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C of E priests from abroad meet to discuss Anglicanism

08 February 2019

‘If you do not know the culture, you could make mistakes’


The Rector of St Matthew’s, the Revd Dr Hugo Adán-Fernández

The Rector of St Matthew’s, the Revd Dr Hugo Adán-Fernández

“WHAT would naked Anglicanism look like?” was a question posed by the Revd Dr Daniel Muñoz at St Matthews at the Elephant, off the New Kent Road, in London, last month.

Addressing C of E priests from ten different countries, he sought to explore what would be left “if one was able to strip away all the English cultural garments from Anglicanism”.

The question was one of many dealt with during a seminar last month convened by the Rector of St Matthew’s, the Revd Dr Hugo Adán-Fernández, for people serving non-English-speaking congregations.

Although such churches are growing (News, 29 June 2018; Features, 2 June 2017), this could be an isolating experience, he suggested. “Sometimes, it is difficult to find echoes of our own experience within the C of E.”

Among the issues discussed were the challenge of ministerial training in English, expectations of assimilation, and a lack of strategic thinking on the part of the national Church.

The Curate of St Peter’s, Acton Green, Fr Fabrizio Pesce, suggested that there was a need for theological reflection rather than simply seeing people as “new customers” for whom it was necessary to “tailor a product”. There was also a need to move beyond “pre-conceptions” about different nationalities. “If you do not know the culture and roots, you could potentially make massive mistakes.”

One priest described how training had involved being sent to Cambridge, “to a very British, middle-class bubble, to turn me into a British something — and it didn’t work.”

Another recalled being invited to the College of Bishops, and realising only when he arrived that he had been invited as one of several “BAME priests”. “I found that whole experience very awkward: I did not put myself in one of those categories until that moment.”

There was a perception that the C of E was “liberal”, one pastor noted. “There are issues that we do not want to touch, and we just engage in a very superficial way.”

The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, noted the prevalence of institutional language that implied a “top-down power relationship”, in which communities were “hosted” by the C of E. The goal, he suggested, was mutuality.

Pentecost showed that, “right at the very beginning of the Christian Church, the message is that the gospel is not to be located in any one culture or language or ethnic group. . . It comes to everybody, equally.”

He noted that, in its early days, the C of E translated the Book of Common Prayer into French for the Channel Islands, and into Latin for students at Oxford and Cambridge: “There is something in our history which says we are not just about English.”

Dr Muñoz, a C of E priest in Spain, explored the history of the Anglican Communion, noting that mission had often meant creating “clones of the Mother Church”. The “corporate original sin” of the Anglican Communion was “the colonial mindset that believes there is only one correct way to be an Anglican. . . Until we name this sin, we will not be able to move forward.”

Yet the Anglican Church, which had historically sought to accommodate diversity, had “a positive message to give to the world around us: that we should not be afraid of diversity”. He introduced the concept of “Mestizo Anglicanism”: an Anglicanism that was stronger for its diversity.

Priests present had come from Spain, Portugal, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, Colombia, and Italy, and some had originally trained in the Roman Catholic Church. St Matthew’s is fully bilingual (News, 7 September 2018), and language was, to some degree, “the easy part”, Dr Adán-Fernández suggested. “It is about the fact that we have different understandings of space, roles, God, relationships, friendship, the way we organise the space of the Church. . . It’s the culture.”

What united the parish was “a passion to share the gospel, to say something to our own communities about the Anglican faith”.

The Vicar of St Barnabas’s, Dulwich, the Revd John Watson, reflected on whether the C of E had something “prophetic” to say to a country that was feeling “threatened and unsure about who it is”. It could “offer a conversation about what it means to be a Christian and C of E”.

While there was much discussion of challenges and the need for greater visibility, resources, and change, priests noted that their ministries were growing, and that they had chosen the C of E. The Curate of St Matthew’s, Yiewsley, the Revd Ana Victoria Bastidas, the C of E’s first Colombian priest, suggested that “We need to embrace what we decided to have.”

The final prayer was said by the Team Vicar of Wood Green, the Revd Engin Yildirim, who was born in Turkey.

As participants prepared to return to their parishes, Dr Graham Kings, an honorary assistant bishop in Southwark, noted that a seventh-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, came from Turkey. “This isn’t new. . .”, he observed.

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