Q&A: Bishop Zavala of Cono Sur
  • Monday, April 29, 2013

The Most Rev. Héctor (Tito) Zavala is Bishop of Chile and Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone: Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de América (the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America). Elected in November 2010, he is the province’s first Latin American primate, as well as Chile’s first Latino bishop. Sue Careless interviewed him in April at the Eastern Assembly of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), where he was the keynote speaker.

Your province covers the lower half of the continent of South America. Is it growing numerically?
Yes. We have about 25,000 members in a continent of 110 million people. The Province of the Southern Cone is made up of six nations and seven dioceses: Chile (with about 100 parishes), Northern Argentina (200), Argentina [from Buenos Aires south] (30), Peru (60), Bolivia (10), Paraguay (50), and Uruguay (20). This November we will meet to decide on whether to form two provinces.

How do you reach your people when they are spread over such a vast expanse?
I live in the middle of Chile, in Santiago, so I travel by car to reach congregations nearby and take the overnight bus to reach more distant parishes. However, I fly to Arica at the top of Chile and to visit the most southerly Anglican parish in the world in Punta Arenas. Every May and November I fly to chair meetings of the executive committee of the province, which moves its meetings around the six nations.

When did the Anglican Church in the Southern Cone become more a church for South Americans rather than just British or American expatriates?
What has happened in Chile is typical of the Southern Cone. Our history has three main steps. From the 16th to the 18th century the Roman Catholic Church had all the control and it would not allow Anglicans to hold open services. Embassies could bring in their own chaplains for private services for English expatriates.

The second step came in the 19th century with Allen Gardiner and the Patagonian Missionary Society, which he founded in 1844. It focused on aboriginals and was renamed the South American Missionary Society (SAMS) in 1864. In 1895 a Canadian, Charles Sadleir, a graduate of Wycliffe College, Toronto, became an outstanding pioneer missionary with SAMS, serving among the Mapuche. There has been work for over a century among aboriginals in the Chaco region of Paraguay and northern Argentina, and among the Mapuche of the Temuco region of southern Chile.

In 1958, however, the Lambeth Conference stated clearly that South America was far from being a Christian domain, describing it as “the neglected continent” [and the Roman Catholic hierarchy itself acknowledged Latin America to be “sacramentalized but not evangelized”].

So in the 1960s an outreach to the Spanish-speaking towns and cities began. The Episcopal Church of the United States evangelized Central America, Brazil, and the southern continent’s more northerly Spanish-speaking countries such as Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela, while the Church of England focused on the six nations of the Southern Cone.

Peru and Uruguay were evangelized by British Anglo-Catholics while Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay were reached by British evangelicals. The countries still have their distinctive worship styles but we work together very well.

Why did your province at first not ratify the election of a Canadian, Michael Pollesel, as Bishop of Uruguay but did later on? What changed?
Uruguay elected Michael Pollesel, who used to be the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). And the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone did not ratify his election, nor did the executive committee of the province. The final word belongs to the province. What was told to the world was that Michael Pollesel was not ratified because he was a liberal from Canada. That was not true. The process was not good. Michael was unknown in the diocese on the day of the election when he addressed the synod right before the vote. And he was the only candidate. We said to Uruguay, “You have to take more time.” But after six months the situation changed. Michael went to Uruguay and people met him. Then priests and lay people told us, “Michael is very good, very biblical. He has gifts for the diocese. We would be happy if you could ratify him.” And we did because they provided new arguments.

Did you interview him before ratifying his election?
Yes, the House of Bishops did and I had a private interview with him.

In 2003, after the Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop within the Anglican Communion, the Province of the Southern Cone severed its relationship with the Episcopal Church. It also broke communion with the Anglican Church of Canada after one of its dioceses in 2002 authorized a rite for blessing same-sex unions. Are you still in broken communion with these two provinces?
Yes. In 2010 when an earthquake struck in Chile, I received many, many phone calls from [the Episcopal Church Center in] New York offering us money. But I said no; not out of arrogance but because we had broken communion with TEC and it would not be right to accept their money.

