by Ian T Douglas
The Rt Revd William Moses, Moderator of the Church of South India believes that Indian Christians have much to give to the Anglican Communion, especially in terms of ecumenical and mission leadership. Lessons learned in half a century of wrestling with religious and ethnic diversity has given Indian Christians a unique window on some of the tensions in Anglicanism today.
In 1947, Anglicans, Congregationalists, English Methodists and Presbyterians joined together as the united Church of South India (CSI). Widely heralded as one of the greatest ecumenical ventures of the modern Church, members of the CSI soon found that the churches that had sent them missionaries for so long had begun to turn their backs on them. Instead of being honored and respected for their trustful following of the Holy Sprit into greater unity, Indian Christians felt expelled and excluded.
Half a century later, the founding churches of the CSI are beginning to wake up to the reality that they have much to learn from Christians in South India, and the other united churches in South Asia, the Church of North India and the Church of Pakistan. The story of movement from neglect to appreciation describes the relationship between the Church of South India and the wider Anglican Communion. Although the Indian church was "in communion" with Anglicanism since its founding, it was not "of the Communion" until very recently. The CSI and other united churches were not included as full members of the Anglican Consultative Council until 1990 and beginning only with Lambeth 1998 were all the bishops from the sub-continent invited to attend.
Bishop William Moses lives the tension of being a member of a united church drawing closer to the Anglican Communion. He currently serves as the Moderator of the Church of South India, an elected two year post similar to the role of Anglican primates, Archbishops, and Presiding Bishops. As a member of the Primates' Standing Committee for the Anglican Communion, Bishop Moses is in Dundee, Scotland to participate in the 11th Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.
At three million strong and 21 dioceses the Church of South India could be considered a significant church in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Moses's home diocese of Coimbatore alone, sandwiched between the heavily Christian states of Kerala and Tamilnadu, comprises 326 congregations, 186 educational institutions and 216 community development and service agencies. In describing his ministry, Bishop Moses is quick to point out that he sees his chief role as a pastoral presence and servant to all people living in and around the area of his diocese, no matter what their religious background is. He points out that 90% of the children who attend diocesan schools are village folk who do not belong to the Christian faith. Yet the Church is there to reach out to "even to the least of these."
Bishop Moses has begun to experience some dissonance between his life and ministry in South India and the priorities that are emerging for discussion at the Anglican gathering in Dundee. While official stated agenda items of ACC are, among others "The Instruments of Unity", "The Virginia Report" and various structural, constitutional, and membership issues within ACC, debates over human sexuality and authority in the Communion are never far off the table. Bishop Moses understands the importance of these official and unofficial conversations but finds the focus on church issues to be frustrating at times. He believes that both the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council often underestimate the respect and authority afforded them in the wider world. He suggests that both groups use their power and influence for the good of all people by speaking out with a united voice on life and death issues, such as the recent turmoil in East Timor.
What Bishop Moses is advocating for the whole Anglican Communion he puts into practice in his own local context. Recent conversations he has had with the President of Sri Lanka has led to new efforts among Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem religious leaders to bring about peace in the ongoing ethnic strife between Tamils and Sinhalese in the island country. Passionately concerned about nuclear arms proliferation, Bishop Moses stresses that the Church should lead the way in working for a nuclear free 3rd Millennium.
Whether those gathered in Dundee can see and appreciate the unique gifts that the united churches bring to the Communion is yet to be revealed. Bishop Moses, however, is clear that the Church of South India can contribute significantly to the Anglican Communion in these difficult and changing times. Living with "unity in diversity" whether as an ecumenical Church or alongside of people from other faiths is the ground on which Bishop Moses and his fellow Indian sisters and brothers in Christ walk.