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The Anglican Congress on the Stewardship of Creation

Posted on: August 22, 2002 12:54 PM
Related Categories: Southern Africa

19th August 2002

Representatives from around the Anglican Communion have begun the first ever event the Communion has held to discuss and debate the issue of sustainable development, which is the subject of the forthcoming World Summit.

Over 80 delegates from north, south, east and west have joined together at the Good Shepherd Retreat Centre, just a few miles north of Johannesburg, which will play host to the World Summit during the next two weeks.

The Anglican Communion’s Congress has been organised by the Communion’s UN Observer, Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, who will be presenting a statement prepared at the Congress by delegates for world leaders at the Summit.

The UN Observer’s office has worked closely with a local Anglican leader, Rt Revd Geoff Davies, Bishop of Umzimvubu, who has involved several representatives of CPSA in the Congress. They have been able to bring first hand experience of the issues affecting South Africa and share these with delegates from elsewhere in Africa, and others from as far afield as India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Jamaica, Australia and the UK.

The first day of the Congress began with an heart-stirring explanation of some of Africa’s own environmental concerns by Dr Anthony Turton, head of African Water Issues Research Unit, University of Pretoria, who asked, “What is happening to water?” Dr Turton’s message was brought home to the delegates when he talked about the Hartesbeespoort Dam which is overlooked by the Good Shepherd Retreat Centre. Dr Turton explained that the dam, created in the early 1900s to provide water to areas further north, would be silted up within 50 to 60 years. Several square miles of contaminated land will result, surrounded by communities currently enjoying the benefits of a lakeside environment. Dr Turton intrigued many delegates by explaining that in South Africa, the government can be sued if people are damaged by the environment, and the ecosystem has its own legal rights. In many countries of Africa, environmental issues are complex, involving lifestyles and social issues. In Zambia, for example, limestone is turned into concrete granules by women crushing rocks to earn a few dollars to pay for their families’ water. However, to create the stones, water is poured onto limestone, heated by burning disused car tyres. This in itself produces huge amounts of carcinogenic black smoke.

Dr Turton was followed by Dr Alan Werritty, Professor of Physical Geography, University of Dundee, and representative of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who encouraged delegates to report on examples of water issues in their own Provinces. Both Bangladesh and India reported on arsenic poisoning, now caused as a result of drinking water, and delegates voiced their concerns over water privatisation in many parts of the world and, in particular, on plans being made in India to privatise rivers. African delegates reported that several of their countries often share rivers, each taking out supplies upstream of the other. In one case, Lesotho is now selling water to South Africa, and delegates questioned whether the water was Lesotho’s to sell. Whilst big dams formed part of the solution to water supplies in the last century, alternatives now need to be found. However, a delegate from Hong Kong explained that there, a scheme to turn sea water into drinking water had proved too expensive. On more than one occasion delegates were told how increased wealth throughout the world was putting even greater demands on water supplies, and the expense of supplying water to golf courses being developed in desert areas were contrasted to the needs of many poor families around the world.

The issues of water could fill a whole congress, but the programme moved on to consider ‘Deep in the flesh: the Body of Christ, HIV/AIDS and Sustainable Development’ with Dr Denise Ackermann, visiting Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch. Dr Ackermann, who acted as a theological consultant to Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, introduced a wide range of issues concerning the AIDS epidemic. This is currently responsible for a deadly swathe through Africa’s 20 to 40 year olds. Dr. Ackermann explained that the married woman is at greatest risk, and that for her often the 'virus of denial' is the greatest enemy, for "who wants to add stigma to an already appalling situation?" She asked why members of the Communion were not lamenting at humankind’s effect on our planet, and encouraged delegates to regain the language of lamentation. "After all," she explained, "was not the origin of the eucharist human deceit?"

Delegates were able to expand their view to an international picture of major proportions. Revd Canon Earnle Gordon from Jamaica explained how AIDS was a disease caught up with numerous familial and cultural complications. He was followed by the Bishop of Uganda, whose offering was particularly moving as he described his daughter’s own death from AIDS. His passionate description of the disease’s impact on his country made a major impact on the delegates. A representative from the Church in India explained that in her country it was difficult to estimate the numbers of those affected by the disease because of the shortage of testing facilities in rural areas, and the stigma that many of those affected feel, preventing them from making their circumstances known to others.

Later in the day, Dr Jan Loubser led a workshop on Local Community Empowerment. Dr Loubser, who is a consultant to the UN in Holistic People-Centred Development, encouraged the delegates to consider the village as the basic community, giving examples of the important role played by villages in India, Uganda and Zambia. He then challenged delegates to practice local community empowerment there and then by considering "What does stewardship mean to me personally?"

At midday, the delegates took a break from their deliberations by joining together in a eucharist where the preacher was Rt Revd Simon Chiwanga, President of the Anglican Consultative Council. He referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s message to delegates, which asked for an example to be set of not just talking about sustainable development, but living it.

Claire Foster
David Shreeve

Good Shepherd Retreat Centre, Hartesbeespoort Dam, South Africa