Did you ask permission of the local Anglican Church of Canada bishop to visit here?
No, because I am coming to another, different Anglican church.

In 2003, the Province of the Southern Cone offered Episcopal oversight to conservative Anglicans who had left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada but who wanted to realign with another province. Does this make you a primate of the Anglican Church in North America along with its elected primate, Bob Duncan?
No. That is over. We provided temporary supervision. When ACNA was founded in Texas in 2008 the very next day I had breakfast with Bishop John Guernsey and said, “My churches in the States will now be under your supervision. Let me know what I should do to pass them to you.” Others like [Bishops] Frank Lyons of Bolivia and Greg Venables may have taken a bit more time but the Southern Cone decided to pass the [North American] churches to the new ACNA primate.

Yet you have access to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Duncan does not. You were invited to Welby’s enthronement but Duncan was not. You can speak on behalf of ACNA in those places where ACNA is not invited.
Yes, of course. The protecting body for ACNA now is GAFCON [the Global Anglican Future Conference]. There are two bodies. The Global South is just for southern provinces in Africa, South America, and Asia. But GAFCON is more a doctrinal group than a geographical one. ANiC and ACNA cannot belong to the Global South but they can be part of GAFCON. Theologically we are together. GAFCON was an event [in Jerusalem in 2008], and the group that it created is called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA). Now it is more than just the Southern Cone supporting and speaking on ACNA’s behalf when necessary. It is primates from Africa and Asia as well. ACNA is recognized by the majority of Anglicans and primates in the world.

Do you or GAFCON have any plans to reconcile ACNA with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada?
We don’t see our role in that way. The new Archbishop of Canterbury wants to work for the reconciliation of the church around the world. I don’t know how he will do it. I don’t know if TEC or the ACC will change. We will not renounce what we believe. Our understanding in GAFCON is that TEC and the ACC have another gospel; it is not the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. If they move back to the Bible we can be in communion.

Isn’t the [conservative] Diocese of Recife in Brazil also under your jurisdiction?
Yes and no. According to our canons our province cannot have dioceses apart from the Southern Cone. Recife cannot be part of us but the last Archbishop of Canterbury [Rowan Williams] said, “You can go to Recife and provide pastoral supervision.” I have no authority in Recife to call for a synod. I can preach and greet the people and provide pastoral care but I cannot perform confirmations or ordinations.

You have spoken of “the heavy machinery” or bureaucracy behind the Archbishop of Canterbury. How much does it run things?
I met the last Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams is a very nice man. But all the machinery behind him, the bureaucracy, is led by liberals; the Anglican Consultative Council is controlled by liberals; the Anglican Communion Office is controlled by liberals as well.

There are four instruments of unity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the primates’ meetings, and the Lambeth Conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls and leads the primates’ peetings and is a member of the Anglican Consultative Council but does not call its meetings. He does call the meetings of the Lambeth Conference.

Would you like to see the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury opened up to any bishop in the Anglican Communion?
That is not possible because of his many responsibilities within England.

Do you think there is a desire in the FCA to have a second leader from outside of Britain who can represent the Anglican Communion?
There was talk of a parallel [non-British] archbishop but that idea died a few years ago. We don’t see our role in that way. We are true Anglicans because we believe and respect the Thirty-nine Articles. And the Prayer Book of 1662 is our doctrinal basis. We want to work within the Anglican Communion.

Don’t we really have two separate international entities now, the FCA and the more liberal rest of the Communion? And the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to straddle them both. Do we really have a global Communion anymore?
Anglicans are one universal body. We have internal tensions. That is happening now. Maybe we will have to live forever with those tensions. We had that issue in the Southern Cone in 2003. Why not leave the Communion? We decided no, because we are true Anglicans. Instead we broke communion with the ACC and TEC.

