Leading prayer at Hong Kong’s Gold Coast hotel : the role of a Chaplain at an international Anglican gathering

Sr Sue, far left, with Chaplains at the ACC and the Archbishop of Canterbury. (credit: ACO)

Sr Sue, far left, with Chaplains at the ACC and the Archbishop of Canterbury. (credit: ACO)

By Sister Sue Berry, CSF, Anglican representative on the CoR Executive Committee

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Invited to join a small team of chaplains for the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Hong Kong in early May, I jumped at the opportunity.  It was a very memorable experience.  The Anglican Consultative Council is a residential meeting of representatives, lay and ordained from each province in the Anglican Communion, and this was the seventeenth such meeting: ACC17.

The Anglican Communion with tens of millions of members in more than 165 countries, has 40 provinces, some national and some regional, and five extra provincial areas.  All are in communion with the See of Canterbury and recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Communion’s spiritual head.  However the Anglican Communion has no central authority.  All of the provinces are free to make their own decisions in their own ways – guided by recommendations from the four Instruments of Communion:  the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council.

The Council was held at Hong Kong’s Gold Coast hotel, overlooking the South China Sea, a 40 minute drive from Central Hong Kong.   It was luxurious, so it felt good to be assured that because of the out- of -town location and a generous deal from the Anglican owner, it was the cheapest option available to the Conference hosts -  the Anglican Church of the Province of Hong Kong.  “Relax and enjoy” we were told.  So we did!

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The local hospitality team’s thoughtfulness and generosity began with warm greetings and efficient practical care on our arrival.  Every detail was covered, and nothing was too much trouble.    During the Council we were able to worship with local churches, and also to visit some of the Province’s many social welfare projects and schools.    We experienced spectacular views of the city and harbour by night, enjoying local cuisine and culture.  School groups performing dragon dances and Chinese drumming were especially memorable.

ACC17 was a gathering of approximately 170 people.  Over 100 were elected representatives, lay and ordained, from 38 of the 40 provinces.  Around one third of them were women, including priests, bishops, and an archbishop. The Archbishop of Hong Kong, as Chair of the Council shared that role with the Vice Chair, an English lay woman, who chaired an extremely difficult session with memorable skill, grace and wisdom.     There were also eight youth members, one of whom, a very impressive woman from South Africa, has now been elected to the ACC Standing Committee. 

In addition were staff – also about one third female, lay and ordained -  from the Anglican Communion and Lambeth Conference Offices.  Others represented the various Networks which help to profile various areas of interest in the Anglican Communion.  These included the Anglican Women’s Network campaigning for gender justice concerns.  One such heroic and inspiring campaigner is a lay representative from South Sudan, who regularly risks her life combating FGM. There were also Ecumenical Partners - and our team of five chaplains.  

We were delighted that a South African sister from another Anglican order, the Community of the Holy Name, was able to join our mainly Franciscan team comprising the Minister General SSF from New Zealand as team leader,   and brothers from Sri Lanka and Malaysia who are both priests, as am I, a Franciscan sister.  Some ACC representatives had never met Anglican Religious before, and were both surprised and intrigued by our presence.

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As chaplains our main role was to be a reflective praying presence in the background supporting the work of the Council.  Mostly we attended the sessions, following the proceedings while upholding them in prayer.   During one particularly fraught session the Vice Chair asked us to withdraw to another room for concentrated prayer, which led to a creative fresh approach to a very divisive issue.   We also led the daily Bible reflections, with the participants in small groups at their conference tables sharing lectio divina.   Many for whom this was a new experience voiced their appreciation, once they adjusted to contemplative listening and concise speaking!

We transformed a hotel function room into our chapel, where we met for silent prayer in the early mornings. We supported the local clergy and ordinands who led Morning and Evening Prayer there, and the personnel from different Provinces who led our Eucharists.  We led Night Prayer. On both Sundays everyone travelled in to St John’s Cathedral in central Hong Kong, for celebratory Opening and Closing Eucharists, with the excellent cathedral musicians and servers also helping with worship at the hotel.

One evening the Archbishop of Canterbury, sitting informally on the edge of the stage, barefoot for part of the time, made himself available for a totally open question and answer session, chaired by a female lawyer from South Asia.   His openness, humility and wisdom were evident, as was the respect and affection of all present.

Attending the ACC was both fascinating and inspiring. Although tiring, it was a great privilege, with opportunities to meet some amazing people, usually at meal times or on coach journeys, when deeper conversations were possible. I gained a new awareness of the vitality and variety of the Anglican Communion to which I belong.

Sister Sue Berry, CSF