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A report from the Anglican Communion’s secretary-general

Posted on: April 11, 2016 10:54 AM
Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, delivers his report to members of the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, Zambia
Photo Credit: ACNS
Related Categories: ACC16, ACO, Anglican Communion, Global

The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, this morning delivered a report to members of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka. Archbishop Josiah set out his perspective of the Communion and shared his experiences of his first few months in the post; before setting out the work of the departments at the Anglican Communion Office.

Your grace, the President of ACC, the chair, and vice-chair, archbishops, bishops, my brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a great joy to be speaking to you this morning in what is my first ACC report as secretary general of our wonderful Anglican Communion.


But before I go to my prepared report, just to add that – as the chair as informed you – today and tomorrow we will be speaking addressing on what goes on at the Anglican Communion Office in London. And after my presentation this morning there will be time for all of you to reflect on what you have heard and there will be four questions on the screen that will relate to my presentation; and then each of the staff will talk to you about his or her department so that you have an idea what goes on in that office.

I remember a day before I was interviewed, having met the Archbishop of Canterbury, I had to meet some of the directors; and just listening to them, I was really amazed. I said: “Gosh! There is so much going on in this office and out there we know virtually nothing about what is going on. I am hoping that today and tomorrow you will listen and give us more things to do; and that you will also promise to use the things that come out of your office which we are fortunate to work at.

There is a lot of ground to cover this morning. My first nine months in office have been busy. I have had the privilege of being invited to a number of Provinces. And I tell the people I meet that I have a very difficult job: difficult because it seems that this position is not biblical! The Bible says that you cannot serve two masters – and I am having to serve four masters! I serve the Archbishop of Canterbury; I serve the ACC – you are all my bosses; I serve the Primates – a very difficult group; and I have to serve the Lambeth Conference, which is all the bishops. I want you to have this picture all the time before you as you pray for us in that office; because that office is not biblical. I’m sure you understand what I mean in case the press people go and take it out of context. I will talk more on this – about the office itself – later, let me begin with the story of the road to Emmaus – somewhere we often linger in resurrection season.

It is there we see the disciples meeting in the shadow of murder, breath-taking injustice, headline news, walking and talking together, wondering what on earth it all means. Then – well, we know how the story ends: finding Jesus where we thought he was absent. This morning I am calling you again to this story.

And I begin with response to Pakistan attack.

As I prepared to come to Lusaka, I heard the news of 72 people killed and 300 injured in a park in the Pakistani city of Lahore. Our bishops in Pakistan responded: praying with the injured in hospitals around the city, encouraging broken people, consoling them. They ask us to pray with them for the pain in that place. The Bishop of Lahore also asks for our help because a new railway line in the city is planned for a route that threatens the land of four of our Anglican churches – including the cathedral.

Also, before we coming here, [a] bishop . . . in Kaduna Province of the Church of Nigeria, sent to me pictures of his church that was rebuilt being completely demolished by Muslims.

All these show to us that they are hard pressed on every side. But we are their big family and, because we walk together with them, we disciples find Jesus present in circumstances where we thought he couldn’t possibly be. Do take the opportunity while you are here to speak to our friends here from Pakistan and assure them of your love and prayers; just as we have been able to express our love, prayers and concerns to the Bishop [in Kaduna] after that horrible experience.

Response to Primates’ Meeting

On Friday you heard a report from the Primates’ meeting in Canterbury in January from Archbishop Justin, our President. One of the things which was part of our story from that week was the sense we had of the prayers of the wider Communion. God was there, by the prayers of the saints. It was a lovely experience. If you want to talk more about the Primates’ meeting, and about these issues, I will encourage you to talk to Archbishop Justin and the Primates who are present here. Don’t let them go if there are areas you don’t understand or areas you want them to talk to you a bit more about; please use their presence here.

But, for now, let me say that your walking with us – your prayer in our struggles – let God in. And that meeting was a miracle. We felt the presence of the Lord, and I want to thank you.

Overseas Visits - USA

I said that I had been busy. I have had the opportunity to travel widely these past nine months and meet many of those who make up our worldwide family.

Among the invitations I received was to attend the enthronement services of the Bishops of South East Florida and Dallas and an invitation as keynote speaker at the Mission Conference of the Diocese of Connecticut – the diocese where Bishop Ian [Douglas] hails. Three different dioceses in the same Province. I am happy to inform the ACC of the good things happening within TEC in spite of the talk of “crises”.

