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ACC continues dialogue on Israel-Palestine, ecumenism, sexuality issues
'Ongoing conflict can be stopped,' Jerusalem bishop tells delegates

By Neva Rae Fox and Matthew Davies
ENS 062405-4
6/24/2005
[Episcopal News Service, Nottingham]  Devoting two business sessions to discussion of peacemaking in Israel and Palestine, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) on June 24 commenced a three-day focus on ecumenism, and continued the listening process on sexuality issues.  

"We heard from Israel Jewish voices, and from Palestinians, both those who reside in Israel and those who live under occupation," said Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa -- "ahorangi" or dean of Te Rau Kahikatea, an indigenous constituent of the College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand -- in presenting the report of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN).

Te Paa, who has been the APJN convener since 1997, noted the continuing policies of illegal home demolitions, detentions, check-points, identity card systems and the presence of Israeli military "that make any kind of normal life impossible."

The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, told the ACC that many people are ignorant of the facts on the ground and indifferent to the plight of those who suffer in the Holy Land. "Ignorance breeds indifference," he said. "This ongoing conflict can be stopped."

[Further ENS coverage of the presentation is posted at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_63218_ENG_HTM.htm

Other business sessions included an address from the Anglican Communion's new secretary general, and an overview of communication programs linking the world's 77 million Anglicans in 164 nations.

Today marked the fifth business day of the ACC's 10-day meeting at England's University of Nottingham. One of the Anglican Communion's four "instruments of unity," the ACC is its chief consultative body bringing together laity and clergy from around the world.

Secretary General's report

In his first address to the ACC as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon underscored the interdependence of the Anglican community of faith.

"We are a community of faith," he said. "We belong to local parishes, we belong to dioceses, we belong to provinces, we belong to a world-wide Anglican Communion."

He continued: "We meet together as Anglicans, we meet as a community of faith, and we recognize the enrichment of faith that comes from our engagement with each other. The fact is we need each other for our growth in the faith. That's what the word interdependence really means: the word that is used in the Windsor Report but also has been used within Anglicanism for very very many decades now.

"Interdependence is not just a desirable feature of Anglicanism, it is about sharing, it is about depending on our fellow Christians in the various communities of faith so that together we can work together to share and to enrich our faith. As partners in a community of faith we need to ensure that we genuinely communicate with one another."

He echoed themes heard in other sessions: ecumenism and listening.

"As a community of faith, we recognize that our partners in that community are not just simply our fellow Anglicans, the presence of our ecumenical partners and their representatives here at our meeting of the council is a tangible sign of the maturity of our ecumenical relations today."

Noting that the February Primates meeting produced a unanimous communiqué, he offered, "The lesson is that when we as Anglicans meet together in a context of prayer and bible study and mutual respect, it is possible for us to discern a way forward together."

He pointed out the importance of listening: "There is integrity on both sides of this debate. If we don't recognize that fact then there is no point in having a listening process, because the listening simply won't happen if one side is already deaf to what the other has to share."

Listening is vital to the ongoing process outlined in the Windsor Report, he said. "We have made some important decisions this week about the Windsor process, particularly the setting up of the listening process, in the long term I believe is going to be one of the most important things we have done this week."

He concluded: "These are difficult times for our Communion, I think you all realize that that is an understatement, but we have taken important steps to maintain and develop and strengthen our Communion."

Ecumenism

"Ecumenism is not just an international conversation. It is a regional conversation. It is a national conversation. In Anglican terms, it is a diocesan conversation, and it is a parish conversation," said the Rev. Canon Gregory K. Cameron in presenting the report of the Anglican Communion Department of Ecumenical Affairs and Theological Studies.

Cameron, who is deputy secretary general and director of ecumenical affairs and theological studies, said the starting point for the ecumenism focus, he said, is, "There is only one church of Jesus Christ. All Christians are members of that church."

He cited recent Anglican Communion experiences, such as the Christological Agreement with the Oriental Orthodox. "Don't confuse the Oriental Orthodox with the Eastern Orthodox," he warned. "The distinction between those two families of Christians began in the year 451 AD. We're talking about one of the earliest splints of Christian family churches."

Another challenge, according to Cameron, is shaping the ecumenical movement into 21st century terms.

