The Archbishop of Canterbury has told African Anglican leaders that the strength of the Church on the continent is a gift to the world and that is has the ability to shape the globe – but it must move forward. Speaking at a regional primates meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) in Kenya, Archbishop Justin Welby said the Church in the region was full of life and energy. It had grown and had enormous power even though Africa had often struggled economically.
In a wide ranging address, Archbishop Justin urged CAPA leaders to learn from the mistakes of the Global North – to be wary of individualism and not to be complacent about the numbers of young people currently in churches across the continent.
Archbishops from Anglican provinces across Africa have been attending the three-day meeting in Nairobi. They also heard from the Secretary General, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon.
Speaking on the second day of the meeting, Archbishop Justin began with the issue of climate change, which he described as “an existential threat to all humanity”. He noted that floods in Kenya had left more than 130 people dead and displaced nearly a quarter of million others since March. Overnight a dam had been breached north of Nairobi killing more than 30 people. He recalled the words of Archbishop Winston Halapua when he visited Fiji for an Oceania regional primates meeting in February that, for the Global South, climate change really was an issue of life and death.
On church growth, Archbishop Justin noted that the number of people of faith was predicted to grow to over 90 per cent of the world’s population in the next 30 years – but he said none of the forecast increase would be among Christians.
And he warned CAPA leaders to beware the errors of the Global North which had failed to disciple young people in previous decades. He explained that in the 1950s a majority of children in the UK went to Sunday school. The church thought “this is all right, we can go to sleep”. Now the figure was very small.
The Archbishop also expressed concern about the negative impact of modern, faster communication. He said there had been a very rapid rise in comment but it was not always accurate – words were spread and reinterpreted in different cultures. And social media, although it had the power to spread the gospel and encourage prayer, was being used to slander, attack and bring disorder.
He said half of the Anglican Communion was living in areas of violence and persecution – and the perpetrators of violence were increasingly using religion to justify it. In addition there were more refugees than at any other time in history and more people than ever were being trafficked as slaves – even into his own diocese in England.
Against this backdrop, he said the Church had to change the way it was living if it was going to affect the world. There was now a lack of confidence in the gospel which meant the Church was becoming inward-looking rather than going out. He explained that the thinking behind the theme of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 2020 – God’s Church for God’s World – was that the Church had to be more outward focused.
“We cannot wait until we are all together, or we all agree, or we are all holy – because the world is perishing,” he said. “We must move forwards to serve the world, even when we disagree.”
The Archbishop said it was exciting that CAPA was already addressing many issues and that Africa had set the example on discipleship.
He said the Anglican Communion could change the future; it was good at reconciliation; it could mobilise people against climate change; it could reform family life.
“Anglicans are wonderful at education. We are good at health, at housing at building communities – we are good at helping people caught up in trafficking, and refugees.”
He said the Church needed to be humble, to form partnerships, to teach people – and to disagree with love and without manipulation.
“My prayer for the Lambeth Conference is that we will move towards working out how to deal with differences.”
The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, then gave his address.
He spoke warmly of the Church in the region saying there was a wave of change across the African continent where the Church was putting people first. The Anglican Church in Africa was central to the Communion. As he travelled the world, the Secretary General said he felt proud to be an Anglican and an African.
Archbishop Josiah also gave details of the Anglican Inter faith Commission which was set up earlier this year. He explained that there would be a regional network in Africa which would gather information and pass it to the Commission.
He closed with a series of challenges: he urged CAPA to do more to harness the financial resources available in Africa; to think about how to build up a new generation of leaders; to overcome tribalism and to prepare and protect nations and Churches from the impact of extremist Islam. And he urged the Primates to visit each other and strengthen relationships.
Today (Friday) the conference is due to hear from the Chief Executive of the Lambeth Conference Company, Phil George. He will update CAPA on progress with organising the conference which begins in Canterbury in July 2020.