Since the enthronement service of the new Presiding Bishop, a committee is being formed by Bishop Curry, the new Presiding Bishop, to work out how TEC helps those bishops, clergy and congregations that cannot support same sex marriage. The hope is to make good on a resolution passed in their recent Convention that this theological and pastoral position be “respected” with no coercion to conform to the practice of same sex marriage. I am encouraged that such a committee is to be appointed, and while this will not be an easy task, I have hope that this position of respect will be maintained.

I am also happy to let the ACC members know that within TEC today there are bishops in dioceses where same-sex marriage is practised who make provision for those who do not accept that; with bishops from other dioceses where it is not practiced. So there is this walking together. There is this communication. There is this partnership already going on within TEC. And I know, because I have had words with the bishops who are involved in this.

Reflection on the Covenant

We cannot avoid our disagreements as a family. Members will know that the Anglican Covenant is one way of describing what being a Communion means, to help us when we disagree. In these Internet days we disagree faster…. some might say more furiously than ever. The broader public sees this.

Professor Norman Doe is the director of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University. He is a member of the Lambeth Commission that had proposed the Covenant and helped to draft it. What does he think the Covenant is for? He says it a means of “setting out clearly the jurisdictional boundaries of the instruments of the Communion... the Covenant project would fill a vacuum and provide a set of house rules for the Anglican Communion to address issues.”

The disagreements of today will eventually give way to others. These could be even more intractable. In Professor Doe’s words: “other cases like this: stimulating litigation, jeopardising ecumenical relations, making people ill, wasting money. . . It is high time that Anglicans got a formal agreement together on how they process this,” says Professor Doe.

At the moment, I can report to you that 11 of 38 provinces have signed the Covenant. Many are the smaller, non-English speaking Provinces for whom being a part of a bigger communion provides valuable connections and protections.

This is a matter that I want this instrument – the ACC – to take seriously. It was discussed at the Standing Committee last week and I was encouraged by the idea that emerged: that a group be set up to examine the way forward. It could even be the same Task Group set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury following the Primates’ meeting in January.

I am tempted to say a bit more; But I wouldn’t – I’ll let it come from all of you.

Overseas Visit – Peru and possible new Provinces

We can’t avoid our disagreements. But we shouldn’t let disagreements drown out our developments. Another trip I undertook was to Peru. At the invitation of the diocese and the province, and, having consulted with the Chair of the ACC and the President, Archbishop Justin, I went with a representative from the President’s office to assess the state of readiness of Peru in becoming a viable and functional province.

We saw a new province in the making. We witnessed the consecration of three bishops as Missionaries to newly created missionary dioceses and commissioned for their various mission fields. Our time was short but opportunity was given for us to meet with the people of Peru and visit some very remote areas of the proposed province.

The numerical strength is small but there is a huge potential for numerical growth – we saw the hunger for spiritual food among the people of Peru. But there is an issue of communication. Many of the clergy and bishops do not speak English at all. And, at present, we don’t provide much material in Spanish from the Anglican Communion Office. The Anglicans there complained of being detached from the rest of the Communion because they could not read what was happening in other places – and the rest of the Communion was not hearing their stories. Brothers and sisters, we have a serious communication problem in the entire South American Province that calls for an urgent solution by the ACC.

When I say South America, you know we have two major languages there. We have Spanish and there is Portuguese. We need to think seriously if we are to continue – we want them to feel a part of the rest of the Communion. And we also have French speaking parts in Africa.

In Sudan and South Sudan, the application to become an independent and autonomous Province is further advanced. A visitors group is to examine progress and once completed, there will be a vote on the application.

The application for Peru is also considered and I have been mandated by the Standing Committee to have a second look; meet with the bishops from that province; before a final decision or recommendation is made to the Standing Committee of the ACC.

It is a similar story in Chile with the Provinces’ application to become a Province. Here I will be working with the diocese to ensure all the guidelines are being met. On the Church in Ceylon, there is a desire to no longer come under the metropolitan authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This aspiration has been warmly welcomed. Archbishop Freier is to work with the Church to draw up a roadmap on the next steps.

Threats facing people in some Provinces within the Communion

When we grow, we get growing pains. But we need to grow, and we must grow and we should grow. Where we stand here in Lusaka, there is famine close by. In Zimbabwe the President has declared a national ‘state of disaster’. In Europe there is the biggest mass movement of people since the Second World War. In airports and railway stations in supposedly ‘modern democracies’, religious extremism has led to people killing people in cold blood.

