Editor's Note: We have received correspondence from Archbishop Michael Peers, in which he offers his reflections on Canon Robert Brooks' analysis of the ACC Constitution and the occasional confusion of roles between the ACC and the Primates Meeting. We are honored that he chose to share his insights with The Episcopal Majority, and we post his essay with his permission.
About the Author: Archbishop Michael Peers is retired primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, where he served as primate from 1986 to 2004. Further biographical details are available at the Anglican Church of Canada website.
An Amplification of the Brooks Document
by Archbishop Michael G. Peers
I write to give some background in support of Canon Brooks' lucid and admirable exposition of the realities surrounding the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and its relation to the primates and to the Primates Meeting.
I do so out of a long relationship with, and commitment to, both institutions and to their goals and purposes. In the 1970s I was a member of the ACC as a priest representing the Anglican Church of Canada .From 1986 to 2004 I was a member of the Primates Meeting. From 1993 to 2003, first as Chair of the Inter-Anglican Finance Committee, then as a member of the Primates’ Standing Committee, I attended four ACC meetings (1993 to 2002) with voice not vote, and all the annual meetings of the Joint Standing Committee from 1993 to 2003.
It is important to note carefully the role of the primates referred to in the ACC Constitution in the process of altering the list of member provinces. The primate of each province responds to a proposed change in the name of, presumably representing the mind of, the province. (In the Canadian church, the primate’s positive response to each request to add a province to the list was based on a resolution to that effect by the Council of General Synod, not simply on the primate’s own opinion.) The reference in the Constitution to messages from the primates does not refer to a message from the Primates Meeting; at the time the Constitution was written, the Primates Meeting did not exist. I would contend that just as messages from the primates to the ACC about altering (i.e., adding to) the list of member provinces do not come from a Primates Meeting but from each of the primates expressing the mind of his or her province rather than a collective mind, the same would be the case in a hypothetical instance of deleting a name on the list.
The Primates Meeting arose after the Lambeth Conference of 1978. It is certainly true that, among many bishops at that conference opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, there was a hope that the primates might clip the wings of the ACC which had issued in 1973 a response to the Bishop of Hong Kong stating their opinion that there was no absolute reason why women may not be ordained priests. But the stated purpose of the Primates Meeting was the provision of occasions of mutual support and building of a community of persons of similar ministries within the Communion. The very name and the style of the meetings express it well. Even though a resolution of the 1978 Lambeth Conference refers to a “Primates Committee,” that name was never used. The ACC consults. The Lambeth bishops confer. The primates meet.
Archbishop Donald Coggan, in presiding over the first meeting, made it clear that the meeting was not going to become a resolution-producing body. The Meetings have traditionally produced statements, and the preparation of those statements certainly produces debate; but no resolution is ever taken, or even proposed, about the statement or any other subject. Even Archbishop George Carey, who arguably contributed to the higher visibility of the Primates Meeting by acceding to the request from some members for annual meetings (an innovation advised against by those primates who chaired the Inter-Anglican Finance Committee!), resisted any attempt to introduce the proposing of motions. Such a change would overstep the mandate agreed upon from the first meeting.
Confusion of roles between the ACC and the Primates Meeting is not new. Soon after the 1988 Lambeth Conference, there arose an issue where the Primates Standing Committee (originally simply an Agenda Committee) wanted to act in order to resolve a difficult question concerning the future of the Anglican Centre in Rome. They were unaware that the ACC Standing Committee was also working on the same issue, and the two bodies were soon at cross-purposes. In order to prevent such problems in the future, it was proposed that the two Standing Committees meet jointly. This has been the practice at the annual meetings ever since. The nine members of the ACC Standing Committee and the five members of the Primates’ Standing Committee vote as a body. But, crucially, the Primates Standing Committee members may not vote on the approval of the audited financial statement because the ACC is a legally constituted body, registered with the Charities Commissioners of the United Kingdom, and only the constitutionally elected members are allowed by law to vote.
The ACC has its place and, because it is the only Communion-wide “Instrument” with representation from orders other than episcopal, it was designed to have the greatest authority. I pray that it may have the freedom and grace to use that authority wisely. The Primates Meeting has its place in a church which is “episcopally led and synodically governed” in the words Archbishop Coggan used. I pray that it may have the grace to use its leadership humbly.