Backpacking Through the Anglican Communion: A search for
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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
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.
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
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