Press release from the Anglican Church of Canada
“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.”
The Ninth Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, London, Ontario, Canada July 18-22, 2018
A Testimony of Constancy in Faith, Hope and Love
Your older ones shall dream dreams (Joel 2:28)
We began this Ninth Consultation, as we have begun each one, by sharing our names and our news. As we did so some themes began to emerge. A number of us were retiring from our Dioceses, or indeed had already retired. And a number of us had become grandparents, or had been blessed by the arrival of yet more grandchildren.
Many of the bishops in our Consultation are young, with years of ministry ahead. But as we give testimony to the Communion we also speak as elders, and as grandparents in God. And from this perspective we want to commend to the Communion the way of working we have developed over these years.
God has given us gifts of being. We are patient with one another. We take the trouble to come together and to give our full attention to one another. We prioritise praying together, and reading scripture. Above all we seek to listen before we speak.
These ways of being, slow and light and calm, are also the gifts of grandparents to their children and grandchildren. The Church, and especially the Church in the West, can all too easily become anxious and hasty. We want to solve our problems by cutting the knots that bind us and that are sometimes tightly tangled. From the perspective of elders, we counsel a different way. It is the way of slow and sustained growth in relationship and in mutual forbearance. It involves the building of long relationships, relationships that bear the fruit of patience and of constancy.
Walking in Constancy
…these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance. (Luke 8:15)
We write this testimony, then, from the experience of years. Our Consultations have grown as a tree grows. They began 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. So that now, after nine years, we are aware that God has developed some fruit in us – the fruit which as the scripture says comes “with patient endurance”, in other words with constancy, with bearing one another’s company and one another’s burdens, as together we have made “a long obedience in the same direction”.
This constancy is demanding, and we have felt its demands. Constancy demands the offering of life and the bearing of discomfort – physically in the demands of travel and time given to these meetings and to one another; and sometimes spiritually in bearing the pain of misunderstanding and opposition. There has also been discomfort in the room, as we have shared our differences honestly and truly, and have learned to see the person behind and beyond the opinions. We have all met these demands gladly, with our eyes on the prize of the unity that our Lord promises us. Constancy is walking together and learning together how to be Christians, learning together how to witness to the God who calls each and all of us to be one.
It has never been the purpose of our group to solve the problems of the Anglican Communion. Rather, we set out to dissolve misunderstandings, and to soften hearts, our own first of all. As we have done so we have come to see one another more fully – as bishops leading our people in radically different contexts, but leading our people in the same direction in response to what God is doing in God’s world, seeking to conform ourselves to the likeness of our one Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the one Spirit.
We have shared the challenges of our ministry, as we have learned from one another what it is to be a bishop in a place. The places from which we come are profoundly different, but the task of leading God’s people is at heart the same. This is why we have been able to relate to one another so profoundly, and to live and laugh together so readily and joyously.
We are simply Anglican pilgrims walking together, as an example from our earlier life brought home most powerfully. Having travelled as a group to a nearby community in Dar es Salaam beset with deep poverty, and walking the lanes of that place, we were approached by a woman pleading for prayers for someone in her home. All of us entered and together laid hands upon and prayed for the person in bed who was close to death. This was a sacramental moment. God spoke with us “I’m glad you’ve had a chance to talk with one another but I’m deeply grateful you’ve prayed for this man and his family”.
We are simply Anglican pilgrims healing together, as we have heard in one another’s stories. I was that person in Matthew who received Jesus’ healing. I have begun from this gathering to heal. It never occurred to me there were people of different orientations in my church until I met them face to face, and saw them as children of God, all of us in need of healing. The decision by some to leave the Church is what divides us, not different orientations. God loves without discrimination. I still believe in scripture as the inspired word of God and it is my responsibility as a bishop to minister to all equally.
We are simply Anglican pilgrims testifying together, with enormous gratitude, for the faithfulness of God and the many ways our lives, stories and ministries have crossed paths. So much sharing in direct conversation, respectful of context, has been a huge encouragement. It has renewed hope.
This is a loving and generous community. Being here has enlarged my listening heart and acceptance of others, not with tolerance but love. What’s next? The Communion connected and united in grace and hope. Some would say ‘impossible’, but we testify for this, we testify to this.
We are beginning to reflect upon our process of intercultural dialogue, and preparing to offer our testimony to the Lambeth Conference 2020. We commit to meet again in 2019 in Liverpool, England.
This Consultation’s Context
…that God was reconciling himself to the world in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
The 9th Consultation met in London, Ontario, the city where the Anglican concept of ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence’ was drafted for the 1963 Anglican Congress of 1963. We acknowledge that the land on which we gathered is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron (Neutral), and Wendat peoples. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties.
The very journey to arrive in London became a metaphor of perseverance and constancy as members took up to four flights, negotiated missed communications and connections, and endured visa issues, misdirected luggage, and jetlag.
These challenges faded as we gathered for worship and to hear stories of the fruit that has emerged from the previous eight consultations in the lives of the elders of the dialogue. Listening to the testimonies of bishops brought joy and delight to our hearts. We were strengthened in our desire to share these fruit with others in the Anglican Communion as we all approach the Anglican Consultative Council 17 in 2019 and 2020 Lambeth Conference.
In light of the 2020 Lambeth theme God’s Church for God’s World, The Rev. Canon Dr. Todd Townshend drew us to reflect on God’s purposes – God’s new creation – in mission, and on the ends of words in Christian life today. Dr. Townshend’s speaking notes are appended to the Testimony for further reflection.
