Posted by: Titus Presler | August 25, 2010

Encouragements and wonderings about All Africa Bishops Conference

There are both encouragements and things to wonder about in the news from the All Africa Conference of Bishops that has reportedly brought about 400 Anglican bishops to Entebbe, Uganda, for consultation on the theme “Securing the Future: Unlocking our Potential”:

• The turnout is impressive in bringing together African bishops from all 12 Anglican provinces on the continent, some of which hold divergent views about the issues currently causing turmoil in the Anglican Communion.

• The conference’s focus on issues of conflict, poverty, corruption, leadership and disease on the continent is obviously timely in addressing issues of deep concern to Africans themselves as well as to those seeking to assist from outside.

• The role of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) in organizing the conference encourages hope that CAPA and its general secretary, Canon Grace Kaiso, are being effective in mediating tensions among the participants.

• It is good for mutual encounter that the conference is occurring in Uganda, one of the Anglican provinces most vociferous in opposing the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

• Among the international partners present, the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) appears to be participating fully, represented officially by Africa Partnership Officer Petero Sabune, himself a Ugandan, members of Episcopal Relief and Development, and staff of Trinity Grants, the global outreach of Trinity Church, Wall Street.

• In view of the fact that Uganda Archbishop Henry Orombi boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the fact that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams preached at the opening liturgy in his first visit to Uganda since assuming the see of Canterbury in 2003 may presage some thawing of relations.

• Canon Gideon Byamugisha’s address on HIV/AIDS early in the conference put that crisis high on the agenda where it needs to be, given that the pandemic continues to be catastrophic in parts of Africa.

Uganda President Museveni’s admonishments to the assembly to overcome differences for the sake of the mission of Christ should be well taken.  Doubtless his rehearsal of the early conflicts in Uganda between Protestant and Roman Catholic converts, and between Christians and Muslims, are prompting reflection on the missional competition that is being recapitulated in our own day in the animosity and competing efforts between “conservative” and “progressive” Anglicans, both within Africa and beyond.

Some wonderings from news of the conference:

• The newly formed Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), which opposes the Episcopal Church and is vying for recognition by Canterbury, is present at the conference and represented by “Archbishop” Robert Duncan, perhaps among others.  That could cut several ways.  On one hand, Anglicans of whatever political affiliation should be joining hands in companionship to assist in catalyzing the healing of Africa.  On the other hand, we hope that the conference does not become a scene of progressive-conservative skirmishing about the status of ECUSA as a full member of the Anglican Communion.  Already it appears that the sexuality controversy has been referred to in various addresses by African leaders.

• Abp. Williams is reported to have said in his opening sermon, “It has been said that this is going to be the African century of the Christian Church in terms of energy and growth and vision. God raises up different countries and cultures in different seasons to bear witness to his purpose in a specially marked way, and it may be that this is indeed his will for Africa in the years ahead.”  Certainly this has been predicted by many, perhaps most memorably by mission historian Andrew Walls in his characterizations of Africa as “the new heartland of Christianity.”  As a researcher of African Christianity’s vitality, I have often followed suit.  However, just as African Christianity surprised most observers by the end of the 20th century, I wonder whether by the end of the 21st it may be Asian Christianity that may be regarded as the new heartland – Korea, the Philippines, India and – most especially and surprisingly – China.  Interestingly, the Andrew Walls Centre at Liverpool Hope University is devoted to the study of Christianity not only in Africa but in Asia as well.

• CAPA President Abp. Ian Earnest of the Indian Ocean is reported to have “stressed that the time had passed when Christian mission went from east to west, but that the church was now in a time when mission could go from anywhere to anywhere.”  This by now well worn truism continues to be true, of course.  The stress of this assembly seems to be on African churches mobilizing to address Africa’s problems.  In terms of mission beyond Africa – from the anywhere of Africa to the anywhere of other parts of the world – several observations can be made:

– For many African Anglican jurisdictions, such mission will require a major shift in mentality from seeing themselves as perennially input from global mission partners to seeing themselves as actors in God’s global mission.

– Unfortunately, African Anglicanism mobilizing for mission in, say, the USA got off to a poor start, with such efforts as the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) being organized specifically to support dissension within ECUSA.

– African Anglicans would do well to study the efforts of Pentecostals and African-Initiated Churches in the West, not in terms of setting up competing jurisdictions but for the open witness that such Christians have offered in Europe and North America.

See news stories about the conference:

ENS, August 23 – overview piece

ENS, August 25 – overview piece

ACNS, August 25 – President Museveni’s address

ACNS, August 25 – Canon Byamugisha’s address

ACNS, August 25 – Addresses by PB Anis, Abp. Williams, Abp. Earnest

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