A process of patient and holy listening’

By on March 2, 2011

Anglican bishops from North America and Africa engage in “true theological dialogue” at Dar es Salaam Feb 24-27. Photo: Canon Isaac Kawuki Mukasa

Nineteen bishops from North America and Africa have acknowledged that the conflict around sexuality in the Anglican Communion has given them an opportunity to “build bridges of mutual understanding.”

At the end of a dialogue held Feb. 24 to 27 in Dar es Salaam, the bishops expressed a commitment to “continued engagement” and announced plans to meet again. They encouraged other bishops to develop similar networks for dialogue and mission.

“We have been engaged in a process of patient and holy listening, as Anglicans, coming from a wide diversity of contexts and theological positions, who have chosen to listen to one another,” the bishops said in a joint document called A Testimony of Grace, released March 1.

While discussions have not been solely focused on sexuality, the bishops said the sensitivity of the topic required them to approach it with “mutuality and humility and prayer in listening and in speaking as we seek together for God’s wisdom.”

This commitment to “true theological dialogue” has, in turn, “led us to know one another, to discover ourselves in each other, and to deepen our engagement in mission with one another.”

Bishops from Canada, the Sudan, Botstwana, Malawi, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, the United States, and England, attended the meeting, which was a follow-up to a smaller gathering last year in London.

The bishops noted that their differing cultural contexts have oftentimes hindered their relationships. “We are aware that when we talk, the words we use may not be heard in the same way as we intend and we do not always understand language in the same way,” they said. “We are engaged in a quest for language that will bring us to common understanding and to better dialogue.”

This doesn’t mean “we agree or that we seek an agreement on particular issues,” said the bishops. “True dialogue is not about convincing the other of the righteousness of one’s position.” Christian dialogue means “turning to one another with openness” and “trusting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ,” they said. Bishops acknowledged that throughout the crisis over sexuality, they have often behaved “as though we are in court defending ourselves…”

Another step towards healing fractured relationships in the Communion would be to engage in conversations about the history and legacy of colonialism and the church’s collusion in slavery and the slave trade, the bishops said. “Its legacy touches all of us.”

As they listened to each other talk about their partnership mission work, the bishops said that a common theme resonated. “Across the globe, across the Communion, we actually really need one another. We are stronger in relationship than when we are apart,” said the bishops. “This, we believe, is a work of engaging in Communion building rather than Communion breaking.”

The bishops identified issues of poverty and peace as their “deepest concerns,” and said global partnerships can have “significant positive impact for the poorest among us…” They witnessed this first hand when they visited St. Augustine’s diocesan primary school and the health, development and education projects of the MEA Foundation, a non-profit organization affiliated with the diocese of Dar es Salaam. These projects are being financed by partnerships between the diocese of Dar es Salaam and other institutions, including the Anglican Church of Canada, The U.S. Episcopal Church’s Episcopal Relief and Development, the Fellowship of Trust in England, and the Episcopal diocese of Arizona.

The bishops expressed concern that the harsh impact of the global economic crisis has meant that some ministries will no longer exist after this year. “Which AIDS orphan will not be cared for? Which person in need of health care will not receive it and who will sleep another night without a mosquito net to protect them from malaria?,” they asked.

The consultation was sponsored by the Diocese of Dar es Salaam, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Diocese of Toronto Foundation, The Episcopal Church, The Fellowship of the Maple Leaf, and Trinity Church Wall Street.

The Anglican Church of Canada also offered staff support to the dialogue through Canon Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, coordinator for dialogue, ethics and inter-faith relations of General Synod’s Faith, Worship and Ministry (FWM) department; and The Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, interim director of FWM.

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