Dr. Townshend proposed that speaking and listening are in crisis at the moment, in the church and in the world. Words are in a state of chaos. The Christian narrative and how we share it through words, actions, silence, must lead to new revelations of God. We have the capacity for this through story- telling that keeps the Gospel message real and thick, life-giving and connected to the life and ministry of Jesus. The focus, the true end of words today is reconciliation, a core ‘thesis statement’ of the New Testament (2 Corinthians 5: 19). Reconciliation is the work of God, in us and through us, always painful, beautiful and particular, almost the nature of God and so impossible to know or fully describe.
We pondered what is it about this Consultation, or anything to do with the church, that helps us join God’s yearning for reconciliation. Our Consultations have repeatedly learned about efforts toward reconciliation within local contexts. We have considered the legacies of racism, colonialism, and slavery. In this gathering, we listened to The Rev. Rosalyn Elm, young Anglican priest of the Oneida Nation speak about the legacies of European colonial settlement upon the land, waters, traditions and dignity of Canada’s First Peoples. Her use of words and images, stories of enforced migration, lack, and landlessness continuing to this day were deeply moving. We were taught the wampum wisdom of The Dish with One Spoon Treaty binding all to share territory and protect the land, become reconciled with one another, with creation and the Creator. The Church in Canada, despite having the Gospel, has taken a back seat, has been on the bad side of history. Really listening to one another, forgiveness and reconciliation is kingdom work. Take this strength within your circle and do something with it.
Each Consultation lays down longer and deeper roots. The tree of our relationships fills out through the laughter and pain of stories shared. It produces new fruit to strengthen our joint commitment to the Gospel.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz inspired us with a passionate summation of the work of the Consultations and encouraged us to remain faithful to face to face dialogue and telling our stories of life and hope discovered together. He identified four different conversations within the Anglican Church of Canada, which could learn from the Consultation’s commitment to and constancy in discussion between church leaders holding different views on Christian marriage.
Two new bishops to the Consultation spoke about the mission and ministry of their diocese. Bishop Paisible Ndacayisaba, Diocese of Muyinga, in the northern region of the Anglican Church of Burundi, leads a young diocese of 23 parishes, 35 pastors, 109 catechists and 35,000 church members. Muyinga Diocese’s mission is to proclaim and share the Word of God, strengthen local communities, and plead for justice. Evangelization is the foundation upon which other mission develops, including youth development, welcome and integration of people living with disabilities, Mother’s Union, assistance to orphans, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB programs. After many years of civil war and a changing climate, the diocese, with the support of partners, especially the companion diocese of Qu’Appelle, is building a health centre, promoting tree planting, sponsoring an interethnic soccer team, and building wells for potable water.
Archbishop Melissa Skelton, Metropolitan, Province of British Columbia and Yukon, is Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster. The diocese is small in geography on the ancestral territories of 40 First Nations, comprised of 66 parishes and 3 worshipping communities in the Vancouver BC metropolitan area, the Fraser Valley and the Sunshine Coast. The diocese’s priorities are fostering relationships with one another and with neighbours, parish development, nurturing relationships with and learning about Indigenous peoples as well as advancing the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, engaging the diversity of peoples in parishes and in leadership, working on financial sustainability, and fostering a culture of transparency, collaboration, courage and choice. Specific initiatives include the School for Parish Development, a revamped process of discernment for Holy Orders, greater emphasis on the Synod Office and Committees serving the needs of parishes, property development, and a companion diocese relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines
We are grateful for the invitation and hospitality of Bishop Linda Nicholls and people of the Diocese of Huron, including The Rev. Canon Dr. Todd Townshend and Huron College.
We are grateful to the Rev. Mike DeKay for his prayerful leadership of our daily worship, and to Mr. Angus Sinclair for music and song. We rejoiced in experiencing Morning Prayer in Zion Church, Oneida Settlement, and in joining the community of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, for Sunday Eucharist.
We are grateful to the staff of the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre for daily food, meeting operations, and a quiet room for rest.
Thank you to all who made this consultation possible through financial support: Ecclesiastical Life All Churches Trust, Fellowship of the Maple Leaf, dioceses of Huron, Niagara, Ottawa, Toronto, and the national global ministry offices of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church.
We are grateful to Canon Dr. Isaac Kawuki Mukasa, Dr. Andrea Mann and Ms. Claudia Alvarez, Anglican Church of Canada, for their staff support during and between meetings.
Archbishop Colin Johnson, Anglican Church of Canada
Archbishop Melissa Skelton, Anglican Church of Canada
Bishop Jane Alexander, Anglican Church of Canada
Bishop Michael Bird, Anglican Church of Canada
Bishop John Chapman, Anglican Church of Canada
Archbishop Martin Nyaboho, Anglican Church of Burundi
Archbishop Daniel Sarfo, Church of the Province of West Africa
Bishop Paul Bayes, Church of England
Bishop Dickson Chilongani, Anglican Church of Tanzania
Bishop Garth Counsell, Church of the Province of Southern Africa
Bishop Given Gaula, Anglican Church of Tanzania
Bishop Michael Ingham (Retired), Anglican Church of Canada
Bishop Julius Kalu (Retired), Anglican Church of Kenya
Bishop Ed Konieczny, The Episcopal Church
Bishop Sixbert Macumi, Anglican Church of Burundi
Bishop Paisible Ndacayisaba, Anglican Church of Burundi
Bishop Linda Nicholls, Anglican Church of Canada
Bishop Kobina Smith, Church of the Province of West Africa
Bishop Daniel Torto, Church of the Province of West Africa
Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, Church of the Province of Southern Africa
Bishop Joseph Wasonga, Anglican Church of Kenya
Bishop Joel Waweru, Anglican Church of Kenya