Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After the second day of “Indaba” groups, there seems to be an incipient revolt stirring among us. Many of the Africans are saying, “This isn’t ‘Indaba’ at all! First of all, we are not a village, and we don’t know each other. And secondly, we are not attempting to solve a problem; we are talking in small groups about minor issues of little consequence.”
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu (himself an African, I believe from Uganda) is reported to have said, “If Indaba is such a great idea, why is Africa in such a mess?” There seems to be the beginning of some rumbling that we need to get to a decision-making moment in the life of the Conference.
Nevertheless, I found my two “Indaba” conversations today somewhat more interesting than yesterday’s. The first one discussed the Church’s (the Bishop’s) ministry to young people. And, from across extremely different social and cultural contexts, in many different parts of the world, there were a few key points held in common. First, the Bishop’s personal involvement in meeting with young people can be enormously significant. Secondly, the high priority of training youth leaders, and providing opportunities for young people to meet together beyond their local congregations. And thirdly, the need to provide numerous opportunities for young people to hear and encounter the Gospel, and be given opportunities and encouragement to respond with personal commitment to Christ.
I thought this was a pretty resounding confirmation of what we are attempting to do in Central Florida.
In the second conversation, once again, across extremely different local contexts, there was remarkably deep agreement that most of the implementation of the Church’s mission is at the congregational and diocesan levels, and that there is very little significant support – of any kind – that comes from the Provincial (national) or international levels of the Communion.
There was a general acknowledgement that one of the best things in the Communion is the encouragement of companion relationships between far-flung dioceses, and the proliferation of new forms of companionship at many different levels. It seemed to be agreed among the Americans that we do a few things very well at the national level: specifically, military and prison chaplancies were mentioned, along with the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. Apart from that there was not much enthusiasm for the mission efforts beyond the diocesan level.
This afternoon there was a meeting sponsored by the “Global South” (even though three of its most prominent Provinces are absent). Approximately 150 bishops attended. The history of how the Global South has come to have a life of its own within the larger Communion was recounted, and a brief update on the Anglican Covenant was presented (much more on this to come), and then Bruce MacPherson and Bob Duncan were each invited to speak, Bruce about the work of the Communion Partners, and Bob about the Network, and its evolution into Common Cause.
It was very clearly recognized that these two approaches are complimentary, CP is an “inside” strategy, and CC an “outside” strategy to attempt to maintain and further an orthodox witness and ministry in North America.
It was also clear that the phrase “Global South” no longer accurately names the configuration of Bishops represented, as all parts of the Communion were strongly in evidence. I found this a very encouraging session.
I also had a brief conversation with the Russian Orthodox Bishop who is in my Bible Study (and Indaba Group). I asked him two questions. First, how have things changed for the Church, and for you, since the dismantling of the Soviet Union? “Drastically! Before there were 6,000 parishes in my area, today over 30,000. Before there were 18 monasteries, today over 750. Today I am free to teach religion in the public schools.” Secondly, we in the West were often told that the Soviet government used to place its own people in positions of authority in the Orthodox Church. Was that true? “Yes, but we always knew who those persons were. Usually they were placed there so that, after a time, they could publicly renounce the Faith and embrace atheism.”
I think that if God isn’t finished with the Russian Orthodox, he may not be finished with the Anglican Communion, either!
Warmest regards in our Lord,
–(The Right Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida