Anglican Communion must be distinct from Church of England: Ndungane

Published October 1, 1999

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town speaks from the heart when he calls for a strengthening of Anglican Communion bonds to offset fallout from last year’s Lambeth Conference.

“I feel very passionately about the Anglican Communion,” the archbishop told the Journal in an interview. “There is something unique about it and we should not allow the elements of divisiveness that seem to be growing following Lambeth to get between us.”

Archbishop Ndungane, who comes from a long line of Anglican clergy, was elected archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 and became primate of the Church of the Province of South Africa. He succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A strong African voice in the Anglican Communion, the 58-year-old archbishop has called for the merger of Africa’s 11 autonomous Anglican churches into an Episcopal Church of Africa. With 31.5 million members, and growing, a single African Church would be the largest in the Anglican Communion: “a mighty church with a strong voice.”

Archbishop Ndungane says his deep commitment to the communion played a part in him being invited to address a conference called Local Communities, Global Realities held in June at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College.

“I take my presence here (at the conference) as a visual aid to show there is a world out there other than Toronto or Canada,” he told the Journal. “That we are all bound together by our bonds of affection.”

If these bonds are to be strengthened some changes are necessary. For a start, the Church of England needs to be “liberated” from the notion that it is the Anglican Communion, the archbishop said.

“What I am arguing for is that we need to devise a system whereby the Anglican Communion is something distinctive from the Church of England,” he said. “There is a kind of belief, even amongst members of the Church of England, that it is the Anglican Communion. The media in England also tends to think that way.”

By virtue of his office, the Archbishop of Canterbury heads both the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion. While “the historic see of Canterbury should continue to have a symbolic titular role,” Archbishop Ndungane says it is time for the communion’s right to elect its own head. “We have grown as a communion with a lot of diversity and richness and we need to take advantage of what God has given us.”

The head of the Anglican Communion should be chosen from among the primates or even all bishops, he said.

His experience at last year’s Lambeth Conference reinforced his view that the conference needs reforming.

“We (almost) live in the 21st century and you cannot bring 750 bishops to a conference as if it were a tea party with a host and hostess marshalling us around,” Archbishop Ndungane said. ” It’s got to have structures in place for doing business if we want the mind of the communion to be expressed.”

He questions the tradition that Lambeth Conferences always take place at Canterbury, England, and suggests the conference should be open to clergy and lay representatives as well as bishops.

The debate that ensued at last year’s conference after presentation of a subcommittee report on sexuality is an example of how not to handle conference business, he said.

Archbishop Ndungane, who headed the section that included an examination of the contentious homosexual issue, said the report should never have been debated in plenary. “It was unwise to deal with such a very complex, emotive issue in such a way. People were forcing a particular agenda.”

After a stormy debate, the conference adopted a resolution widely supported by conservative bishops, saying homosexual practice was incompatible with Scripture. In response, a pastoral statement affirming the rights of homosexuals in the church was prepared and signed by many liberal bishops.

In his Toronto address, Archbishop Ndungane stressed the need for a global ethic for a world in which daily activities and decision-making are largely unburdened by moral reflection and “good” is measured by the marketplace.

Archbishop Ndungane said the search for this global ethic must begin with the natural moral law and common values. Much depends on world leaders, “acting decisively and with conviction in protecting resources, giving nations a fresh start, and by giving the lead for a new moral order.”

Michael McAteer is a freelance writer and former religion editor of the Toronto Star.



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