“Constancy” is defined as both the quality of being faithful and dependable, and of being unwavering and unchanging. After nearly a decade’s worth of meetings, all of these qualities have come to accurately summarize the annual Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue.
The ninth Consultation of Anglican Bishops took place from July 18-22 in London, Ontario at the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre. Bishop Linda Nicholls and the Diocese of Huron hosted the gathering. As they have each year, the bishops released a testimony after the meeting laying out the content of their discussions.
This year’s document was entitled A Testimony of Constancy in Faith, Hope and Love. That focus on constancy reflected the spirit of perseverance that guided many of the bishops as they made their way to the gathering from across Africa, Canada, and the United States, often encountering many obstacles along the way.
“As the host, it was a good experience, but challenging, because there’s always logistical glitches that you hadn’t anticipated—people’s luggage that frankly never did arrive, and people missing flights and things like that,” Bishop Nicholls said.
“But the consultation itself, it’s the opportunity to sit down and talk with people whom you would never have that opportunity with otherwise—bishops and archbishops from all across the [worldwide Anglican] Communion that come together and sit down and talk over meals, talk over coffee breaks, and be part of the conversation.”
The consultations initially emerged out of dialogue at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Since the first gathering in 2010, bishops have steadily grown in their understanding of each other and the culture and contexts that surround their respective ministries.
The testimony for the ninth consultation uses the metaphor of a tree to describe that growth of the consultations over time, beginning “as a seedling begins: first small, hidden, and unseen; then pushing through sometimes crusty soil to reach the light, establishing roots and a strong central direction.”
Bishop John Chapman of the Diocese of Ottawa has attended eight of the nine consultations. He described the annual gathering as “always the highlight of my year … I think collectively, we recognize the fact that we have been called by the Spirit to model reconciliation, mutual care, and shared faith in the life-giving spirit that fills our church.”
Much of the focus of this year’s consultation was in preparing for the Lambeth 2020 conference, where members of the dialogue will present some of the fruits of their experience together over the previous decade.
One of the major lessons is the importance of dialogue during times of tension. Much of the initial disagreement that led to the consultations after Lambeth 2008 lay in differing views over same-sex marriage.
Though differences still remain, the experience of meeting and talking with each other regularly has greatly affected how bishops from different parts of the Anglican Communion engage in that conversation.
Bishop Nicholls recalled being struck by the words of one African bishop who said that “the dialogue had helped him to see that there were gay and lesbian people in his community.”
“Our core purpose and our core as a church is around the gospel,” Bishop Nicholls said. “What we discover when we sit down and talk to one another is that we’re dealing with exactly the same kinds of issues in how we live the gospel. It’s just different in different contexts. And we’ve also been clear that we would be open and honest with one another about what our churches are doing and struggling with.”
Colonialism and reconciliation
A recurring theme in recent consultations has been collectively dealing with the history and legacy of colonialism that binds together Europe, Africa, and North America. During their meetings together, bishops have often visited sites on each other’s continents that have historical links to the slave trade—places where Africans were forcibly taken from their homelands, put aboard ships, and sailed across the ocean into slavery.
Bishop Paul Bayes, who will be hosting next year’s consultation in the Diocese of Liverpool in England and first began attending the dialogue at the invitation of the bishop of Virginia, said that the Diocese of Virginia, the Diocese of Liverpool, and the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana “have a three-way relationship which replicates the old and dreadful slave triangle.”
“We call ours the Triangle of Hope,” he added. “Because we were in Ghana [during the seventh consultation in 2016], we were able to visit some of the so-called castles where slaves were kept before they were shipped across to the New World. It was just very special for me to be able to relate to those bishops in that context.”
This focus on colonialism has also helped Canadian bishops draw a connection to the ongoing work of the Anglican Church of Canada around reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. While meeting in the Diocese of Huron, the bishops acknowledged that the land on which they were gathered on is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron (Neutral), and Wendat peoples.
In a theological reflection, the Rev. Canon Dr. Todd Townshend touched on the subject of reconciliation, which he described as a core “thesis statement” of the New Testament. He cited a representative passage from Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians:
…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against him, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
The Rev. Rosalyn Elm, an Anglican priest from the Oneida Nation, spoke to the gathering about the impact of European colonialism on Canada’s Indigenous population. Using both words and images, she detailed stories of forced migration and the removal of Indigenous people from their land. But Elm also shared wisdom from the Dish With One Spoon treaty, an agreement originally made between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee that binds all to shared stewardship of the land, and to reconciliation with each other, with creation, and with the Creator.
Lessons for the Anglican Communion
Attending the latest consultation left participants with a sense of hope and optimism for the Anglican Communion as they look ahead to Lambeth 2020.
Bishop Chapman said that the biggest lesson of the consultations is that “we can walk together in difference, and it works. And we have been doing that.”
“Unanimity of thought is not the goal of the church,” he added. “I think when we learn to walk together in difference, then we tend to listen to each other more acutely. We tend to be more generous in understanding diverse context and conditions.”
Bishop Bayes suggested that the experience of the Anglican Bishops in Dialogue offered an antidote to pessimistic views of the Anglican Communion that focus on disagreements rather than continuing shared values.
“The Consultation of Bishops gives exactly the opposite message,” he said. “It indicates that we’ve got a huge amount in common—that with the levels of respect and mutual learning that we’ve got together, the Anglican Communion really does have a future.”
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