The Anglican Consultative Council conference - 2005
The ACC meets every three years or so, and is usually held in exotic places (for British people) like Hong Kong or Panama City, or even Dundee! So for some people (like my former PA at Lambeth) Nottingham was not quite the attraction that Mexico City might have been, and where it was mooted the meeting would take place. However for us in Nottingham, it was a great coup to be able to host the gathering of bishops clergy and laypeople from all over the world, at a really key moment in the history of Anglicanism; and from the outset, we found that we had really excellent support from the City Council, the University and other agencies and individuals we needed to engage.
The Conference opened very nervously, with participants very uncertain about the prospects for the meeting, and unclear about how to treat the American and Canadian delegations who had been invited to attend only as observers to the Conference. (This was because of particular occurrences in their churches relating to the continuing debate on human sexuality.) However, the opening service at St Peter's, beginning with a procession from the Council House, and a wonderfully vibrant greeting in the church led by the Chariots of Joy Gospel Choir and the St Peter's Choir helped to begin the process of relaxation that continued – give or take a moment or three – throughout the length of the Conference.
You might not believe it, but there was a great deal on the agenda other than arguments over sex; but even these debates, angry as they were at times, did move the delegates forward. Unfortunately so much of the discussion goes on from behind brick walls, led and fomented by people taking extreme views, many of them with much broader political agendas than just the theology of sexuality. These people generally sit in the background using the Internet as their main vehicle of communication, and claiming far greater authority for their views than actually they have. It was interesting therefore to find a number of them at the Conference trying hard to direct the debates and to further punish the Americans and Canadians, and anyone else who said anything vaguely 'liberal', but being rounded on by many of the very delegates (from Africa and Asia) whom they claim to represent.
Work that is being done day in and day out by Anglicans around the world in often extremely difficult situations so often seems to get lost in all the headlines about sexuality, and was really glad to see many of those situations being explained and discussed – ecumenical relations, working for justice and peace, lots of different challenges to mission and evangelism, inter-faith relations – so vital in today's world context – and so on. And day by day, we saw friendships form and respect deepen across the cultural divides, until by the end, and that great Eucharist hosted at St Mary's by our Bishop George, and the magnificent sermon from Archbishop Rowan, and the spine tingling music from Christian Forshaw and Ben Okofor and the St Mary's Choir, we were all sure that, so long as the face to face meeting goes on, we can bridge these apparently vast divides because God continues to bless Anglicans around the world in so many ways.
A lot of people worked very hard to make the running of the conference a success, including our office staff, Esther Elliott, David McCoulough, Helen Walker and others more widely around the diocese, and the warmth of the reception from everyone in the city was commented on by everybody at the Conference, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. So thank you to everyone, and I hope that for all of us who were touched by it, it will remain a memorable event for church and city life for many years to come.
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