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.
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
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
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.''
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.
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.
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.
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.''
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