THE Synod carried a motion that, its proposer said, could easily be written off as “motherhood and apple pie”, but still needed to be debated: it sought to emphasise and strengthen companion links between English dioceses and parts of the Anglican Communion overseas.
Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, said that diocesan links across the Communion were seen by all as a “good thing”, but it was still important to debate them, because the build-up to the next Lambeth Conference in 2020, with much tension still within the Communion, meant that it was time to rebuild international links. Brexit also made it an “apposite time” to “reaffirm our bonds of friendship with sister Churches in continental Europe in particular”.
But there was also a deeper question: “How do we become and make prayerful, confident disciples in daily life?” It took an outsider to help them to tell where churches and dioceses were doing well and where they had confused their cultural context for Christianity, the Bishop argued. Hence the motion called on the C of E to make “international links a central part of their strategy for mission and discipleship”.
This was much more than tired clichés about “learning much more from them than they did from us”. It also needed to challenge innate paternalism and even colonialism. No one who went on mission trips to companion churches in Ukraine or India from his former London parish had returned unchanged. But the voices of the wider Communion were too often marginalised in the national Church.
The Archdeacon of Chester, the Ven. Dr Michael Gilbertson (Chester), supported the motion. The diocese of Chester had two companion links, one of them with the Church in Melanesia, a “tremendously fruitful link”. He spoke of the unaccompanied singing of the Melanesian Church, which “puts our singing to shame”. The link was capturing the imagination of children and young people and has had a huge impact on church schools’ life. It had been a great 30 years, and he looked forward to the link continuing.
In his maiden speech, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Michael Ipgrave, said that Lichfield had four deep and longstanding links, with Germany, South Africa, South-East Asia, and Canada: “real links, populated by real people”. “We want to embed diocesan links in the priorities of our diocese,” he said. He urged that everyone in ordination should spend time overseas in other Churches. “We are evangelised afresh by our companions, and they equip us with confidence for our evangelism here”.
In her maiden speech, Annika Matthews (C of E Youth Council) had spent time in Romania, which had helped to shape her religion and life. The “experience enabled me to understand life of Eastern European communities in UK”. In the words of the motion, companion links “challenge, renew, and deepen our own faith”, she said. “We in this country have a lot to learn from those with faith whose lives are threatened.”
Moving his amendment (item 18), the Revd Shaun Morris (Lichfield) said he had concerns with the word “central” in the motion, which caused him to “ponder the essential components of mission and discipleship”. Christ was “central” to their strategy, and to ask parishes to put international links at “centre” of their strategy, regardless of their situation, seemed incongruous. Dioceses should value the importance of links rather than make them “central”.
Bishop Watson resisted the amendment. “Every parish should be able to plug into a companion link,” he said.
Debbie Buggs (London) supported the amendment. “I know it often seems unglamorous, but the normal way of growing understanding is through the faithful preaching of God’s word, week in week out.” The Bible “shrinks the world and expands our view and appreciation of God, leading to whole-life discipleship and worship”.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, described how, when he left Uganda in 1974, his parents had told him to thank whoever would listen “for the missionaries they sent”. The first Bishop was murdered, and yet another was sent. “Our God is a sending God, a commanding God, a calling God. Not a commending God.” He urged Anglicans in England to remember that they had taken “great risks in going out and sending people who preached the gospel”. Parishes must “take seriously the command to go and make disciples of all nations. Until that has been done, please don’t commend, but send. . . Be agitated about it. . . The world needs saving, and you Anglicans are all over the world. Wake up! Resist the amendment.”
The amendment fell.
Canon Tudor Griffiths (Gloucester) described sabbatical time spent in both Tanzania and California. In Tanzania, there had been a “great sense of partnership”; people knew about Gloucester diocese, and he taught in the theological college there. But in California he had found “very little awareness of the link and not a great deal of interest. My wife and I had a wonderful time, but if I were to sum up the experience in a tweet, it would be: ‘If you want to learn about God, go to Tanzania; if you want to learn about the world, go to California.” This suggested that companion links “vary significantly in terms of their value in mission partnership”.
In some countries there was no Anglican diocese, and they could learn from the experience brought to the UK from Christians around the world. “A short-term visit can give the illusion of knowing a culture, whereas to know it deeply requires immersion, and that means time.”
Jennifer Humphreys (Bath & Wells) spoke as a former diocesan mission adviser, a Canon of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, and having chaired the pre-Lambeth hospitality planning group in 2008. This latter experience was “a great blessing to us all and we had a lot of fun”. Bath & Wells was linked with Zambia, and she described the impact of hosting a young Zambian priest during Lent who had explained how his Bishop had cautioned against fasting, as food was already scarce. Many “global friendships” had grown over the past 40 years of the link. She recommended that others find out more about their own links.
Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) wanted the Synod to discuss the “elephant in the room” which put strain on companion links: sexuality. Were parishes and dioceses making sure that they included an LGBT person on any visiting group that went overseas, to provoke debate and encourage other Anglicans to encounter, perhaps for the first time, a gay Christian? Such an action would also offer a “lifeline of hope” to isolated LGBT Christians in countries across Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Canon Sue Booys (Oxford) told the Synod about the transformation of diocesan and parish links with a diocese in South Africa. The relationship had begun as paternalistic, but had become one that enriched both sides and produced “extraordinary learning”. After a while, they had decided not to just send English people to visit the feeding scheme that they supported in South Africa, but to bring four female leaders of that project to England. Now, small groups in the Dorchester Team Ministry and in that South African diocese met at the same time each week to pray for each other.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, reminded the Synod that Christians had never been able to choose their own companions in the journey of faith. Difficult conversations with brothers and sisters from companion Churches were not always easy, and they did not produce agreement, but they did produce love. “The companion links are not a product of the Anglican Communion: they are the Communion,” he said.
Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) said that today her local primary school was heading to Kenya because of a companion link. Just the teachers were going, but “they are going to come back with the simple joy of being Christian.” She said that all they needed was the Bible, the words of life, the words of passion. “Let’s go back with the word of God: that’s what transforms communities. Let the word direct us: that is life,” she told the Synod, and urged it to support the motion.
The motion was carried. It read:
That this Synod affirm the companion Links between the Church of England’s dioceses and other parts of the Anglican Communion; encourage the Diocesan Companion Links to maximise their contribution to the hospitality programme prior to the Lambeth Conference; and call upon the parishes, deaneries and dioceses of the Church of England to make international links a central part of their strategy for mission and discipleship, drawing on the resources of the Diocesan Companion Links and the Mission and Development Agencies.