Canadians attend low-pressure meeting of African and American bishops

“There’s nothing that beats face-to-face conversation.” This is what Ellie Johnson, director of Partnerships, said after returning from a one-week consultation between African and American bishops called “Walking to Emmaus: Discovering New Mission Perspectives in Changing Times,” held July 21 to July 26 in El Escorial, Spain.

Trinity Wall Street Church of New York City organized the event to bolster friendships between African and American “companion” dioceses. Thirty-two African bishops and twenty-four American bishops attended. Other guests included three Canadians: Dr. Ellie Johnson, Rev. Dr. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, and Bishop Philip Poole, from the diocese of Toronto, who met with his partner bishop, Thabo Makgoba of Grahamstown, South Africa.

At one of the first plenary sessions, the organizers announced (to much applause) that no official statements would come from the meeting. Instead, lots of time was scheduled for conversation, including meals, siestas, and “marketplace” encounters. “It was a great opportunity to have time to talk to African bishops who it would take me many months to go to,” said Dr. Johnson. “To have them all at the same consultation, with enough time to sit and have conversations, was an absolute gift.”

Ellie Johnson gave one of the few formal presentations of the week, on the findings of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Mission and Evangelism. She also led a workshop on reconciliation. Hot topics of the week included the millennium development goals, HIV/AIDS, women’s empowerment, and the same-sex issue dividing the Anglican Communion. Bishops could also organize sessions around topics of their choice.

Rev. Dr. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, a native of Uganda and a congregational development consultant at the diocese of Toronto, came to assist Bishop Poole in his cross-cultural conversations. “The enthusiasm of African bishops was very uplifting. They are full of hope,” he said, adding later that, “the time is now to begin exploring alternative ways of relating.”

Some African bishops had questions for the Anglican Church of Canada. A few suggested that the Canadian church should encourage the Episcopal Church to apologize for its actions surrounding the same-sex issue. Others noted the Anglican Church of Canada’s diminished presence in Africa and asked for more assistance.

“It is quite hard not to be as present [in Africa] and to be cutting back when the needs are enormous,” Ellie Johnson said in an interview. She explained to African bishops that the Canadian church has fewer staff and apologized that the church cannot help as much as before. She said that a similar meeting of African and Canadian companion dioceses is unlikely because the Canadian church could not pay for it.

But Ellie Johnson also learned that African dioceses still want to partner with financially strained Canadian dioceses. “The answer I got was, ‘these links are not about money. We know what it’s like to be poor. We still want to be in relationships,'” she said, adding that shared issues like climate change could bring dioceses together.

Currently 14 of 30 Canadian dioceses have international companion diocese relationships, and a General Synod 2007 resolution implored all dioceses to work on international partnerships before the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Read more about companion diocese opportunities here, or contact Jill Cruse or Clementina Thomas.

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