You haven’t had a primates’ meeting for some time. Did you have one after the new Archbishop of Canterbury’s enthronement since you were all invited?
We had an informal Primates’ Meeting in three different groups with the archbishop. I was in a Global South one. The last formal primates’ meeting was in January 2011. Probably the new Archbishop will call another Primates’ Meeting in the next 12 months. The agenda is set by the liberal Anglican Communion Office but it should be set by the Primates themselves.

Tell me more about the Anglican Church in Chile.
Most Chilean pastors are full-time priests but we often meet in schools. Our church services can be three or four hours long. If the sermon is less than an hour, the pastor is not considered a good preacher. People sometimes walk 1½ hours to get to church. Some services begin at 11, stop at 1 for lunch and resume from 2 until 4.

Pentecostalism is strong in South America. What does the Anglican church have to offer that the Pentecostal one does not?
We have more tradition. Some traditions are not good but ours is a biblical tradition. Sadly Pentecostalism works more on emotionalism. We have to learn from Pentecostals how to evangelize. We do work hard with youth. South Americans from a [Roman] Catholic background find Anglicanism with its liturgy a better fit while Protestant groups such as Baptists can seem like an American sect.

What does the Anglican church have to offer in the Southern Cone that the Roman Catholic Church does not?
What I discovered in the Anglican church was an alive community — and married priests. I saw Anglican pastors as normal people with wives and children. In Roman Catholicism the institution is more important. This can be a danger in England, too, where the established church is close to the state. It is so large it can be cold. That can happen with the [Roman] Catholic Church here. We want to build living communities with Jesus in the center.

Can you tell me something of your own faith journey?
I was raised in a nominal [Roman] Catholic family, was baptized as an infant and took First Communion. We attended church at Christmas, not regularly. I attended a [Roman] Catholic school. The very first time that I heard that Jesus died for me on the cross was when I was invited by a high school friend to attend an Anglican church. I was 17. I heard the gospel very clearly. The very first time I held a Bible in my hands was in the Anglican church. They gave me one. I was later confirmed by an Anglican bishop.

Has the Roman Catholic Church changed in your own lifetime?
Oh, yes. [Roman] Catholics are changing. They are becoming more biblical.

Do you know Pope Francis personally?
No, but his election will bring world attention to South America.

Are all your dioceses now in democracies?
Yes. All have elected presidents and stable governments.

With better standards of living comes materialism. Perhaps some of our North American problems will be yours in time.
Yes, and we’re not far behind. After iPhone 5 was introduced in America it was being sold in Chile the very next day. Yet poverty is still a real issue. Young people are leaving the rural areas of Chile because there is no work and coming to Santiago hoping to find a better life. The boys often end up in drug trafficking and crime and the girls in prostitution. We need to develop work projects in the rural areas so young people can afford to live there.

What can the North American church learn from the South American one?
What I have seen here in this body [the Eastern Assembly of ANiC] is a live body. You have been worshiping as we do. The quality of the Bible studies is excellent. We have a passion for the gospel but I don’t want to say that you don’t. You have the same problem we do of moving people from a maintenance mentality to mission. You do evangelistic work. I see my role in this visit as sharing as priest and bishop.

What advice would you give to a new bishop?
Keep your priorities in order. Jesus is first; the gospel is first. Then administration. It is very easy to get lost. Spend time with your pastors, one at a time. I am spending a full day from 8 or 9 in the morning until 5 p.m. I ask, “How are you doing as a person?”; then, “As a pastor?”; finally, “How is your church doing?” Someone has to hear the pastors. As bishop, it is impossible to be pastor of the pastors. Every pastor should be in a smaller body since his bishop can only see him once a year. Also be careful that the power you have received is used to serve. We are servants, not kings. For that reason I don’t like the term enthronement. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a king. Installation is a better term.

What advice would you give to a new pastor?
Preach the Word of God in the best way. People are important. Go to their houses. Spend time with them. Have a cup of coffee or a meal with them. What are their concerns? Then third comes administration. Some priests are in the office from 9 until 5 but have no personal contact with their people. Many lay people are working during the day, so to hear them, spend some evenings with them.

Photo of Bishop Héctor (Tito) Zavala by Sue Careless

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