By Mary Frances Schjonberg
As it concluded its eight-day conference on March 14, the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference issued 10 recommendations meant to help to guide dioceses and parishes as they strive to live out their mission in the world.
“Our intention was not that this be yet another gathering that recounts the many challenges facing our world,” Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, told the final plenary session. “Rather, the intention was that in accordance with our mission as the body of Christ, we develop actionable plans and strategies that can be utilized to instill new hope and vision in our communities and in the world at large.”
The recommendations, eight centered on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — a main focus of the conference — plus two additional ones, were developed out of the conference’s many discussions, debates and dialogues, Ndungane explained.
“This is a momentous period in the life of our church,” he said. “Here we have people of God gathered together in the context of prayer and theology, sharing diverse experiences and views on specific social issues, renewing the church’s commitment and capabilities to respond to God’s call to service in the 21st century.”
Ndungane said that the conference provided “an opportunity to rally around issues of poverty and to position ourselves as a significant partner in the global development agenda.”
“It offers us an opportunity to harness the energy, commitment and potential of faith communities to make a constructive contribution towards the realization of sustainable livelihoods for everyone,” he added.
Ndungane told the participants that “mission is building God’s kingdom so that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
“As we seek to build this heavenly kingdom, we must remember that the Word did not come as a philosophical concept or as a political program, nor was the Word made text,” he said. “Rather, ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.’ Therefore, as the body of Christ, we do not have the option of choosing between spiritual or physical undertakings, but we must recognize that in God’s call to mission, the two are inexorably linked. Mission is holistic and therefore our actions in mission should take into account the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of God’s people.”
Ndungane also told the participants that “working for MDGs is not simply working for the needy as a separate category of human beings, but working for the healing of all, including the healing of those who don’t see the problem.”
Such work “must also put questions to prosperous societies of West and North asking whether or not they have understood that they too are deprived and dehumanized by a global situation of injustice, a system that tolerates the idea of superfluous people who are allowed to remain invisible?” he said.
The Millennium Development Goals are “the starting point for a world that reflects God’s principals of inclusivity, because of the consensus that exists around them, we have framed our recommendations around the eight objectives,” Ndungane said.
“However, as the people of God, we are required to do much more” he added. “So in addition to recommendations around the MDGs, we have included others that are critical to advancing the developmental agenda.”
The first recommendation is connected to the first MDG of poverty and hunger eradication. “Given that food can be utilized as a weapon of war in various conflicts globally, this body has been emphatic in stating that the Church must exert pressure on governments and international bodies to ensure that food is used for the nourishment and development of our future — not as a tool of war,” Ndungane said. “Furthermore, in our various interventions, our Communion should ensure that our focus goes beyond simply providing food to the developing world. Rather, we need to contribute to the creation of sustainable food production systems globally.”
The second recommendation involves education and acknowledges that schools “have become extended homes and can serve as nodes of social service delivery,” Ndungane said. “By supporting school feeding programs and strengthening the capacity of educational institutions within our parishes, we can have a very real impact,” he said, adding that churches must also advocate for stronger schools and curriculums, and adult literacy programs.
Noting that “that girls and women continue to suffer disproportionally from the effects of poverty, disease and hunger,” Ndungane said that “as a community, we recognize the importance of our sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, friends and colleagues in living out our mission and in reflecting the vision of humanity illustrated in the Gospels.”
“Accordingly, alongside the policies and programs to serve the needs of girls and women — which serves all of our needs — this body has articulated that first and foremost we need a change of mindset, in both men and women, about gender and gender roles,” he said. “Therefore, in our dialogues going forward, we have committed to using language that is inclusive of women and non-threatening to men. We will strive to do this not only in our dialogue, but also in our worship.”
Ndungane said the conference’s final report will commit Anglicans to “examine the Bible, the source of our mission, to speak against patriarchy and to advocate for equality.”
“We will use scripture to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse,” he said, calling for partnerships between women and men. “Not only will we use these resources within our body, but we will advocate in our communities at large for an end to violence against women.”
Noting that “a disproportionate number of our children suffer from malnutrition and hunger leading to an unnecessarily early loss of life,” Ndungane said that the Anglican Communion will be committed by the report to “ensuring that our youth have the opportunity to grow and develop into all that God has called them to be.”
He also called on Anglicans to “make every effort to ensure that in the pursuit of the MDGs, even those that do not specifically apply to children, we make sure their voices are heard.”
The fifth recommendation addresses maternal health. “In an effort to preserve the lives of our mothers, this assembly has expressed a desire to mobilize constituencies within the Church to raise awareness about maternal health issues,” Ndungane said. He said women’s groups, but also men’s groups and youth groups, must be involved in this work.
“Equipping communities with pertinent maternal health information as soon as possible will be a critical element of our campaign,” he said.
