The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, reflects on his recent travels and answers questions about membership of the Communion.
Usually my ambassadorial role means I am travelling around the world, seeing far-flung parts of the Anglican Communion, meeting members of our incredible global family and hearing what God is doing among and through His people. However, for the next few weeks I will be staying in the UK. It is a moment to pause, reflect and pray.
In May, I was in Kenya for a meeting of the Council of the Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). The spirit was respectful and very positive. There was great anticipation about the Lambeth Conference in 2020. Primates were thinking how they could make sure that no-one is left behind for financial reasons. There are a plans afoot to work out how there can be scholarships for those in difficult situations because of war, famine, displacement or poverty. There was a great spirit of oneness and mutual support among the provinces.
There was a refreshing openness too. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was also there and I think he had a taste of what the Primates want to discuss in 2020 when it comes to topics such as human sexuality. The Primates were honest and open and committed to holding on to Resolution I.10 (from Lambeth 1998) – but were willing to listen to other members of the Communion who find that Resolution restrictive. So there was a sense of brotherhood and belonging.
It is appropriate at this point to say more about the idea of belonging – because I sometimes encounter confusion about who is and isn’t in the Anglican Communion. This was something that Archbishop Justin spoke about during the CAPA meeting. Let me make this clear: there are 39 provinces around the world which are part of the Anglican Communion. The latest to be added to our global family was Sudan in July 2017. The Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) is not a province of the Communion. And nor is the newly-formed Anglican Church in Brazil (ACB). Why? The answer is very simple: it is necessary to be in communion with the See of Canterbury in order to be part of the Anglican Communion. And ACNA and the ACB are not in communion with the See of Canterbury. Technically, the Communion is in “ecumenical relations” with them.
The question of human sexuality did not arise at all during my trip to Oceania. But I am interested in the way the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have approached the issue. They have made space for those on all sides of the debate. They have not changed their canon law on marriage – it remains based on the traditional view of being between a man and a woman – but they have made provision for those in New Zealand who want to bless same-sex relationships. And there is no compulsion on either side. So there is disagreement – but there is not division. The family is – for the most part – staying together.
It was also encouraging to see the great enthusiasm for the Lambeth Conference in 2020 among those I met in Oceania. I was in Melanesia for the re-launch of the Decade of Evangelism and Renewal. You could see the excitement: all the bishops were there, all the diocesan mission secretaries, all the rectors – they all own it; they are all buying into it. It was wonderful. When I made a call for rededication I just could not believe the number of people who got up – and some came to Christ for the first time. It was very special.
I am a firm believer in renewal movements. I am product of one, EFAC – the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion in Nigeria. So I would encourage Anglicans to imbibe the spirit of renewal. The Anglican Church has always made room for various theological positions. As a family, we should be able to discuss issues together – even the difficult ones. That is the way forwards, not to be separate and somehow try to operate in parallel. This creates confusion especially among some of the lay members and it can damage the work of renewal. Our God is not a God of confusion; he is a God of order.
My travels in recent months have encouraged me that exciting things are happening right across our Anglican Communion. During my time with CAPA in Kenya, I had the privilege of visiting the site of a huge Children and Teens Centre currently being built at All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi. What is happening there is simply extraordinary: the cathedral is packed every Sunday. There are 1,200 children and 800 teenagers there every week. Crucially, there is vision: the cathedral is planning for more growth. It is really inspiring.
In August, I will be travelling to Chile with colleagues to assess whether it is ready to become our 40th Province. I look forward to seeing what God is doing there and reporting back to you in due course.