THE Church must present the world with Christ-centred hope rather than imitating a British newspaper whose motto might be “Give the readers something to hate every day,” the Archbishop of Canterbury told a 5000-strong congregation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka on Sunday morning.
Addressing an open-air eucharist, packed with Anglicans from all four Churches of the Province of Central Africa, from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Botswana, and including the President of Zambia, the Archbishop urged the Church to learn from past mistakes in its message, and to preach a story of hope.
“We show that we come from Christ when we go out in humble and joy-filled service,” he said. “When we go out singing and dancing; when we rejoice in worship and are full of love; when we are not judgemental; we do not fall into the old church habit of throwing stones at the weak, and flattering the proud and the strong.”
He asked: “Is our message so full of Christ-centred hope that it creates societies of hope?”
During the four-hour service, there was praise for the unity that was on display. The provincial secretary, the Bishop of Eastern Zambia, the Rt Revd William Mchombo, officiated, and spoke of the Anglican Communion as an “amazing worldwide family”.
The Mothers’ Union was out in force in a sea of blue and white, and the powerful voices of combined choirs rose up into the wide skies during the service.
There was plenty of pageantry, too. The Archbishop smiled, and there was laughter as he gave permission to a solemn sword-bearer for the entry of the colour party, a troop bearing the flags of the countries represented at the ACC.
Clothing featuring an ACC-16 print was much in evidence, and adorned a combined women’s choir with nuns in the front row bobbing and swaying in time. The young population of Zambia — almost half the country is under 14 — was well-represented, from the teenage dancers who performed a routine on the steps of the cathedral, to a tiny girl who sang: “You raise me up” in front of massed cameras.
A trio of girls from Zambia won whoops and applause during a passionate recital of a poem, full of exhortations, that had been specially composed for the occasion. The marching band, led by a skilled baton twirler, proved that the loud rehearsals (with which speakers at Saturday’s meeting had done battle) had paid off.
Several of the hymns were performed in local languages. The creed was sung in Shona by a choir from Zimbabwe, and the sermon was translated into Chewa by Fr Samson Mwanza of the diocese of Eastern Zambia.
Disputes were touched on during Archbishop Welby’s homily. He agreed that debates were inevitable, and noted that St Paul spoke of “the need to resist wrong doctrine”. But, he went on: “We will only discern right and wrong when we listen and learn.
“Even if your own arguments prevail, you cannot be satisfied until you look like Jesus Christ,” he said. “At the minute you remember that, you see the insanity of power struggles and in-fighting in the Church. Because it is Christ who builds gifts and gives them across the Church to bring us to maturity.
“But too often, both as individuals and as groups within the Church, we take the gift and put it in our pocket, and treat it as our own, and if you get it out, you get it out to use against someone next to you.”
He touched, too, on politics outside the Church, including the referendum on EU membership set to take place in the UK. “To date, the campaign risks being vague, unrealistic, and negative,” he said.
After reflecting on “what righteousness looks like, in our message as Christians or, indeed, in a political campaign”, he concluded that it “describes sustainability, not simply optimism. It describes strength and endurance, rather than hoping that something will simply turn up.” A message that was “full of scoffing, violence, and manipulation”, would lack righteousness, he warned.
Drawing on the reading from Deuteronomy, (“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. . .”) he spoke of the danger of forgetting God “when we are in the urban landscape, or in more comfort.” In 19th-century England, urbanisation had resulted in the Church losing contact with people, he said.
Forgetting was “natural to human beings”, and stories were our way of remembering. Such stories should have “the risen, living Jesus Christ at the centre of them. Every country which has a Christian heritage must have a Christian centre to nourish that heritage.” Those praying for countries in conflict should ask that they “find the right way to tell their story so they find the hand of God calling them to life, not death”.
The gathering was later addressed by the President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, who described it as a “symbol of unity and love in a world of conflict, division and difference”. In the 51 years since independence, the Church had played a “pivotal role” in the welfare of the country, he said, and the transition to democracy from a one-party state had been achieved thanks to its intercession.
“It is by the grace of God that Zambia stands as a model of democracy in the region, and we should thank God for it.” The government continued to appreciate the Church’s work, not only in education and health but in “good governance”, he said. “Please feel free to talk to us when you see us diverting from that.” His predecessor, Zambia’s first post-independence president, Kenneth Kaunda, who turns 92 this month, was also present.
In his closing remarks, the Archbishop quoted Pope Francis, who had pondered: “Why is it that so many people going out to talk about Jesus look as if they are going to a funeral?” The Archbishop left his audience with instructions for their departure: “Dance, and rejoice, because Jesus has so captivated us with liberation, he has so guided and sustained us in righteousness, he has so equipped us in maturity, that we are to be the people who make disciples.”
The congregation did not need much encouragement. On several occasions, those present proved unable to resist the rhythm of the drumming that accompanied the choirs, and left their chairs to dance freely. Bishops on the ACC were trapped in an enclosure close to the altar, but the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, whose diocese has a link with Zambia, was able to break free, and could be found dancing alongside African clergy and the Revd Jacynthia Murphy of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia, one of only two women clergy robed for the service. They were joined for a short period, and to the congregation’s delight, by President Lungu.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people come to celebrate together in unity and peace,” the girls’ poem had declared. “Nothing in the world can be compared to this kind of fellowship.”