of course Elizabeth Paver) had voted in favour of this motion, or perhaps even some Global South delegates had themselves dissented.

And 28 delegates felt sufficiently strongly that they were not prepared to endorse Windsor and Dromantine at all. If the six votes of the two North American delegations that had voluntarily absented themselves” had also been cast, there would have been a completely different outcome.

So maybe all those lobbyists were not having as much success as they wanted. This is also surprising. They have been working very hard for a long time now. As Stephen Bates wrote last week in The Tablet:

The conservatives have indeed been preparing for this moment for some time. They have been assiduous in courting particularly the Africans, who form the rising force within the Communion, dancing attendance upon them, promising them money – though little of that has so far materialised – advising them on what to say at the ACC and suggesting who they might support for election to its committees.

In Kampala a couple of weeks ago, as African delegates prepared for the Nottingham meeting, American evangelicals also attended to tell them what  to do. So much for the denunciation of the American Church’s supposed imperialism over the gay issue by Archbishop Peter Akinola, Nigeria’s ambitious primate, who has led the global South’s opposition to ECUSA’s liberalism over homosexuality.

Before we got to that vote, the Tuesday afternoon had been taken up entirely by the American and Canadian presentations which they had been asked to make to the council, first by the Windsor Report (paragraph 135) and then again by the Primates in paragraph 16 of their Dromantine statement. This attracted far more public attendance and press attention than the rest of the meeting, and the windowless lecture theatre without air conditioning became unbearably hot as the afternoon wore on. So much so that a further session planned for the evening was cancelled as delegates had simply had enough.

Did these presentations have any beneficial effect on the ACC delegates? Well, apart from anecdotal evidence, two events suggest that they did have some limited immediate effect. The next day’s voting certainly indicates that the presentations did not persuade many delegates to join the Global South in what many expected to be a much more extensive support for sanctions.  Despite the conservative lobbyists repeatedly issuing diatribes against the American and Canadian delegates in the course of the conference, at the end of the meeting the council actually passed a resolution thanking them for their presentations, despite "concern that it undermined" the Resolution Concerning the Primates’ Statement at Dromantine.

The most important presentation at the ACC was not any of those on Tuesday. It was the ACC Presidential Address given by Rowan Williams on Monday. He wrote this himself at a single sitting, and it shows little sign of having been edited thereafter by his staff. In Section II he summarises even-handedly the current situation in the communion on homosexuality. The previous Sunday, he had talked about this briefly to a wider audience in a British ITV interview with Melvyn Bragg. Here is part of what he said there:

Melvyn Bragg

…You must have thought of this - what price unity? Don't some people say to you sometimes, oh look, let it split up, let's go, let's go after what we believe in and we will go that direction, they will go that direction and there you are, that’s fine.

Archbishop

If that’s the decision of some bits of the Church that’s - that’s their decision. My job I think in those circumstances is to say, “But this is the cost; think about that”. And from where I stand the particular responsibility I have in this configuration, in virtue of the Office, is to do all I can to hold the conversation together with integrity. I don’t pretend that there may not come a point where that’s not possible. But I hope and pray that we carry on with it. But as I say that’s I think the particular job that an Archbishop of Canterbury has to exercise in that world-wide context now.

I returned home and on Friday watched the feature film Osama at my local film society. Somehow it seemed a suitably surreal end to the week.

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