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Time to find a balance

Michael Doe has five things on his Lambeth Conference shopping list

1. Move away from the old colonial ideas of Communion

OF COURSE, these were exploited at the GAFCON meeting (News, 4 July) by those wanting to distance themselves from Canterbury in order to set up their own new power blocks, but one cannot avoid the fact that the dynamic centres of the Communion are moving elsewhere.

My first visit in this job was to the first All Africa Bishops Conference in Lagos, in 2004, where they were rightly celebrating “Africa Come of Age”. Yet the Church of England still finds it difficult not to see the rest of the Communion as needy, exotic, or plucky foreigners, rather than growing and confident partner Churches.

USPG and CMS started to come to terms with these post-colonial realities half a century ago, albeit in different ways. Sadly, we now see new dependencies being created by NGOs, and all kinds of “project funding” designed to keep the donor self-satisfied.

2. Reject new forms of (largely US-based) colonisation

HAVING ASSUMED our imperial mantle, the United States is now doing what our missionary societies did in the 19th century, and exporting its differences around the world. The current fault-lines in the Communion largely reflect whichever Society helped found each province, and what kind of theology and ecclesiology it taught.

Today, the relationship between American conservatism and the kind of Christianity that emerges from traditional African culture, or a majority-Muslim society, is sometimes a meeting of theological minds, but it can also be an imposition that has more to do with personal ambitions and the availability of funding.

Nor do I exempt the US liberals from this, with their belief in the inevitability of “the post-Enlightenment project”. At their national missions conference last month, they were still talking about “the overseas mission of our Church” rather than the need to support the mission that properly belongs to each Church in each place. In any case, it is God’s mission rather than the Church’s. Some of them find it difficult to accept that they are no longer setting the pace for the Communion.

3. Struggle with the relationship between unity and diversity

THE Bishop of Rochester is right to remind us that there must be limits to the diversity within the Communion (News, 27 June); but at

the heart of our problems is the reality of the different cultural contexts in which each Church is seeking to respond to how it hears God’s call.

These appear even within Africa: the Churches in South Africa and Uganda have a different history — one more political, the other more revivalist — and exist today in different kinds of society — one more liberal, the other more conservative. They are both very different from the Church of England in the 16th century.

4. Celebrate our Anglicanism

At the recent USPG annual conference, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, reminded us of the way in which Richard Hooker held scripture, tradition, and reason together (News, 11 July).

  This Lambeth Conference needs to address that balance, and especially the way that, in some parts of the Communion, the supremacy of scripture has been replaced by its inerrancy.

  Above all, the way that the bishops meet, worship together, and listen to each other needs to reflect Anglicanism at its best: rooted in the Trinity, and Christlike in service, with confidence in God and openness to the Spirit, expressed in sacramental worship and incarnational witness.

In a world that is being betrayed by extremisms and escapisms of all kinds, our Anglican tradition has so much to offer. What a tragedy that internal divisions and, to many of us, second-order issues so often get in the way.

5. Put mission at the centre

the theme for this Lambeth Conference is not gay bishops or episcopal power struggles, but equipping bishops for their position as leaders in mission. Those of us who travel around the Communion know that its current disputes have little to do with life on the ground.

As I visit places where people are using USPG to support their fellow-Anglicans around the world, I have seen work with street-children in Delhi, AIDS orphans in Pretoria, sex-trade victims in Lahore, shanty-town dwellers in Brasilia, and medical work from the West Bank to Malawi.

I have seen men and women who gather for the eucharist, go out to share their faith — sometimes in great poverty — even in the face of persecution, but with deep commitment and often great joy.

This is the reality of the Communion we share, and it is a renewed commitment to this work, God’s mission, which should, above all else, be at the centre of the Lambeth Conference.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe is General Secretary of USPG: Anglicans in World Mission.

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