Rwandan archbishop backs away from offer to walkout clergy

The Rwandan archbishop who wrote to 12 conservative New Westminster clergy last week with an offer of “ecclesiastical protection” now says the offer was a misunderstanding.

Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, primate of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of Rwanda and diocesan bishop of Kigali, said in an interview that he has sent the clergy a follow-up letter to clarify that while he supports them and will continue to examine the matter, he was not offering to become their bishop.

One of those clergy, Rev. Ed Hird, however, said the letter of clarification only complained about a headline added to his message which suggested he had promised ecclesiastical protection. Mr. Hird said the archbishop clarified that he was only offering the possibility of ecclesiastical protection, a responsibility which he would share with others.

“He doesn’t want to act alone, and we understand that,” said Mr. Hird whose group of eight parishes and 12 clergy, now calling itself the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, was asking even before the diocesan synod for the appointment of another bishop to minister to them. Such an appointment is called alternative episcopal oversight.

Neither Archbishop Kolini nor Mr. Hird would provide a copy of the archbishop’s second letter, an unusual refusal for the conservative clergy, who have made public an enormous amount of correspondence regarding their standing in the diocese.

In his original message, posted June 27 on the Prayer Book Society of Canada’s Web site, Archbishop Kolini extended “the welcoming hand of Christian fellowship, shared concern, ready support and tangible assistance” to the eight New Westminster parishes which walked out of the June 15 diocesan synod after the vote in favour of same-sex blessings.

“We deeply regret the threats toward you and numerous others concerning your clerical licences,” the letter read. “Please know that we will not recognize any such efforts.

“We are also willing to share with others the possibility of ecclesiastical protection.”

At the time, New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham declared the offer “meaningless” since the archbishop has no jurisdiction in Canada.

The Rwandan archbishop now says the offer of ecclesiastical protection was taken out of context.

“I wrote it as a word of encouragement, not as an offer of episcopal oversight,” said Archbishop Kolini. “That doesn’t mean we keep quiet.”

The archbishop said he would continue to “look into the matter” and discuss with other primates (heads of Anglican provinces) “any counsel we can give.”

While he has not yet spoken with any other primates about the matter, Archbishop Kolini said he expected it was being widely discussed at the meeting of the Future of Anglicanism, taking place in Oxford, England June 30 through July 5.

Archbishop Kolini and the church in Rwanda have long had ties with the Anglican Church of Canada, with the latter providing funding for development and relief to the country. The national church’s partnerships department has traditionally provided $15,000 to the Rwandan church and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, which shares its offices with the national church, supports development projects there, including a food security project and an orphanage.

Rob Shropshire, PWRDF’s development team co-ordinator, knows Archbishop Kolini as well as anybody in the Canadian church. His history with the archbishop dates back to 1991, when he was hired by the primate’s fund to staff its Africa desk and Archbishop Kolini was a new bishop in the diocese of Shaba, in the Anglican Church of Zaire (now known as Congo).

“I met him as part of the Anglican Church of Canada’s response to a call from the Anglican Communion to establish closer contacts with French-speaking Anglicans,” said Mr. Shropshire.

The two men have met about a dozen times over the years, including once in 2000 after Archbishop Kolini and Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore ordained two U.S. priests as missionary bishops to minister to conservatives in the United States. Those consecrations were widely condemned as “irregular” in the Anglican Communion and the Canadian primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, was quoted as saying “Bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression.”

The following year, Archbishop Kolini and Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung of South East Asia consecrated four more U.S. bishops.

They are part of the breakaway Anglican Mission in America.

In the fall of 2000, Mr. Shropshire personally delivered a message to Archbishop Kolini from PWRDF asking him to clarify press statements that the Rwandan church did not consider itself in communion with those churches which did not endorse a 1997 statement about sexual sin (including homosexual practices between men or women).

While the Rwandan church did not respond directly to the request for clarification, Archbishop Kolini told Mr. Shropshire that Rwandan Anglicans would not accept church leaders questioning the authority of the Bible.

“He also said that, as part of the Anglican Communion, he must listen to others and take care of those who are concerned when the authority of Scripture is called into question.”

Mr. Shropshire, who describes the archbishop as a good communicator who “seems to be a compassionate man”, said he questioned Archbishop Kolini’s priorities.

Speaking a day before he was scheduled to travel to Rwanda and Burundi, Mr. Shropshire said he is surprised the Rwandan archbishop is involved in the affairs of the Anglican church in Canada and the U.S. when his own church has so many problems of its own.

Archbishop Kolini was studying in the United States in 1994 when an estimated 800,000 people died in Rwanda in a genocide. Several church leaders, including bishops, were implicated in the genocide and many fled the country in exile, including the then-archbishop.

“Those problems should be priority issues,” said Mr. Shropshire. “I wonder, where is the call from the church in Rwanda to the Anglican Communion to work with them on peace, justice and reconciliation issues? Why aren’t we hearing that call instead of a call around issues of gays and lesbians in the church in the United States and Canada?”


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