Wayne Vassell (Jamaica) and Shari Kung (Hong Kong) visit St. Lawrence Market with their Toronto hosts: the Rev. Heather McCance, Dave Robinson, and daughter Cara.

International exchanges bolster Anglican Communion

It’s Saturday at a busy Toronto market and among bushels of fresh asparagus and peppers, five Anglicans walk and chat together. The group includes a seminarian from Hong Kong and a businessman from Jamaica. They are being hosted by a family of three from Toronto, who are showing them downtown life for a day.

Wayne Vassell (Jamaica) and Shari Kung (Hong Kong) visit St. Lawrence Market with their Toronto hosts: the Rev. Heather McCance, Dave Robinson, and daughter Cara.
Wayne Vassell (Jamaica) and Shari Kung (Hong Kong) visit St. Lawrence Market with their Toronto hosts: the Rev. Heather McCance, Dave Robinson, and daughter Cara.

This local exposure is one part of the “Continuing Indaba,” a series of exchange visits or “encounters” intended to renew relationships among the communion’s 38 provinces. From May 30 to June 7, the Diocese of Toronto hosted Canada’s only encounter where they welcomed partners from the Dioceses of Hong Kong and Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

“The Continuing Indaba was designed by Anglican Communion leaders to see how dioceses that differ can learn to live with each other and be in communion through those differences,” said Suzanne Lawson, the lead Toronto coordinator.

Those differences include, among other subjects, views on human sexuality. Indaba is a Zulu word for a conversation-based model of decision-making and the Anglican Communion has used this format to navigate controversial subjects at 2008 Lambeth bishops’ conference and elsewhere.

But the Continuing Indaba encounters are more than just meetings. The 24 participants (three teams of eight from each diocese) heard presentations on local and national church work. They visited Diocese of Toronto ministries. They stayed at the Sisters of Saint John the Divine convent and worshipped together.

In the middle of the encounter, participants split off across the diocese for weekend home-stays in parishes. They travelled across the Greater Toronto Area including east to lakeside Cobourg and north to Bradford, where suburban sprawl meets farm land.

When they did meet to discuss, the encounter conversations were focused on three key topics they agreed to in advance: social justice, youth alienation and homosexuality. ­

Kevin She, a policy analyst from Hong Kong, said the June 6 conversation on homosexuality was a highlight.

“We were sitting in a circle and we passed the talking stick; whoever was holding the stick has the chance to speak and others have to listen,” he said. “It was a sensitive issue, but since we have built up trust there were honest reflections around the circle.”

The conversations will continue when this same group meets again September 2011 in Hong Kong and February 2012 in Jamaica.

Conversations part of bigger process
Three other pilot conversations are happening around the communion as part of the Continuing Indaba, an extension of the Anglican Communion’s Listening Process on human sexuality. The work was extended by funding from the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, which has used consensus-building methods to help leaders build agreement on sexual health policy.

It is a challenge to quantify success in these Continuing Indaba encounters. Input from the conversations will be gathered and evaluated by the Anglican Communion and their website states that “the result of these conversations will be a depth of agreement and the clarification of disagreement resulting in positive missional relationships.”

Participants have different ways of understanding this changed relationship.

The Rev. Dan Graves, a priest from the Diocese of Toronto, said he liked the metaphor of marriage that a Jamaican colleague used. “You don’t think about working towards some goal in a marriage,” he said. “You think about the marriage as being together and working through things together through joy and adversity,” he said.

For Mr. She, success is “honesty, complete honesty, about what we believe in.”  He added that it’s important to share what he learns with fellow Anglicans in Hong Kong.

Ms. Lawson commented: “If we can come away at the end with any clues about how to de-polarize, how to be Christ-like in situations where we will probably never agree on many things then I think we’ve got treasures coming.”

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