Anglican primates from Pakistan, Southern Africa, and Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia received a standing ovation from members of the Church of England’s General Synod this morning. The Bishop of Peshawar, Humphrey Peters, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, and the Archbishop of Polynesia, Winston Halapua, each addressed the Synod ahead of a debate about Companion Links. Following the debate, the Synod approved a motion which affirmed the companion links between the Church of England’s dioceses and other parts of the Anglican Communion.
Speaking first, Archbishop Thabo made reference to the on-going drought in South Africa, and joked that he welcomed the opportunity to take a daily shower. He stressed the benefits of hospitality to build and sustain relationships even when there are disagreements, and said it was “relevant to the dialogue we Anglicans must remain committed to pursuing if the Communion is to overcome the difficulties we face – in particular our differences or disagreements over new understandings about human sexuality.”
Bishop Humphrey spoke of the Church in Pakistan as “the tiny Body of Christ” in a sometimes-dangerous context. He said that the Christians in his country have to face reactions and retaliations from the Muslim world for things that happen in the West. He said that churches were burned and suicide bombs were carried out in reaction to blasphemous films and caricatures of Mohammad. “All the difficulties are there,” he said, “and yet God, in his wisdom, is keeping the Body of Christ there.”
Archbishop Winston said used an analogy of the oceans to describe the relationships between Anglican churches. “The largest ocean is the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “And the Pacific cannot be an ocean without the Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic Oceans. . . The oceans are interconnected. No ocean can function without the others. And so we can only be useful for God’s activity if we can do it together.”
After the three primates had made their introductory speeches, the Synod members gave them a standing ovation as the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, embraced them.
Moving the debate that followed, the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, said that Companion Links across the Anglican Communion were “generally considered a good think, no matter how complicated they may work out in practice.”
He said that the Lambeth Conference in 2020 was being planned “against a backdrop of many friendships, but also considerable tension within the Anglican Communion, thus emphasising the need for us to work harder at our Companion Links to make not just a little effort, but every effort, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.”
A number of speakers spoke of the many benefits they had experienced from long-standing diocesan Companion Links, including the Diocese of Chester’s 30-year links with Melanesia, the Diocese of Lichfield’s 30-year links with South East Asia, and the Diocese of Chelmsford’s 40-year link with Kenya.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, spoke of how the church in Kenya was growing, and that the Kenyan diocese linked with Chelmsford had been made into five dioceses. He said that the Bishops from Kenya did not attend the last Lambeth Conference in 2008, but did attend the pre-Lambeth hospitality initiative hosted by the Diocese of Chelmsford. “In other words, the friendships we have with each other were strong enough to bridge what could have become an ever-lengthening divide.
“We have learned a lesson in Chelmsford that the whole Anglican Communion and every Christian community needs to learn, and it is this: you cannot choose your fellow travellers in the Christian way. In following Christ, we find ourselves – whether we like it or not – walking alongside all sorts of people we wouldn’t have chosen as companions if we had drawn up the membership criteria ourselves.
“And as we have journeyed together over many years, and built friendship, we have had some really, really, difficult conversations. And the product of those conversations has not been agreement. The product has been love.”
He said that Companion Links should not be seen as a “product” of the Anglican Communion. “They are the Anglican Communion”, he said.
The motion approved by the Synod reads:
“That this Synod affirm the companion Links between the Church of England’s dioceses and other parts of the Anglican Communion; encourage the Diocesan Companion Links to maximise their contribution to the hospitality programme prior to the Lambeth Conference; and call upon the parishes, deaneries and dioceses of the Church of England to make international links a central part of their strategy for mission and discipleship, drawing on the resources of the Diocesan Companion Links and the Mission and Development Agencies.”