Issue No. 16Saturday 8 August 1998
The Official Newspaper of the
Lambeth Conference

Web highlights provided by Anglicans Online from the official edition.

Front page of this issue

Gathering of Afro-Anglican bishops built bridges, focused efforts

by Nan Cobbey and James Thrall

As the Lambeth Conference draws to a close, one pre-Lambeth gathering of Afro-Anglican bishops from Africa, England, the West Indies and the United States has proved fruitful. The 68 bishops from four continents can point with satisfaction to successful resolutions achieved through their pooled effort, but also to ties of friendship forged across distinct cultural differences.

Sponsored by six United States dioceses, the gathering in Cambridge,England, July 13-15, was open to all bishops of Africa and the African diaspora---a body significantly larger by 98 dioceses than it was at the last Lambeth Conference. While the meeting was not able to bridge widely divergent positions on the issue of sexuality, the bishops did identify mutual concerns they vowed to pursue during Lambeth. For Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon (Kaduna, Nigeria), meeting with other Afro-Anglican bishops, especially those who had attended earlier Lambeth Conferences, also offered a chance to get pointers on how to be heard. ``The Afro-Anglican conference informed us and prepared us for making positive contributions in the various sections,'' he said.``I personally wouldn't have participated as actively as I've had the joy of doing.'' A presentation to the gathering on the issue of international debt was particularly helpful, he said.

Calling for Decade of Reconciliation
The bishops issued a 10-point statement,``The Cambridge Challenge,'' on the eve of Lambeth, calling for a Decade of Reconciliation that would help ``break down the walls which continue to separate us.'' The four-page text also addresses the bishops' key concerns: debt cancellation, neo-colonialism, the arms trade, Islam-Christian relations, refugees of war, AIDS, inter-Anglican relationships, ``full humanity,'' and church growth. According to Bishop Orris Walker (Long Island, US), organizer of the meeting, the statement expresses ``a feeling among bishops of color in the Anglican Communion that there is still too much business as usual and the focus was on the concerns of bishops of the First World.'' Even those in the developed world, he said, have ``felt that . . . our voices were not being heard.'' Fifty-one bishops signed the statement, including 20 from Nigeria, nine from the United States, seven from Kenya, six from Uganda, three from the Province of the West Indies, two from West Africa, two from CongoZaire, one from Central Africa, and one from the Church of England.

Forging personal ties
The Cambridge meeting itself offered a moment of reconciliation for those who attended. ``Despite the things we have heard about the church in America, it has been very good to meet the bishops,'' Bishop Idowu-Fearon said.``And it was good for them to see the number of African bishops and to listen to how we're doing it in Africa.'' The bishops' statement acknowledged the ``great diversity and vastly differing contexts'' of the Communion, which ``presents its own inherent difficulties for the development of a common mind.'' The statement noted that ``our own assembly at Cambridge has provided us with a fruitful reminder of this reality,'' but stressed that ``we are in solidarity against the forces and sources of evil and dehumanisation.'' It is also essential to heal perceived divisions between different regions of the Communion, he said. ``The South needs the North, and the North needs the South,'' he said. ``We agreed to extend the right hand of fellowship to those in different cultures. We've got to listen to each other.''

The bishops gathered again in the second week of the Lambeth Conference to recommit themselves to making their voices heard, and to continuing to ``keep together the Afro-Anglican agenda,'' reported Bishop Clarence Coleridge (Connecticut, US), one of the sponsors of the meeting. They also began planning for another gathering, their fourth, ``in the new millennium,'' he said. Two previous gatherings of Afro-Anglicans were held in Barbados and South Africa.

Relief of debt not enough
Despite a high emphasis on international debt throughout the conference, the bishops carried concerns right up to the plenary debate on the issue. Bishop Neville de Souza (Jamaica,West Indies) and Bishop Alfred Reid (Montego Bay, West Indies), for example, expressed concern that neither the Afro-Anglican bishops' statement, nor the subsection report on international debt sufficiently addresses their concerns about the root causes of international debt. Bishop Reid prepared an amendment to the conference statement that was added Thursday afternoon.

``Debt relief is not sufficient,'' said Bishop Reid,``it leaves the system intact and it doesn't address the causes. The reason for debt in the world has to do with a global economic system in which eight countries---I'm talking about the G8-reserve the right to commandeer 90 percent of the world's resources for themselves and expect the rest of the world, which is the majority of mankind, to scramble among themselves and scramble with them for the remaining [10 percent].'' Bishop de Souza is also concerned that trade rules set up to benefit international companies are at the expense of developing nations. ``All countries become investment opportunities over which we have no local control,'' he said. ``They send in and they take out foreign investment funds as they like, controling internal economy and destroying the third world nations capability to manage their balance of payments. They are going back to colonialism.'' The Cambridge statement declares the bishops ``deeply appalled'' at the lack of political will of wealthy nations and multinational institutions ``to radically challenge'' the causes of the ``disastrous conditions'' they see in their countries.

Support for newly converted Christians
Archbishop Joseph Adetiloye of Nigeria especially appreciated the AfroAnglican bishops' suggestion that the Lambeth Conference encourage economic and social support for Christians in the Muslim parts of the world, particularly for new converts. ``Sometimes when they get converted, they lose their jobs, their homes. In some cases their wives are taken away from them.'' said Bishop Adetiloye.The church in Nigeria is doing everything it can to help them, but more support from the communion would be welcome, he said. Despite difficulties in coming to a meeting of minds, either in Cambridge or here in Canterbury, Bishop Chester Talton (Los Angeles) said he feels quite sure about the value of Lambeth Conference. ``The most important thing for me is the sharing and the learning and the listening,'' he said. ``It's hard to see how in a meeting this big we are going to affect very much on the basis of what we say, but I think we can change one another a great deal by what we hear from and learn from one another.''

Back to front page of this issue