“As a Communion, at both the local and international levels, we will advocate for improved transportation and health infrastructure within communities,” Ndungane said. “This will enable women in crisis to reach health facilities in a timely fashion and help to ensure that they receive adequate medical attention once they reach those facilities.”
The sixth recommendation deals with HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases. The archbishop said that “the necessary point of departure for each of our interventions is to embrace those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS with love and compassion.”
“At the national level and in the international arena, this body has expressed the need for our Communion to advocate for education about the prevention, transmission and treatment of HIV and AIDS,” he said, explaining that the church must work for improved access to treatment, voluntary counseling and testing, and to enter the debate about intellectual property rights and the dissemination of anti-retroviral drugs.
“As we pursue these strategies, however, we will not forget the individuals behind the statistics and figures,” he said. “We will remember and serve those orphaned and made vulnerable by this global pandemic. We will advocate for and support the provision of material goods while ensuring that grief counseling and the necessary support are given to families impacted by HIV and AIDS.”
Ndungane said that the report will also call for advocacy and strong partnerships to prevent malaria deaths. “I cannot under estimate the importance of our fight against malaria as fifty percent of the global family is exposed to the disease; and we lose nearly two million members of our family annually,” he said.
In terms of improving environmental sustainability, Ndungane said the conference called for Anglicans to advocate for the development of renewable energies as well as a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gasses. “Additionally, we will hold our various governments and multinational corporations accountable,” he said. “Polluting God’s creation for the benefit of the few, and to the detriment of the majority, is not something we are prepared to stand silently by and watch.”
The eighth recommendation addresses the need for partnerships to accomplish MDGs. “In all of the goals we endeavor to achieve, you will note that partnerships are a vital and important part of our strategy,” Ndungane said. “While a cross-cutting issue, which will be addressed in each of our other recommendations, partnerships is an issue that we have expressed a need we must address in its own right.”
He reminded participants that a strength of the conference has been the sharing of information of what work is currently being done around the Communion. “This is something that we must strive to formalize and continue in the years to come,” he said. “Within our body are a wealth of resources, expertise and knowledge that we should utilize to the fullest.” And, he said, ecumenical partnerships must be nurtured as well.
The ninth recommendation focuses on refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum seekers, “which the Church recognizes as important and central to our mission,” Ndungane said.
“In affirming our commitment to the plight of refugees and displaced persons, as a body we are reaffirming our Christian commitment to offer unconditional hospitality and pastoral care to the stranger,” he said. “As part of this work, we will develop strategies for communicating the challenges faced by displaced persons to the global media and policy makers while mobilizing resources for their … emotional and physical care.”
The final recommendation expands on the MDGs focus on children. “The delegates to this conference have articulated the importance of creating networks to address issues of children’s rights and welfare, including, but not limited to: child trafficking, child soldiers, gangs, child abuse, suicide, addictions, and other issues,” Ndungane said. “While the Holy Scripture is the basis by which we undertake this work, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will serve as a guiding framework in our advocacy.”
That work includes support for orphans and those who adopt them and “a desire to integrate issues of child welfare and full participation of young people into every aspect of church life, from baptism preparation, Christian education, youth groups, and confirmation preparation, to leadership in the church’s worship, governance, and public life in order to nurture their full potential,” he said.
Calling the conference and its recommendations a work in progress, Ndungane said: “What I have expressed here is a sampling of the thoughtful, compassionate and strategic recommendations developed during the past week. I encourage you to watch this space for the full and complete set of recommendations; but more importantly, I ask you to participate in the implementation and achievement of these critical objectives.”
The archbishop concluded his summary of the pending report with some recommendations of his own, which were heartily adopted by the delegates.
First, the report will be sent to every Anglican province, extra-provincial churches, and the networks and other organizations of the Anglican Communion, and it will call on them to “adopt these recommendations and own the proceedings of this conference as recommendations made by a representative and diverse gathering of Anglicans from across the communion,” he said.
The recipients will be asked to respond to the report officially and the statements will be recorded on the conference website.
A small team from the conference planning group will examine the draft of the conference report and approve it. The group will connect with the Anglican Communion Office, Lambeth Palace and the Lambeth Conference design group “to bring to their attention to the recommendations of this conference,” Ndungane said.
This group, which will also propose a strategy for implementing the recommendations, will consist of the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Peace and Justice Ministries; Hellen Wangusa, Anglican Observer at the United Nations; the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion; Sue Parks, Lambeth Conference manager; Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, the Very Rev. June Osborne, dean of Salisbury Cathedral, England; the Rev. Canon Nangula Kathindi, provincial executive officer of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa; Canon Delene Mark, chief executive officer of HOPE Africa; Esperanza Beleo, lector of St. Andrew’s Seminary in the Philippines and a member of the Anglican Women’s Network; and a representative from the youth network to be announced.
“I, of course, will be hovering around,” Ndungane said, adding that other experts will be called upon by the group.
He also proposed another TEAM-like meeting in 2014, a year before the stated deadline of the MDGs.
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.
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