THE Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, spoke addressed the General Synod on Thursday morning.
He spoke on the Church of England as the Anglican Communion’s “elder sister Church”. Anglicans around the world still looked to England without “sarcasm, cynicism, or misplaced anachronism”, he told the Synod. “They feel they owe so much of their faith, at least in human terms, to the faithful giving of Christians in the Church of England over the centuries.”
Yes, the Communion was not without its problems, but at both last year’s Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) gathering in Zambia, Anglicans had come together around the Bible, prayer, the eucharist, and mission. “The ACC came to a common mind on many issues: interfaith relationships, the environment, safeguarding, and safe church,” Dr Idowu-Fearon said.
The Church was growing around the world — if not in every nation — schools are being built, the scriptures were being translated and read, division and conflict is being reconciled. Dr Idowu-Fearon also noted the work of the Anglican Alliance — the Communion’s global relief and development charity — and the many companion diocesan relationships, which persisted even when the provinces involved were deeply split over sexuality.
“I hope you realise this, brothers and sisters, because it is a fact that the Church of England today is giving necessary and beautiful gifts to the wider Communion,” he said. He praised the innovation of Fresh Expressions, of cathedral-based outreach, and Renewal and Reform. Indeed, the Anglican Communion Office was staffed by C of E members and worked out of offices owned by the C of E, he noted.
Dr Idowu-Fearon also spoke warmly of the “sacrificial and costly” ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of unity. “The Anglican Communion remained intact during the meeting and gathering of Primates a year ago in Canterbury. I believe that, next to the Holy Spirit, this is due to Archbishop Justin.”
But it was obvious that the Communion faced huge challenges — poverty, political uncertainty, refugees and migration, and persecution. “And there is also the dispiriting and destructive dynamic of Anglican conflict over human sexuality that is so divisive between the provinces of the Anglican Communion, as well as within them,” Dr Idowu-Fearon said. This Synod had been reflecting on the place of gay and lesbian Christians “in your unique English context”, although the House of Bishops’ report merely revisited the provisions of the position of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
In his own African and Nigerian context, Dr Idowu-Fearon said that the most pressing issue was how to combat the criminalisation of homosexuality. “The struggle for the legal, social, spiritual, and physical safety of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is our issue in Nigeria and other places in Africa,” he said. African Anglicans needed to denounce the violence and legal restrictions on gay people which were often supported by their own Churches and leaders. “We need to re-receive the courageous stance of the Church of England against criminalisation of homosexuality in the 1960s.”
He said that he prayed the C of E’s decisions on same-sex relationships would be received by other Provinces in a way that would assist their “equally vital agenda to change attitudes that will make people safe”.
The Church’s internal life was best filled with the Holy Spirit when the Church spent itself on behalf of others. “That is what it means to be a missional Church.” This was true in the history of the Church of England, when its vigour had been rekindled by sending out missionaries around the world. The same should be true for today’s C of E, he argued. “The route to the Church of England’s internal health is, as with any Church, through her self-expenditure for the sake of the world . . . an elder sister for her siblings.”
Dr Idowu-Fearon then quoted the 1920 Lambeth Conference’s encyclical letter, in which the bishops had written of the Church’s objective as being to “win over the whole human family” to fellowship with God. “This history is about moving outwards in the name of Jesus; moving outwards in fellowship or communion, as it grows larger and larger,” he said. “Everything this session of the General Synod will do is to be measured by this calling.”
In his travels around the Communion, Dr Idowu-Fearon had realised that there was currently no way to resolve its divisions and problems neatly. “This doesn’t mean that the issues are not important; it means we are not up to the task of resolving them faithfully right now.” All the Communion could do was give itself to each other, set aside some difficult matters for now, and see what happened, with patience.
“Brothers and sisters, your struggles are our struggles; your achievements are our achievements,” he said. “Know that the Churches of the Anglican Communion continue to keep you in their prayers.”