THIS book is the first in a series of three being published “to assist the bishops, dioceses and parishes of the Anglican Communion to prepare for the next Lambeth Conference in 2020 and behind that, prepare for the next phase of Anglican mission over the coming decade”. This one, Walking Together, followed by Witnessing Together and Listening Together, each address one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s three priorities.
Walking Together brings together a fascinating collection of essays on reconciliation from around the Anglican Communion. There are perspectives from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. As one might expect, contributions are immensely varied, as is the sort of reconciliation necessary in each area. That reconciliation lies at the heart of the Christian faith is something about which they all agree; how hugely varied are the circumstances that need reconciliation and the manner in which it is faced is something of which we are reminded by these pages.
Several of the essays concentrate on relations with other faiths — with Muslims in Egypt and in Nigeria, with Buddhists in Myanmar, and with Hindus in India. It is always good for those of us who are not persecuted for our faith to realise how costly Christian witness is in many parts of the globe: the contributions for the South Sudan and Nigeria are especially heart-rending in this respect. Some of the particularities — such as the huge problem of “absent fathers, prodigal sons” in Jamaica are very thought-provoking, and apply elsewhere.
Theologically, the themes are as one might expect, with interesting perspectives on missio Dei from Myanmar and recent ecumenical theology of the Church as communion in Egypt. A moving reflection by Yohanna Katanacho of Palestine describes his children’s book, The King of Peace and his Followers, a contemporary story preceding a biblical one, that of the widow was who was treated unjustly (Luke 18.1-8). There is an arresting piece by John Tsukada of Japan on the need for repentance by the Church in Japan, whose bishop Michael Hinsuke Yashiro, credited with restoring relations with the global Anglican Communion after the war, had earlier “praised the Japanese military invasion of China as holy war”.
In his Indian perspective, Muthuraj Swamy gives us a fascinating commentary on the encounter of Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman to bring out lessons in reconciliation grounded in self-criticism, pro-activism, and justice. He observes that “reconciliation cannot take place without a self-critical attitude. In fact, the first step in reconciliation is a self-critical attitude with which one needs to begin, if it is to be successful.” There is plenty of food for thought there. I enjoyed the variety of the contributions greatly, but yearned for some of them to be longer: Naim Ateek’s very brief contribution from Palestine, for example.
In his conclusion, Muthuraj Swamy notes that the essays make clear that there is a foundational connection between reconciliation and the mission of the Church. He reminds us that “the Church itself sometimes falls victim to conflict situations by taking sides with the dominant and powerful, or itself contributing to conflicts for short-lived reasons, forgetting its role as a healer rather than aggravator of divisions.” He also observes that a theme running through the book is that reconciliation is inherently connected with justice.
The Lambeth Conference in 2022, as Swamy reminds us, takes place in a context in which conflicts and tensions among people are increasing both within the Church and outside it. I echo his hope that this book — and, I would add, the Conference itself — “will help produce new reflections and perspectives in enabling us to participate in the reconciling mission of God”.
The Rt Revd Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.
Walking Together: Global perspectives on reconciliation
Muthuraj Swamy and Stephen Spencer, editors
Forward Movement £12
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