He also addressed "the challenge of recent developments" concerning the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada. "The Anglican-Oriental Orthodox stopped work because of recent developments. The Russian Orthodox have been extremely pessimistic. The Lutheran World Federation is looking to the Anglicans because it knows it's a few hundred yards behind us on the same track."

In response to a question from an ACC member, Cameron addressed issues of who has the authority to approve the ecumenical arrangements. "Relationships between the four instruments of unity are very complex," he said. "Both I and my predecessor are pragmatists We've tended to bring whatever progress to whatever the next instrument of unity who is meeting next."

Work with the Baptists

At a reception prior to the start of the afternoon session, the Archbishop of Canterbury joined Baptist leader the Rev. Dr. Paul Fiddes in commending a new book, "Conversations Around the World, 2000-2005, " the report of the Intentional Conversations between the Anglican Communion and the Baptists World Alliance.

This outcome, Williams said, is based on "five years of regional conversations."

Fiddes, the Baptist co-chair of the committee, said, "Discussions were very significant in six regions of the world." Fiddes noted that the 110-page book does not end with questions or recommendations, "but will prompt conversations."

"We've become more familiar with Anglicans than [have] some Anglicans on this island," Fiddes quipped.

What followed was the first of three reports on ecumenical relations with other religions denominations slated for the remaining of the ACC meeting.

To the ACC assembly, Fiddes explained that the report was broken into two major sections: a report of the conversations and the collections of the stories, "How Anglicans and Baptists have worked together in the mission of Christ."

He explained the conversations occurred in six regions (Europe, Asia, Africa, Southern Cone, Caribbean and North America). The participants were organized from the local area, while a small group traveled to all the meetings. Each meeting contained half Anglicans and half Baptists.

"Conversations were seriously theological from the outset," he said, focusing on eight themes: Continuity; Confessing the faith; Mission and ministry; Baptism and the process of initiation; Membership; Eucharist or Lord's Supper; Pastoral Oversight; and the meaning of recognition

Fiddes concluded with the final words of the report: "There was also a strong desire for what had been achieve in the meetings to be extended into more occasions for shared workshop and working together. Each meeting ended, as does this report, with a sense of gratitude to God for each other's story."

ACC approved a resolution which "welcomes the publication of the Conversation (book) and to commend them at every level for study and reflection; encourages Anglican to meet with Baptist at the appropriate level and locally and reflect on the report; offers its congratulations to the member of the committee; and requests the ecumenical office to continue the conversations.

Ecumenical greetings

Fiddes, principal of Regent's Park College, Oxford, on behalf of the Baptists World Alliance also provided the afternoon's ecumenical greeting. "We are grateful for the recently worldwide conversations which have shown in a new way the unity we have in Christ," he said. "It has helped us to appreciate the spectrum of God's grace."

Speaking of the work undertaking together, he observed: "In the Third World setting, where hunger, war and poverty dominate, denominationalism falls away and our unity in Christ is more important."

Presenter of the day's first Ecumenical Greeting, offered on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarcate, was Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia.

"Your meeting takes place in an important history not only in your own church but in the Christina church as well," he said. "We who bear the name of Christians realize that we are facing new challenges in the world in which we live. These challenges strengthen and deepen our unity in Christ and our ecumenical relations. In order to respond to these challenges, it is necessary for us to avoid or overcome any divisive in our own churches."

"The challenges that the Church of Christ receive from the world today go beyond our internal problems," he said, citing religion used as a source of conflict and fanaticism, hatred and discrimination, poverty and an environmental crisis. "We can join forces never losing sight of the one church as our Lord wants us to be."

Communication

"Communication is not magic," Canon James Rosenthal said, "although there appears there is a problem when there is a lack of communication, we are told."

Rosenthal, who is director of communications at the Anglican Communion Office in London, warned of the consequences of a lack of communication. "If we do not tell the story, others will do it for us."

Recognizing the teamwork of colleagues, Rosenthal provided statistics about the web site: the web site logged more than 1 million visits between June 2004 to May 2005; and the Windsor report was downloaded 165,086 times.

"We must strive for excellence," he said. "We must maintain a sense of who we are as a communion."

Rosenthal shared the most frequently asked question that his office fields: "How do we get in touch with Desmond Tutu?" Rosenthal called Tutu, the archbishop emeritus of Southern Africa, "a voice crying in the wilderness for the voice of Christ. His voice and his image always inspire joy."

