FIFTY summers ago, Anglicans from around the world gathered in
Toronto, for the second post-war Anglican Congress. Over ten days
in August 1963, lay people, priests, and bishops heard many
speeches and had much conversation around the theme of the
"frontiers" - interreligious, political, cultural - that their
Churches confronted. But the high point of the Congress was the
reading of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the
Body of Christ, a manifesto that laid out a new vision for the
Anglican Communion; it is one that Anglicans would do well to
MRI, as it came to be known, was the fruit of pre-congress
meetings of mission executives and Primates, who shared a
restlessness with the state of the worldwide Communion. The end of
the British Empire meant that it was no longer clear what held
Anglicans together. The growth of the Church outside the
Euro-Atlantic world forced them to recognise that Anglicanism was
no longer an exclusively Western Church.
Many saw this as an exciting new development, but there was
concern that the Church was unable to move beyond old patterns of
relationship. In MRI, they described a reborn Communion, held
together in one interdependent body of Christ.
"To use the words 'older' or 'younger' or 'sending' or
'receiving' with respect to churches is unreal and untrue in the
world and in our Communion," they wrote. "Mission is not the
kindness of the lucky to the unlucky; it is mutual, united
obedience to the one God Whose mission it is."
ONE man at the centre of these pre-Congress meetings was the Rt
Revd Stephen Bayne, a former Bishop of Olympia in the United
States, and, by 1963, the first executive officer of the Anglican
Communion. His wide travel in this post had given him the outlines
of a theology of the Communion - a theology that began with St
Paul's understanding of the body of Christ.
Anglicans around the world - whether they recognised it or not,
and whether they liked it or not - were already linked in one
It was time to find "completely new" ways to express Anglicans'
common obedience to one Lord, MRI said. "The keynotes of our time
are equality, interdependence, [and] mutual responsibility."
In order to make these "keynotes" a reality, MRI challenged
Anglicans to consider what they had to give, and to receive from
others around the world. It was this latter part that so many
Anglicans in the Euro-Atlantic world found challenging.
Speakers at Toronto emphasised ways in which the life of
Anglicans in the Euro-Atlantic world could be enriched by Anglicans
from elsewhere: by learning about a holistic approach to the
gospel, for instance, or in mutual prayer. But, for this giving and
receiving to work, Anglicans needed deeper relationships with one
A significant focus of Bishop Bayne's time as executive officer
was building up communications links between parts of the Church,
and encouraging Anglicans to meet one other in their own
This emphasis on the importance of relationships led to a new
way of thinking about what the body of Christ was to do and be in
the world. Mission, MRI said, is not "something we do for someone
else". Rather, mission was about all members of the body of Christ
joining in what God was doing: calling all people to unity and
service in the world.
"Missionaries do not go out into the world to introduce the
world to God, or he to it," Bishop Bayne said in Coventry in 1962.
"He is already there; he has been there from the beginning; he is
standing waist-deep in history, calling us to join him."
When Donald Coggan, then Archbishop of York, read aloud MRI to
the assembled delegates on Saturday 17 August 1963, it was widely
hailed as a moment of rebirth for the Anglican Communion. The
New York Times carried a front-page article about it, and
printed the full text. Other observers praised MRI for the way that
it showed Anglicans honestly wrestling with what obedience to God
meant in a new era.
Despite the praise, however, MRI failed to live up to its
billing. Many Anglicans interpreted its call to mission as a call
to financial giving, even though such giving can undermine the
development of the very relationships that MRI saw as critical to
the existence of the Church. Churches became consumed by domestic
issues in the turmoil of the late 1960s. Gradually, MRI faded from
In its fractures in the early 21st century, the Anglican
Communion stands as a mirror-image of the divisions that stalk a
world ever more divided by class, race, region, background, and so
much else. "Frontiers" abound, in parishes, dioceses, and the
worldwide Church. The body of Christ seems not a reality, but an
ideal hardly to be grasped.
Fifty years on from MRI, it is worth returning to the manifesto
and the period that produced it. In its emphasis on the patient
of building genuine relationships across lines of difference,
the importance of genuinely coming to know one another in the
context in which each lives, and above all in its recognition that
God is always calling us to something greater than ourselves, MRI
has much to teach us.
It is risky to reach out to those who are different from us, and
daring to ask what we might learn from someone from a different
background. But it is precisely these things that are at the heart
of what it means to be God's people in the world - a fact that is
no less true today than it was in August 1963.
The Revd Jesse Zink is assistant chaplain at Emmanuel
College, Cambridge, and author of the forthcoming book
Backpacking Through the Anglican Communion.