Meanwhile our beautiful, God-given planet is itself under threat, from all kinds of environmental consequences. Later you will hear from Archbishop Thabo on this matter. In the province of Southern Africa, the people of Mozambique are trying to recover from terrible flooding. In Namibia, drought has forced the livestock industry – upon which seven in 10 Namibians depend – to declare a state of emergency, and the government is pressing farmers to sell their cattle. Primate Thabo recently wrote: “Our sister churches in the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa have similar stories they can tell. And at a recent consultation of bishops from the most vulnerable parts of the world, we heard of changes to seasons, rising sea levels, the acidification of seawater, depleted fishing [grounds] and of ‘climate refugees’ – people displaced by the changes,” says Primate Thabo.

The cyclones that hit Fiji in February are part of that. How are we to deal with the homeless people these disasters have left behind? Many are old and frail, their lifetimes washed away before their tired eyes. We will hear more about this from the Anglican Alliance, another department in the office.

The need to encourage everyone to walk together

From Dallas to Peru, from Wales to the West Indies, I have seen for myself how we are stronger to help when we walk together. Now, sadly not everyone who was invited is here today with us. That makes us sad, particularly if they agreed to come and are not here.

Later you will receive the report from the Director of Finance of Administration, and note that some of the Provinces who are not represented have also stopped sending their token contributions towards a fully functioning Anglican Communion office. And tomorrow, when the director presents his papers, we will be presenting you with facts and figures.

But, when St Paul wrote to the churches in Rome and Corinth, the Greek word he used to describe the gift of money from one church to another was koinonia – the word for communion. While I draw your attention to that, I just want to say this: in a family gathering, when important people we love can’t make it, we miss them.

But this is slightly different from family life because when they are not here we do not just miss them for our sake, or for theirs. We miss them for the sake of a needy world that needs Jesus where they thought he couldn’t possibly be.

In living up to its mandate, it seems right that the ACC be reminded of how it came to be set up. From the documents available to me, I see that the precursor to the ACC was the “Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy” which issued out of the Lambeth Conference of 1948 originally and then formally in 1958. In his work and leadership leading up to the formal proposals that gave birth to the ACC in late 1960s, Bishop Stephen Baines speaks to the question of “Mission Strategy” for Anglicans in which he notes that, for many, it is a kind of "dirty word", because of its functionalist feel – and I use the word “functionalism” here in its sociological perspective – but, according to Baines, “there is no disgrace in it,” he goes on to say.

There are a lot of pressures, from within our churches perhaps, to “do something” – respond to this demand; make a statement about that disagreement; take a stand on this or that issue.

But I would challenge, and urge the Council now to return to its roots and recommit itself to the kind of “consultation” that Baines, our human “founder” you could say, first encouraged us to do: apprehend anew what is the shape of our common discipleship of Christ; what are the resources we both have and need to bring to this common life of following Jesus, where we are being led by him, and for what end.

We must also re-think the character of our “inter-dependence”, and what evangelical burdens this properly places on each member of the ACC. The ACC is not the synod of the Communion; it makes no directive decisions about any of these things. Rather, it is one of the gatherings where, above all, wisdom can be sought by coming together in Christ’s name, praying, listening, learning, and articulating for the sake of the decisions of others.

In his further analysis, Baines noted several features that actually make it difficult for Anglicans to engage in Communion. One of these that I consider relevant to where the ACC is today is prophetic; it is this that informs my calling on this Instrument to go back to her roots.

According to Baines: One of the issues still current among us is the fact that we are “wedded to the national principle”, wherein we see the church as “deeply and richly rooted in the soil of its own country and people”. This national principle is one that “is rightly held precious by us”, he said, for all kinds of reasons. But Baines also observed – and remember, this is in 1961 when he is writing, not 2016! – the following:

“The [national] principle has its dangers, which are those of isolation, of provincialism, of division and narrowness, which breed weakness and disunity, and which dissipate strength and defeat our essential unity and mission. These dangers,” Baines continues, “threaten now more and more ominously, the more our world shrinks and we are forced into a new realisation of our interdependence. . . There is no room left, no time, in our world; we are deeply bound together, so that it is hard to say where one national interest ends and another begins; and while we righty cleave to our independence in our separate churches, we are also deeply aware of our need to think and choose and act together. This, we come to see,” says Baines, “is not at all a surrender of our traditional freedom, but rather an intelligent and far-seeing use of it”.

Brothers and sisters, we have been seeing these dangers play themselves out over the past 10-15 years; and we have also seen ever more clearly the imperative to take hold of the challenge to, and I quote, “think and choose and act together”, not for our sake only, but for the sake of a world that is riven far more threateningly than is our communion. Indeed, we can now see, perhaps more clearly than in Baines’ day, that our Communion is precisely what the world most desperately needs. And the Archbishop made this very clear in his address to us all yesterday.

