Anglican travelling attentively

by
25 July 2014

Chris Chivers enjoys timely observations of global church life

iStock

Backpacking Through the Anglican Communion: A search for unity

Jesse Zink

Morehouse Publishing £12.99

(978-0-8192-2901-4)

Church Times Bookshop

£11.70 (Use code CT550)

IN HER book Travelling In, Monica Furlong wrote: "Priests are justified only by their powers of being and seeing." If that phrase was printed on every application form for the current versions of "show and tell" by which the Churches in these islands seek to discern vocations, Christian reality would, I suspect,be a good deal healthier.

Thank God, then, for a priest such as Jesse Zink, who transparently understands this, and who can communicate William Blake's "minute particulars" with an eye to their global significance, and with love and intelligence.

Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A search for unity is a marvellous book, at turns prayerful, thoughtful, challenging, and moving. Above all, it glows with a luminosity that gives its readers space for real engagement with the material before them.

Being and seeing are increasingly rare qualities that Zink possesses in spades. In a way that is convincing, he invites and encourages his readers to embrace them, too. His book is a working out of that powerful injunction from Henri Nouwen: "Don't just do something - stand there!"

At the most prosaic level, Zink's book is a travelogue, taking in Anglican dioceses in the Americas, England, Southern Africa, Nigeria, China, and Sudan with chapters for each. They reveal a journalist's, as well as a theologian's, ability to introduce people and places without over-interpretation. Zink was inspired by a book published in 1963 - Global Odyssey: An Episcopalian's encounter with the Anglican Communion in eighty countries - the research for which took its author, Howard Johnson (a Canon of New York), through 200,000 miles, 730 days, 294 beds, and more mosquito bites than he could count.

Zink's book is both less and more comprehensive than Johnson's. Itis less comprehensive because his contexts are inevitably more selective, since to repeat such a venture would be impossible now, given the changes in the Anglican Communion: think of the number of autonomous provinces that have emerged since Johnson's trip in 1959-61. Yet it is more comprehensive because Zink's context-specific account of Anglicanism enables his narrative to sing with hope and potential healing. He has the rare ability to stand in the shoes of another person in the incarnational sense in which Anglicans such as Charles Gore or Max Warrenwould have advocated such an approach.

Advertisement

Sectarian Anglicanism - to be found on too many of the websites that Anglicans in Nigeria and China read, and motivating too many of the bloggers in the "West" who write on them - is steadily eroding this most precious of Anglican traits. True listening is replaced by constant transmission.

This book is made timely by the negative comments that have been passed on the Archbishop of Canterbury's sensible and sensitive assertion that the things that we say about, for instance, gay marriage affect how Anglicanism is perceived in the widest sense in Nigeria and elsewhere. Zink's travels support Archbishop Welby's view.

In truth, his book is much needed. I recently read the Facebook comments of several priests to the effect that on this issue the Archbishop was lying. I even encountered a London priest who simply said to me: "Oh, we should cut all those Africans loose and get on with being Christian."

Anglicanism in silos of this kind is a dead end, and does no serviceto the gospel - indeed, becomes a limiting parody of it. Yet, in these multi-ethnic islands (hadn't that priest noticed the Africans who have invigorated the Church of England in the diocese he serves?),it is more prevalent than one might suppose.

Zink wants us to embrace the truth that unity is mission. It is an argument that he advances in the best traditions of Anglican apologetic, with beauty, clarity, and insight. His book is a must-read for those who truly believe that belonging to the worldwide body of Christ - where there is difference, and should be charity and love - is what discipleship means.

Canon Chris Chivers is the Vicar of John Keble Church, Mill Hill, in London, and chairs the trustees of Us. (formerly USPG).

100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read twelve articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)