Noting that this ACC meeting "has attracted more media interest than any since my first ACC meeting in 1991," Rosenthal concluded, "We cannot and should not rely on the secular media or interest groups to carry our message to the world. It is not their job it is not their responsibility."

Listening process continues

In further response to the listening process requested for the Anglican Communion since the 1998 Lambeth Conference, presentations were heard from five provinces in addition to the seven that were offered June 23 representing varied views on sexuality (see ENS report of June 23).

Four of the presentations -- from Tanzania, Kenya, Peru (Southern Cone), and Congo -- concurred with the view that homosexuality is incompatible with scripture, while a delegate from Scotland said his province is committed to engage the debate around the issues.

Citing Lambeth resolution 1.10, Bishop Gerard E. Mpango of Western Tanganyika, Tanzania, explained that his province acknowledges that, "although all people are loved by God and full members of the body of Christ, we reject homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture." He added his personal disappointment with the June 21 presentations of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

"As we continue this conversation and develop a listening process, I pray that we listen to all voices in the Anglican Communion," he said.

Bishop Samson Mwaluda of Taita Tavete, Kenya, read a report that emphasized the importance of being part of a global Communion but cited disappointment at the degree of listening. "We have been listening but we feel that we have not been listened to," he said. "We listen and continue to listen [but] we feel we have not received any substantial share of them listening to us."

Explaining the Anglican Church of Kenya has been a close partner with the Episcopal Church in areas of theological education, information technology, HIV/AIDS and development, Mwaluda said, "We have enjoyed progress in these areas with the financial assistance of Episcopal Church."

Mwaluda also said weight must be given to the authority of scripture, explaining that "biblical foundations must be given room."

John Stuart, secretary general of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said that his province's bishops issued a statement earlier this month that renewed a commitment to engage in the human sexuality debate. "Our bishops have committed to listen to other voices in the Anglican Communion," he said.

The Rev. Andrew Lenton from Peru said that too much time has been given to the damage caused to mission and teaching in his province and raised concerns that all Anglicans are being "tarred with the same brush."

"A good number of our family have left," he said. "In the end they felt they had to go [and] our capacity to respond in mission has been greatly impaired."

Political tensions in Congo

Two ACC delegates from the Congo, Bishop Kahwa Henri Isingoma of Katanga and Joyce Muhindo Tsongo, delivered their presentation in French -- with an English translator -- describing some of the country's political tensions while also explaining that the Anglican Communion is a gift of God.

"It is important for us to have a sense of playing a worldwide role in our historical and doctrinal connection with the other provinces within the Anglican world, Tsongo said. "Nevertheless, she remains a church which operates in a cultural context and there are social tensions which keep her particularly unhappy."

Tsongo explained that conflict in the Congo has caused the displacement of more than 3 million people and that the church has lost many of its members including an ACC representative who was assassinated while on his way to the 2002 meeting in Hong Kong.

"A very large number of people, including Anglicans, have been internally displaced. Others to neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi," he said. "We've recorded many cases of people traumatized by the war, especially women and girls and people who have been separated from their parents."

Tsongo said that it is "very paradoxical" to find a situation such as this in a country so full of natural resources.

Isingoma explained that, although the Congolese people have experienced many tribulations, they have great hope, adding that they long for an opportunity to stand up and have their voices heard. "Christianity continues to grow," he said.

Relating to issues of human sexuality, Isingoma said that the province remains "passionately committed" to the communion.

Recovering from tsunami

The Rev. Rajendran Rajkumar of Sri Lanka said that the work of this ACC meeting would not be complete without some reference to the tsunami that devastated South East Asia December 2004, killing more than 200,000 and displacing many more.

"We must recognize the gratitude for the amount of goodwill in the country," he said. "People of all races, religions and sects came together in all parts of the country. The best of humanity was expressed and shown."

Expressing deep gratitude on behalf of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka and the National Christian Council of which he was chair at the time, Rajkumar said, "The rebuilding and reconciliation process is likely to continue for years. Rebuilding the livelihoods of people is an especially important aspect."

"We have been very conscious not to just help the Christians, but people of all faiths and all races in helping with construction," he added, asking for continuing prayers, "for our leaders and our people so that the whole country can benefit."