Canadian, African bishops affirm common mission

On one level, the first wedding held at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national offices will resemble many other weddings, with finery, music, and celebration. But it is a moment of Anglican Communion harmony that might not have happened 10 years ago: the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, will conduct the marriage service for the Primate of Central Africa, Archbishop Albert Chama, and his childhood friend Ashella Ndhlovu, a resident of Toronto.

The June 8 event is a happy postscript symbolizing the deepening friendships emerging from the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue. The bishops held their third meeting at the Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Retreat Centre in Pickering, Ont., June 4 to 7.

Seventeen bishops from Africa, Canada, and U.S. met for prayer and discussion of two topics: mission and the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.

In their official statement, the bishops said that “Mission isn’t something we do to another, but a way of being together in the presence of God as God transforms and reconciles the world to himself.”

The bishops also said they disagreed on the fourth section of the Anglican Communion Covenant, which outlines consequences for dissenting provinces. However, they said “differences are held respectfully” and they affirmed the continuing value of face-to-face conversation—the kind they’ve enjoyed together as the consultation.

The bishops’ conversations began in 2008, while the Anglican Communion seemed split over the issue of same-sex unions and larger questions of Scriptural interpretation. A large number of bishops, many from the Global South, chose not to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and some threatened to leave the Communion entirely.

It was in this tense environment that Archbishop Colin Johnson of Toronto and the Rev. Canon Dr. Isaac Kawuki Mukasa, a Ugandan-Canadian, began conversations with African bishops. Interested African dioceses started theological correspondence with Canadian counterparts, first on human sexuality and then eventually mission.

Eventually, the group expanded and bishops resolved to meet in person, first on neutral ground in London in 2010 and then in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2011. This second meeting produced “A Testimony of Grace,” which celebrated their partnership in mission.

After this third meeting, Mr. Mukasa, now General Synod’s coordinator for dialogue, is celebrating “a massive shift” in the relationships between some African and North American bishops.

“The group has become an integrated whole,” he said. “They’re friends but they discuss substantive issues in depth. I think this is a model of what can happen when people actually talk and discuss things that are important today.”

Their discussions are similar to many that are happening through the Continuing Indaba project, coordinated by the Anglican Communion.

“These consultations have been one of the highlights of my episcopate,” said Bishop Michael Bird of Niagara, who attended all three meetings.

He said these dialogues need to happen between bishops because the recent Anglican Communion tensions have happened on this level—between bishops and primates.

For Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, the consultation has provided a way for bishops to hear news from the source instead of through sometimes sensational media coverage. He said many African bishops were surprised to learn that some Canadian dioceses bless civil unions of same-gender couples but they do not marry these couples.

“We acknowledge that the differences are there, but they are not strong enough and will never be strong enough to break us,” said Bishop Mwamba. “We all belong to God. It’s not up to us to excommunicate each other.”

Consultation members will spread news of the dialogue through their official statement and various networks, including the Anglican Consultative Council, chaired by consultation member Bishop James Tengatenga, Diocese of Southern Malawi.

In 2013, the bishops will meet in southern African and focus on the emerging theme of truth and reconciliation, which connects directly with current ministry in Canada, South Sudan, Burundi, and South Africa.

Participants were

  • The Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander, Diocese of Edmonton, Canada
  • The Rt. Rev. Johannes Angela, Diocese of Bondo, Kenya
  • The Rt. Rev. Michael Bird, Diocese of Niagara, Canada
  • The Most Rev. Albert Chama, Diocese of Northern Zambia and Primate of Central Africa, Zambia
  • The Rt. Rev. Garth Counsell, Diocese of Cape Town, South Africa
  • The Rt. Rev. Michael Ingham, Diocese of New Westminster, Canada
  • The Most Rev. Colin Johnson, Diocese of Toronto and Metropolitan of Ontario
  • The Rt. Rev. Julius Kalu, Diocese of Mombasa, Kenya
  • The Rt. Rev. Sixbert Macumi, Diocese of Buye, Burundi
  • The Rt. Rev. Mdimi Mhogolo, Diocese of Central Tanganyika, Tanzania
  • The Rt. Rev. Trevor Musonda Mwamba, Diocese of Botswana, Botswana
  • The Rt. Rev. David Njovu, Diocese of Lusaka, Zambia
  • The Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi, Diocese of Matana and Primate of Burundi, Burundi
  • The Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill, Diocese of Colorado, USA
  • The Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, Diocese of Kajo Keji, Sudan
  • The Rt. Rev. Daniel Sarfo, Diocese of Kumasi, Ghana
  • The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Diocese of Southern Malawi, Malawi
  • Read the full statement of “A Sacrament of Love: Our Continuing Testimony of Grace.”
  • For more information about the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, email the Rev. Canon Dr. Isaac Kawuki Mukasa, General Synod’s coordinator for dialogue, or call him at (416) 924-9199 ext. 209.

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