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Anglicans debate how unity can exist in the midst of global differences

09 February 2024

Lambeth Conference

SCRIPTURE is infinitely translatable across cultures and languages, tribes and time, and has been received in different communities as their own — but theology is a human endeavour, the Revd Steve Muneza, a panellist, told a global audience for a Lambeth Conference webinar on Anglican identity on Thursday.

It was the third in the series of follow-ups to the Lambeth Calls, which came out of the Conference in 2022 and which invite churches at every level to explore and take forward each theme. This call asked the Anglican Communion to reimagine its vision and practice; review the Instruments of Communion; and revitalise its commitment to the Five Marks of Mission.

The emphasis throughout the webinar was on how to achieve unity in diversity, “measuring the dignity of being different against the happiness of being together”, Mr Muneza said, quoting an African wise man. The secretary-general, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, said that he was “saddened by the effects of some of the disagreements that we have in the Anglican Communion.

“The expression I like is ‘unity in diversity’,” he said. “We are diverse: we have different contexts; we may have things that we do in a different way; but I believe that we are all called to work towards unity. We should not let these differences get in the way of Christ’s calling to us as the Anglican Communion family.”

The Revd Tariro Matsveru, reflecting on what was common to Anglican worship around the world, and on the Anglican setting that she had experienced growing up in Zimbabwe, said that translations of the BCP in different places had been made to suit the context, culture, and language of the different countries of the Anglican Communion.

“Anglicans have a shared expression of our faith in the language we use, the liturgy we use. . . Scripture is very central to all of this. . . There’s a familiarity that exists, a sense of belonging. This is what is common,” she said.

Unity was not about uniformity of opinion but sharing a concern for the well-being of one another, Mr Muneza suggested. Communion was about seeking unity out of diversity, and not about uniformity. Scripture was at the centre of what Anglicans were, he said, referring to the metaphor of the body in Corinthians, and the “words of encouragement to have the same mind and the same love” in Philippians.

Asked by the Bishop for Episcopal Ministry in the Anglican Communion, Dr Jo Bailey Wells, why and how differences of theology and biblical interpretation occurred, and how they might enrich faith, he said: “God doesn’t do theology. It is a human endeavour. Theology comes with all kinds of pre-existing assumptions, questions, and context-based perspectives, and is therefore diverse.”

On Anglican principles for studying the Bible, he recalled: “I remember Anglicans used to be described in Africa as ‘the people of the three books’: the Bible, the BCP, and the hymn book. These were central to many about who they were and who they worshipped.”

The Primate of Central America, the Most Revd Julio Murray, who chairs the Phase 3 Lambeth Conference steering group, said that one of the features of Anglicanism was that mission was adapted locally to the varying needs of the nations and peoples. Canon John Kafwanka, a former director for mission for the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), said: “God comes to us as human beings. . . We experience love and grace in Jesus Christ within our local context.

“God comes to us first and foremost in our unique context, with our unique experiences, with our own cultures, with our own languages, and also within our own opportunities, and so we respond as followers of Jesus in our local context.”

Invited by Bishop Murray to comment on the value of companion links, Canon Kafwanka described them as “an expression of what it is to be a Communion: a partnership of mutual learning through scripture, mission, and growing together.

“We, as Anglicans, are diverse. We bring different gifts. We are made for complementarity; we need to complement each other in order to be truly human. To realise the fullness of Anglican potential, we need to partner.”

The director of theological education at the ACO, Canon Stephen Spencer, said that the call to reimagine the vision and practice of communion was not static, “something you’re either in or out of”, but a journey, “a way of giving and receiving from each other”.

A full set of resources for local churches and home groups on how to think about, and engage in, communion, was immediately available via the Lambeth Conference website, he said:

“Be part of this movement, be part of what God is giving us through his Church. . . Continually rediscover the unity we have in Jesus Christ, especially through our baptism.”

Questions raised in a Q&A session included how the Anglican Communion might be made real at parish level, where it seemed an abstract reality. “There has to be some form of intentionality that comes with those of us who are connected, especially at leadership level,” Ms Matsveru suggested. “We have to to open and create spaces where those connections, those conversations can happen.

“I think of Covid, and there is something in me that says there was a blessing in the way Zoom allowed us to go to a service in America or Australia, because I could hear [and share] their experiences.”

Andrew Khoo, from the Province of South East Asia, a member of the ACC standing committee, shared his experience of companion links incorporating visits and exchanges with Lichfield diocese and with Myanmar. These made the Communion more of a reality, he said: they were “opportunities to experience church life, get involved, bring home the idea that we are part of a bigger family, right down to the parish pews”.

A questioner sought a response to what they described as a “significant development around Anglican identity and the unity of our beloved Communion”: the expressed view of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans that the Anglican Communion needed a re-set. It had queried the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares.

Bishop Poggo said that the four Instruments of Communion had all indicated a need for review, and the last ACC meeting in Ghana was mandated to take forward such a review. “I think it’s important is to say that whatever review we do must be undertaken through our existing structures,” he said.

A participant from South Africa asked whether “being autonomous, having different cultures and values and still sharing a common liturgical practice — is that not a recipe for disaster?” Canon Kaoma thought definitely not: “I come from a country where we have 73 languages and cultures. I glory in our diversity. I have grown in my faith because of my experience in various contexts.”

Another participant in the Q&A session lived in a parish where the leadership at diocesan level was antagonistic to some Communion initiatives. Bishop Murray said: “I think that one of the gifts that we have is access to different resources.

“Sometimes, the leadership is going in one direction, but, if we have the access to the resources, we have more people with a better understanding and a wider understanding of who we are and where we’re going. That is going to be very helpful, not only to the lay leadership but to the clerical leadership as well.”

Canon Spencer suggested: “The foundation of all links is prayer, and we can pray for each other as Christians across the world, as churches across the world, as dioceses across the world, as provinces across the world, so that anyone can link in with anyone else. There are no rules. Link through prayer in God and in Christ, and then everything flows from that.”

Was there a limit to diversity in such matters as translating liturgies and yet staying faithful, another participant wondered?. Bishop Poggo referred to the many Sunday services at Nairobi Cathedral, each using a different form of the Anglican liturgy.

“I think one of the beauties of being an Anglican is that at every level you can contextualise,” he said. “I attended a service in Portugal. It was in Portuguese, but I knew exactly where we were during the liturgy.”

The next webinar in Phase 3 will be in April, on the Lambeth Call to Reconciliation.

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