Reviving Communion
  • Monday, September 30, 2013

In 1963, the Toronto Anglican Congress marked a certain coming of age of Anglicanism with the document “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.”

A one-day conference on September 18 gathered global Anglican leaders at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, to discuss this theme of interdependence 50 years later in light of contemporary questions. More than 180 people, including five bishops from Africa and Asia, attended “Back to the Anglican Future: The Toronto Congress and the Future of Global Communion.”

The day opened with the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya, discussing koinonia, the Greek word for “fellowship.” Fellowship means “working together, sharing the challenges and joys of life,” but “unity cannot be easily attained,” he said. “Community on its own, without Christ, will collapse.”

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews, Bishop of Algoma, quoted Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, who had warned the Toronto Congress: “A church which lives to itself will die by itself.” Just two years later the Anglican Church of Canada would hit its demographic peak; it has been in decline ever since.

Andrews told the audience that the interdependence statement of 1963 rings deeper today: “It is now irrelevant to talk of ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ churches. The keynotes of our time are equality, interdependence, mutual responsibility.”

The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop in Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, spoke on “Why the Covenant Still Matters” and “Why the Instruments of Unity Still Matter.”

Anis compared the conflict in the Anglican Communion to an adulterous husband who hopes to reconcile with his wife while still continuing an amorous relationship with his mistress.

He recommended six steps to restore trust in the Anglican Communion: follow through on the recommendations of The Windsor Report and previous Primates Meetings; recognize and support faithful orthodox Anglicans who have been mistreated; recover conciliarity in the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meetings; strengthen the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant; restructure the Anglican Consultative Council; and restructure the Anglican Communion Office.

The Rev. Ephraim Radner, an American member of the Covenant Design Group and professor of historical theology at Wycliffe, surveyed the historical landscape.

“Until 1950, all Anglican bishops were either British or American. And the British all went to the same two schools.” By 1963 the imperial British church was “long over” and any American imperial church was, he said, “short-lived.” National churches “cannot be autonomous, sovereign states,” Radner said. “Conflict is not something God wants but that he uses.”

The Rev. Canon Christopher Seitz, canon theologian for the Diocese of Dallas, offered a lament in his talk, “Why Encouragement for Parishes and Dioceses Matters,” with primary reference to the conservative or traditionalist remnant in North America.

“We’ve lost the war,” Seitz said about conflicts within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. “Can we hope for some moral space?”

The Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi, Archbishop of Burundi and Bishop of Matana, spoke on “Why Reconciliation in the Midst of Conflict Matters,” drawing on his experience in an impoverished country just emerging from a 12-year civil war. He reported that thousands had been killed in Burundi but only now was the nation “timidly” talking about truth and reconciliation.

“No one wanted to take responsibility,” he said, but “any unity not based on truth is a fragile reconciliation.” Ntahoturi celebrated the conference Eucharist at St. Paul’s Church on Bloor Street, and offered a benediction in both English and Kirundi.

The Very Rev. Kuan Kim Seng, dean of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore, spoke on “Why Mission and Theological Education Matter.” Kuan grew up in a non-Christian family that believed in ancestral worship and polytheism. He first heard of God the Creator as a 17-year-old. “I thank God that he chose me.”

Kuan noted that next year will mark the 200th anniversary of the first Protestant Chinese Christian’s baptism, and today the fastest-growing church in the world is in China. “Missions is the hallmark of the Church that is in sync with the heart of God,” he said.

Kuan does not believe short-term mission teams are a waste of God’s resources if such teams are trained properly. He sees the Global South and East as sending their own long-term missionaries and said the West should make room for them. He expressed concern that too many people are “in the church but not in Christ” and that the “prosperity gospel which spiritualizes materialism would maim, if not kill, the Church.”

The Most Rev. Ian Ernest, Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean and Bishop of Mauritius, urged that the Anglican Communion not retreat into itself: “Our world is God’s world.” The Church is to be salt in the world, “preserving the world, not preserving itself.” He said the Anglican Communion’s lack of any system of canon law seriously weakens it.

The Rt. Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Bishop of Kaduna in violence-torn northern Nigeria, believes the Archbishop of Canterbury “has a very real influence.” He can “steer, push and lead” but he should not rule “autocratically, as some African leaders do.” Idowu-Fearon would have the Archbishop of Canterbury consult more regularly with senior prelates and work with more liaison officers.

Archbishop Justin Welby sent greetings via Skype. Welby said that in every generation Christians have thought their problems were “terminal” and yet the Church has survived.

The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, was away on a brief sabbatical but sent greetings to his fellow primates through his secretary.

Sue Careless in Toronto

Image of Archbishop Eliud Wabukala by Sue Careless

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