Brothers and sisters, yes: we struggle with matters of doctrine – of course we do – and we have to continue to do. The Church always has. In the wider ecumenical scene, the struggles are just the same. I am glad that some of our ecumenical partners present here were at the meeting that was held – I think it was in September last year in London; a meeting of secretary generals of various major denominations at which I was inducted. And as I listened to their stories – from the Roman Catholic Church right down to to the evangelical movement – there is not church which is not wrestling with this human sexuality problem.

I was intrigued because the chair was looking at me. I was sucking it all in and it got to the point, the chair came to me and said: “Josiah, you Anglicans – just cool it. Just cool it. This problem is not just for the Anglicans; it is for the Christian world. And I felt that was an encouragement; and I hope as we continue to look at these doctrinal matters we will think of other churches who are also struggling.

But, brothers and sisters, we are in a world full of need. Let us recognise our own pains for what they are, and focus on the bigger world we’re here to serve.

And it is to this bigger world that I now wish to turn as I introduce the various departments we have at the Anglican Communion Office.

As I took this position last year, I felt I had been baptised into a community – a community of women and men who are committed to the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and willing and ready and available to work out the Five Marks of Mission which is the mandate from the ACC.

Today we will hear from:

John Kafwanka, our director of mission. The Mission department facilitates exchange of information and resources and it promotes collaboration – the learning and sharing of good practice to enrich global and local mission.

It promotes relationships that are interdependent; it promotes evangelism and holistic church growth. And it is a focal point for sharing experience for youth, children and family ministry.

Terrie Robinson: our director for Women in Church and Society. Terrie works with women and men around the Anglican Communion in the promotion and pursuit of just relationships between women and men, girls and boys, and the equal participation and flourishing of women in all areas of their lives. In our churches and in our broader communities we still have a long way to go. The mandate for this work is rooted firmly in Scripture and has been lifted up in a series of Anglican Consultative Council resolutions over the last decade. Terrie is going to describe some of the ways in which she is supporting Anglican (and often ecumenical) endeavours, to ensure that girls and women, boys and men experience their being gendered as a God-given gift and source of life and hope.

Phil Groves: our director for Continuing Indaba.This is a process of conflict transformation that establishes relationships so that difficult conversations can have positive results. Over the past three years, Phil has overseen the transition of Continuing Indaba from a project to providing resources that are being used in a variety of ways. It is breaking down barriers of tribalism and sectarianism – with positive results, including church growth. Many of you will know Phil has co-written a book on the subject – Living Reconciliation.


We have two directors from the Anglican Alliance – Andy Bowerman and Rachael Carnegie.

The Alliance brings together the churches and agencies of the Anglican Communion in development, relief and advocacy. Participants in the Alliance come together to witness to Christ’s love by responding to human need, promoting justice and reconciliation and safeguarding creation.

It connects the Communion:

  • In solidarity of prayer and resources during a humanitarian crisis

  • In sharing of skills and resources for development

  • In building common platforms for advocacy

Flora Winfield is our representative to the United Nations in Geneva. There’s been an increasing number of protracted humanitarian crises since the start of 2014. Flora and her colleagues have been providing the Communion’s voice at the UN. This involves fostering better relationships and communications between our provinces and dioceses and their UN partners as they respond to humanitarian crises or conflicts.

The work also looks at questions of

  • Security – including food security

  • Refugees and migrants

  • Peace building 

  • Human rights

  • Religious freedom

  • Health emergencies - such as Ebola

The work also includes education – teaching the UN institutions about faith – and our communities about the workings of the UN.

I have not said anything about the communications department; but Adrian Butcher, our new director of that department will also be presenting the work that goes on there. But before I stop and we go into questions and answers, I want to say this: When I was in Peru, it actually struck me that, yes – this Communion is vast; but like I said earlier on, there are huge chunks in this family where all that goes on in other provinces are not known. And what goes on in places like South America, what goes on there is not known to the rest of the Communion.

So we want to transform our communications department. We want to be able to tell our own story. The Primates Meeting cannot do that. Lambeth Conference cannot do that. The Archbishop of Canterbury – as an Instrument – cannot do that. This is the instrument that can give us that empowerment.

So I want us to take that very seriously as we discuss today, tomorrow, and before we leave. We need to beef up our communications department; to have people in the various parts of the Communion who will feed us at the ACO so that we can disseminate news just like that. We can do it because there is no church like the Anglican Communion. And I hope that as we reflect on what I have shared, and what will be shared by my colleagues from the office, you will give us that mandate so that we can represent you better.